Chip said as the son grows up, he wishes he had super powers, too.
“It’s kind of a journey in finding out what it means to be super,” Chip said. “Basically, you don’t need powers to be super, in that individuals with Down syndrome can be super without having to do everything that everybody else does.
“They can do things better than other people—different things than other people—just like anyone else.”
A trying ordeal
To understand Chip’s inspiration for his graphic novel is to know the challenge faced by the Reece family since the summer of 2010.
Chip and Amy were married almost 10 years ago. With degrees in social work, the couple have worked in a variety of positions in that field, starting as house parents at a boys home in Omaha, Neb. Chip currently works as a workforce professional in Wichita, where the family resides.
In 2010, the couple learned that Amy was pregnant with their first child. But as the due date neared, doctors alerted them to complications.
“A couple of months before we had him, they found out he had some characteristics of Down syndrome,” Chip said. “They also could see he would have at least one major heart defect.”
Oliver “Ollie” Lelan Reece was born June 21. Mixed with the joy of his arrival was more unsettling news from the doctors.
“They found out pretty quickly that he had another heart defect that complicated matters even worse,” Chip said.
The infant was flown by medical helicopter from Wesley Hospital in Wichita to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, where he lived for five months before the couple could take him home the first time.
“Within in 10 days of life, he had open-heart surgery on the minor defect that he had, which was a pinched aortic arch,” Chip said. “Once he had that done, it was basically a fight for life until another, later surgery. Two heart defects working together caused quite a few problems.”
Two more procedures followed, one for a pulmonary band replacement, which improved Ollie’s ability to breathe, and later a second procedure that involved both an AV canal and a pulmonary de-banding.
In total, Ollie has spent close to eight months in the pediatric intensive care unit. Now at home, he is coming off his ventilator, but still has a trach and G tube to assist him with breathing and feeding.
The ordeal has left the couple grateful for “amazing” the medical professionals in Kansas City, the benefits of the Ronald McDonald House near the hospital, the Caring Bridge website that helped them keep family members and friends updated on Ollie’s situation.
“What it came down to is that nothing was in our control,” Chip said. “We had to trust that God would take care of Ollie and us. Many means were used to get us through that. The most obvious being that Ollie survived despite the odds.”
The couple’s list of miracles includes a surprising job offer after Chip found out his job was eliminated because of Medicaid cuts and Amy lost her job because she had maxed out her family medical leave.
Chip interviewed for a new job, but could only offer his potential employers a vague idea when he would be able to start if he was hired.
“A week later, I got a call from the employer who said they wanted to hire me and were willing to work around my son’s predicament at the time. I couldn’t believe it.”
Telling the story
But why a graphic novel?
“I’m a huge comic book geek,” Chip said. “I guess that goes back to running around with my friends early on in Hillsboro. The old Ben Franklin Store had comic books. We’d run down there and grab some.”
Through the years, Chip developed an interest in supporting the comic-book community. In addition to his social work career, he began doing work for an online website, and currently has been doing some editing on company projects.
“In the mix with everything that happened with my son, I kind of got an idea to write a comic book loosely based on that experience, but in the superhero genre,” he said.
The idea has developed into “Metaphase.” He has been working in partnership with an artist, Kelly Williams, and is close to releasing a digital preview of the project in early May at ComiXology.com
“I’m doing a limited print run myself to help promote it while I’m working on the entire graphic novel,” he said. “Originally, I just kind of hoped to make this for my son—just a fun thing for my kid.”
Through Twitter, and later email, Chip became connected with a publisher for the graphic novel.
“He basically wrote back and said, ‘I love that artist and I love the idea; I want to help you publishing it—here’s what we need to do.’”
Chip also has used a website called Kickstarter to help cover his personal investments to this point. On the site, a person can present an idea to the world and asked for financial support.
“You give pledge awards, depending on how much somebody might donate to your cause,” he said. “People get something out of it.”
Telling the story
Chip said the project had some therapeutic value as he processed the events happening with his family.
“While we were going through everything with Ollie, I thought about it, so it was an idea in my mind for a while and I was just playing out some scenarios in my brain,” he said.
“It was a while before I wrote it down and actually made something out of it. My wife and my brother Casey—and my whole family, really—encouraged me to do something with it. So I sat down and wrote it out and connected with an artist I knew.”
Chip said he sees the audience for “Metaphase” as spanning all ages, especially within the comic book community. But he hopes it connects with the Down syndrome community, too.
However well the comic book does, the Reeces anticipate a happy ending to Ollie’s real-life story.
“Because of all the super support and the success with surgeries, Ollie is doing great,” Chip said. “Ollie’s just getting healthier and healthier. The trach hopefully will come out by this summer sometime. He’s starting to learn how to walk.
“As far as physical development, he’s quite a ways behind because of being knocked out in the hospital for so long. But every day he’s doing something new.”