WICKLIFFE, Ohio — Love stories don't all look the same. Sometimes, you have to go through the unthinkable, to come out stronger on the other side.
That's the case with Paul and Jackie Sura, of Wickliffe.
“I thought he was goofy. We spent the whole night just kind of making fun of each other," Jackie said of their first meeting. “The next day we went to the zoo, then dinner after that.”
They were smitten from the start.
“By the time I left the first night, it was pretty solid. We knew," Paul said.
Jackie lived in Massachusetts. Paul couldn't wait to see her again, so he took action.
“Before the 12-hour drive was over, he had already booked me a flight back for another date, two weeks later," said Jackie.
Their first born, Maile, came in January 2013.
“She has what we call bilateral ureter reflex," Jackie said.
It was a complication with her kidneys.
“We were able to get in with the right people, the Cleveland Clinic, and get that taken care of," Jackie said.
Maile, is now thriving.
“She’s a normal 7-year-old girl who’s hyper and ready to run the show, every day," Paul said.
A year later, another blessing for the Sura Family. Jackie became pregnant with their second daughter, Kaia.
“Everything to us appeared normal," Jackie said.
It wasn't, though. A routine ultrasound revealed crushing news.
“(The doctor) drew out a picture of what he saw, and he explained that Kaia’s heart was smaller than what it was supposed to be. And that her right side was really, really small," Jackie remembered.
Kaia had a rare genetic disorder that left her with an underdeveloped heart.
“What can we do? How are we going to make this work?” Paul said.
Fight mode, set in. Their special education careers prepared them for this moment, they thought.
“One of us will be quitting, and we’ll be staying home, and we’ve totally got this," Jackie said.
A specialist warned them to slow down.
“Before we can even talk about the plan for your daughter’s heart, first she has to be born alive," Jackie remembered.
On April, 14, 2017, Kaia was born.
“She wasn’t blue. She was perfect and beautiful, and so tiny," Jackie said.
“It was just, instant tears," Paul said.
The Suras stayed in the hospital with Kai for 178 days after she was born. Armed with knowledge for her care, they headed home, where they would care for Kaia for the next four months.
“We were on four-hour shifts of sleep and it was Jackie got to stay home with Kaia, and I had to go work," Paul said. “When you were on shift, you didn’t sleep, because at any point in time, she could D-Sat and stop breathing. And, it was our job, to bring her back.”
“She had medicine around the clock to give," Jackie said.
It became nearly impossible to balance their lives: Caregivers to Kaia; parents to Maile; upholding their marriage.
“When I had the opportunity, and I wasn’t with Kaia, I was outside playing with Maile. When Jackie wasn’t cooking, and I wasn’t with Kaia, and vice versa, we were just doing what parents have to do," Paul said.
After 16 months of ups and downs, Kaia had given everything she could. A doctor summoned Jackie and Paul to a private room.
“He met with us and tried to explain what was going on and Paul had asked him, ‘What’s going to happen and he said, ‘She will die tonight,’” Jackie said.
The Sura's say their gratitude for Kaia's medical team is immeasurable.
“They did everything in their power," Paul said.
“One of the attendings pulled me aside and said, ‘You know, medicine can only take people so far. But she’s made it this far because of how much you love her,’” Jackie recalled.
Free from pain, Kaia gave her parents a beloved gift before she passed.
“We were able to hold her without the ventilator and just got to be with her," Jackie said. “We just kept saying we loved her. We read the books we would read to her. We played music for her.”
“I was able to hold her upright for the first time, without anything there, and put her arms around my neck, and be able to just be a father," Paul remembered.
Saturated in grief, but determined to continue on, the Suras sought professional help.
“Without that, we wouldn’t have been able to be … coherent enough to say, ‘Ok, this is what he needs and this is what I need,’” Jackie remembered.
“We had to relearn to live a different life,” Paul said.
The Sura's love is much like the Hawaiian meaning of their daughter's name: The sea. It's a powerful force, enduring unimaginable waves, but still gaining strength.
“I can’t describe it. All I know is how I feel for her. And I know I love her more now than when I first proposed to her,” Paul said.
“We just respect each other’s needs. It’s like we’re real, real partners. It’s like the other half,” Jackie said.
“My life doesn’t move forward without Jackie," Paul said.
To learn more about the Sura's fundraiser in Kaia's name, click HERE.