GREENE COUNTY — Kaylee Berro wasn’t supposed to live.
She was born six weeks premature.
At two days old, she was barely longer than a dress shoe.
She earned frequent flyer miles at Children’s Hospital in Dayton.
Berro’s adoptive mother dressed her in Cabbage Patch clothes because nothing else would fit.
“Kaylee’s life is a miracle,” Julie Berro reflected earlier this week, constantly looking over and smiling at her now-16-year-old daughter.
The rising junior at Beavercreek High School was born to drug addicted parents. At birth she tested positive for eight narcotics in addition to marijuana and alcohol.
“They (said) I wouldn’t be able to walk or talk or really have a normal life,” Kaylee, an honor student and former Miss Junior Beavercreek, said.
Kaylee’s birth mom, Deb, died of a heroin overdose. Her dad, Jessie, is in a Texas jail for a parole violation and is due to be released soon.
Kaylee really doesn’t care.
“I don’t really have an interest in meeting him or talking to him,” Kaylee said. “I have a dad (Edward Berro). I have a great dad.”
A rough beginning
Immediately after her birth, a judge released Kaylee into foster care. The Berros received a call from their social worker and without hesitation accepted. They had other adopted children and had no problem taking in Kaylee even though they knew what they were facing.
“I said yeah, we’re in,” Julie said.
Kaylee’s birth parents actually had some visitation opportunities, but because they continued to test positive for cocaine and were still using heroin, they had to have supervised visits.
According to Kaylee, they stopped coming after about a year and even told their other two daughters, Lexxie, now 20, and Chelsea, now 24, that Kaylee died.
Kaylee was officially adopted by the Berros when she was three, but they had to fight her birth parents, who for some reason at that point decided they wanted Kaylee.
It’s easy to understand Kaylee’s angst toward her natural parents.
“(They) didn’t come after a year,” Kaylee said. “It showed drugs were more important than me.”
It was her birth mother’s drug habits that were most damaging to infant Kaylee as she was born hooked on so many drugs. Kaylee was born without eyebrows or toenails. Her lungs were not fully developed and she had water on her brain.
“We lived at Children’s,” Julie said.
Most children in this condition die of respiratory failure, Julie said. Kaylee’s adopted siblings were so concerned about her well-being that they actually camped out underneath her crib to make sure she was OK during the night.
The first four weeks of Kaylee’s life were deemed the most critical. They had to have nurses nearly around the clock as Kaylee’s lungs needed constant suctioning. While in her crib she was strapped into a sling so she would sleep sitting up to keep her lungs from filling.
And it took two weeks to come off of the cocaine withdrawal with no remedy other than swaddling and rocking back and forth.
But by the time she was six months Kaylee began to put on weight and everyone knew she would make it.
Julie said it was a rough first year, but by the time Kaylee was a year old, everyone knew she would be able to walk and talk.
“I don’t really have any health issues (now),” Kaylee said, other than an occasional battle with asthma.
Fighting the past, moving forward
Kaylee was around 10-years-old when she started to understand her life.
“I really struggled with the adoption and what my birth parents put me through,” she said.
Then two years later there was another shock. Paternal grandmother, Ruth, contacted Julie and informed her that Kaylee’s birth siblings wanted to meet her.
“That night was really hard,” Kaylee said. “It didn’t make sense to me.”
Kaylee found out that she had a brother, but he died when he was about a year and a half when Deb, who was high at the time, rolled over on him and suffocated him.
Kaylee met her sisters — Chelsea is actually a half-sister as they share the same father — and enjoys a relationship with them and Grandma Ruth. Knowing her blood siblings has helped Kaylee put her life’s pieces together.
“It was really nice having them answer the questions,” Julie said.
Of course, Kaylee has another question, “Why? … “
“Why didn’t they try to give Lexxie and Chelsea a better life?” Kaylee said. “Why didn’t they give the proper care to (deceased son) Tommy? Why not try to get better for your family? They had a chance to stop and make everything right. Instead (they) chose a drug.”
Kaylee will likely never get the answer. While it’s rumored that Jessie wants to move to Ohio when he’s released from prison, Kaylee doesn’t plan on seeing him.
“I don’t want him to be involved in my life,” she said. “(If I see him) I won’t be rude. (But) I’m not going to call him dad. I’ll call him Jessie.”
Spreading her message
Kaylee has used 4-H to talk to kids about the danger of drugs and alcohol and to help give her life some closure. When she joined Greene Sparks eight years ago, she stuck to photos, scrapbooking, cake decorating — the fun stuff.
When she saw alcohol and drug abuse was an acceptable topic for a project, Kaylee jumped on board.
“It was kind of there when I needed it,” she said. Jessie had just gotten arrested again and she was having some issues with Lexxie and Chelsea.
“It was something to kind of distract me,” Kaylee said.
Part of the project involves outreach. Kaylee chose to make home-cooked meals for the youth at the boys treatment center in Xenia. Every Wednesday she and Julie take food over there.
“They stand by the window waiting for us,” Kaylee said.
It’s been a big hit. Just like her project, which earned her a trip to the Ohio State Fair.
That should come as no shock because Kaylee has a drive to succeed that is matched by few her age.
“I don’t want to end up the way my parents ended up,” Kaylee said. “I will not do drugs … ever. There’s a lot of peer pressure. I’m very strong-willed because of everything I’ve been through. I want to succeed in life and prove to my (adopted) parents hey, you did a good job.”
Kaylee has done a pretty good job too.