As a seasoned nurse, Florida woman Jess Hamm thought she had experienced most things her job could bring. But when she came across an abused toddler at work in early 2017, the medic felt something above and beyond the call of duty. As sudden as a thunderbolt, Hamm’s heart instantly went out to the unfortunate infant. Almost in that moment, the nurse knew she would do anything to provide the mistreated mite with a loving home. But, just after Hamm had taken steps to make that a reality and change both their lives forever, lightning struck twice.
Hamm was then 30 years old and worked at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, south of St. John’s River in central Jacksonville, FL. As a full-time nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit, Hamm’s job could be extremely emotionally demanding. However, little did she know that it could also be utterly life changing.
Indeed, Hamm had often joked around with other staff members about the child patients she wanted to take home with her, but one day in March 2017 it became serious. The nurse had clocked on as normal that Thursday morning. But during her shift, she met a baby girl called Delilah who broke down the medic’s professional exterior and stole her heart.
Poor Delilah had arrived at the Wolfson Children’s Hospital after suffering bodily trauma which was adjudged to be non-accidental. The first time Hamm saw the severely damaged Delilah, the infant was laid out on a gurney. A little more than one year old, she was suffering from a number of broken bones, a fractured skull and was clearly seriously underweight.
The nurse spoke about that heart-rending first meeting to TV news magazine show Inside Edition in March 2018. “She had a skull fracture with a brain bleed from her head trauma,” Hamm recalled. “She had a broken femur, multiple fractures in all of her extremities. She was very malnourished. She was 14 months and about 11 pounds, so she was just skin and bones.”
A wicked or deranged person or persons had abused and neglected little Delilah, and that fact emotionally devastated Hamm. A year later, during an interview with local Jacksonville current affairs show Action News Jax in March 2018, the nurse admitted, “My heart was broken. I don’t want to cry. She was just so lifeless…”
As a medical team did what they could to stabilize Delilah, in a simple act of human warmth, Hamm took the little girl by the hand. In that moment, the nurse felt an instant connection. “I just said, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to take you home. I already love you,’” she told Inside Edition.
In fact, when Hamm finished her shift that evening, she struggled to erase Delilah from her memory. As a result, the nurse made a drastic decision overnight. The following morning, Hamm called the Florida Department of Children and Families in Tallahassee to express her interest in adopting Delilah.
It was very shortly after that initial call that the medic learned that Delilah had not been alone when she arrived at the Wolfson Children’s Hospital. Her twin sister, Caroline, had also been admitted to the pediatric facility, although Hamm had not seen her. Like her sibling, Caroline was dangerously malnourished and there was evidence that she had suffered fractures in the past.
The fact that Delilah had a twin did not put Hamm off adopting her at all. In fact, the nurse was now doubly eager and determined to provide both abused baby girls with a safe and loving home. Consequently, Hamm continued her enquiries with Delilah and Caroline’s case worker at the Florida Department of Children and Families.
Hamm recounted the process with Inside Edition. “I gave him all my information and a few hours later he called me and that same day he came to my home,” she revealed. “That was Friday. The following Monday I was approved and I brought Caroline home. That was actually the day I got to meet [her].”
Over the course of one weekend, Hamm had become a single mother-of-two. However, everything had happened so quickly that she was ill-prepared for the practical realities of caring for toddlers. Hamm had to hurry to track down two car seats and double cribs. Meanwhile, her colleagues at the hospital were happy to donate toys and clothes.
As Hamm adjusted to her sudden new life as a parent, Delilah remained desperately sick in the hospital. The infant underwent surgery to drain fluid from her brain, and at one point it was touch-and-go whether she would even pull through. And if she did, what condition Delilah would be in. Understandably, the uncertainty provided high anxiety for Hamm.
As she recalled to Inside Edition, “To be honest I didn’t know what kind of state she was gonna come out in. If she was developmentally delayed. If she was even going to survive the injury.” Mercifully, Delilah was made of tough stuff and made it through the procedure. Nevertheless, her struggles were not over and she had to remain in hospital for the next four weeks. Hamm remembered, “That first month was very stressful. She wasn’t eating. She wasn’t really responsive. I mean she would smile a little bit. She would hold your hand but she was so weak.”
But thankfully, little Delilah dug deep, defied all the odds and made good on her recovery. One month after Caroline had moved in with Hamm, the patient was able to leave Wolfson Children’s Hospital and join them. However, for both girls, the journey to recovery did not end there.
When Hamm first met the abused and neglected sisters, both were too weak to sit upright unaided. Furthermore, Delilah was unable to even hold a feed bottle. So as well as psychologically, the twins needed building up physically. But with the nurse’s steady and gentle encouragement, the girls went from strength to strength.
Subsequently, on Halloween 2017, Hamm formally adopted Delilah and Caroline. And, although the process had only begun some seven months earlier and had been a fairly spontaneous decision, Hamm could not have been happier. “I’ve always wanted a family,” she admitted to Inside Edition. “[Adoption] wasn’t part of my plan, but once I met them… I made the decision in my heart to open my home up and give them somewhere safe.”
After a year in Hamm’s loving care, both girls were thriving. By March 2018, the twins had ticked off many of the developmental milestones expected from two-year-olds. But it has to be said that the transformation Delilah had undergone was particularly astonishing.
Proudly reeling off her daughter’s achievements, Hamm revealed, “She’s walking now. She’s talking. She’s a great eater. You wouldn’t even know that she has gone through the trauma that she’s been through. I might be biased, but I think [the twins] are doing amazingly.”
Now, Hamm’s days are filled with wonder as she rediscovers the world through her children’s eyes. As a result, the nurse is keen to encourage prospective parents to explore the adoption route and perhaps make a serious difference. As Hamm told Action News Jax, “I hope when people hear my story it opens them up to the possibilities of adopting.”