In January, Yaakov Almoslino became a bar mitzvah at Young Israel of Phoenix. Not unusual for most Jewish boys his age, but it was a day his mother never thought she would see. “To appreciate the story is to understand his beginnings,” says Julia Almoslino, Yaakov’s mother.
In December 2001, Julia was eight months pregnant with her third child. Already the mother of two boys, ages 4 and 2, she was a veteran when it came to pregnancies. But that day in Seattle, something was wrong. She felt the baby turn and “a body part came out.” She started to panic and called 911. Normally, the fire department and paramedics would respond, but the paramedics had just been called out on another emergency, so a second set of paramedics was summoned. The fire department arrived to find Julia having a breech birth (feet first) already in progress, and they were only able to get the baby out as far as his neck. When the paramedics arrived 12 minutes later, the only thing they could do is “cut me open and get him out,” Julia says. Paramedic Jonny Layefsky assessed the situation: There was no heartbeat, the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck and the newborn’s color was wrong. “He took the baby to the dining room table, swished everything off and tried to get his heart going,” she says.” Later, Julia read the report from that day. “He was clinically dead.”
Julia and the baby were sent to different hospitals, where the baby spent several months. The firemen and paramedics called every day to see how “baby boy” was doing. As he improved, baby boy was formally given the name “Yaakov.”
After settling into a routine at home and regular doctor appointments and therapies, Julia reflected on why this had happened to her. She needed a sign from G-d to help her understand. Then, the fire department called to let her know they were going to hold a media event to honor the success story of Yaakov’s birth. At the event, “I (took) Yaakov out of the car seat and handed him to Jonny and said, ‘Here, he’s yours.’ And Jonny said, ‘Did I tell you my Hebrew name was Yaakov?’ To me that was the sign from G-d.”
At age 3, Yaakov was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Before that, Julia had been told by many nurses and doctors not to expect too much from him. They said, “He has brain damage and won’t be like your other boys and will always need special schools.” After hearing this, Julia says it made her want to fight back even harder. “No. I’m not going to let that happen. I’ve got his brain and I can talk to him. That was my catalyst. I’m going to treat him normal, because that’s all I know,” she says. But “your norm becomes different and your perspective changes when you have a child with an issue. You learn how to do things differently.”
The family became involved with The Friendship Circle in Seattle and sought out the organization when they moved to Phoenix seven years ago. Yaakov also participates in sports programs for children with special needs: KEEN (Kids Enjoying Exercise Now) at the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center and Miracle League baseball. “He’s the second baseman and was MVP last year. In Miracle League, he can run the bases with his walker and nobody cares,” Julia says. Yaakov attends Phoenix Hebrew Academy. “Cognitively, he’s 100 percent.”
Over the years, the family has stayed in touch with Layefsky and have invited him for Passover and Thanksgiving and other celebrations, including the recent bar mitzvah, at which Yaakov read his parsha and gave a “wonderful” speech.
“I stood up and told the story of Yaakov and they didn’t know Jonny was there. Then I asked him to stand and there was not a dry eye in the house. Everyone went over to thank him,” Julia says. “I told him we’re able to stand here today and have a bar mitzvah because of him. I firmly believe that we would not have had the happy ending had it been any other way.”
Julia says the moral of this story is that there are miracles. “The rabbi says Yaakov was sent as a sign that there are still miracles and it came with two fire trucks and two paramedic trucks and bells and whistles… We needed the lights to wake us up that there are miracles and that’s what Yaakov is,” Julia says. “He’s a miracle.”