I’m in a business networking group with Matt Paradis. He never fails to entertain the group at our weekly meetings with his wry, witty humor. While his business supports him, it’s his family life that sustains him. Although Matt and his wife, Katie are both native Mainers — he’s from Fort Kent; she’s from Lewiston — they met in Boston, where they were both attending Bentley College. They were introduced by their college roommates, who were dating each other, and were married in 1992.
Matt and Katie had settled in Falmouth, but one day on a trip home from Higgins Beach, they decided to check out an Open House sign they spotted. “We weren’t even remotely thinking about moving,” says Matt, but we fell in love with the house when we saw it.” So 10 years ago they moved to Scarborough. Their son Noah was two; a year later their daughter Isabelle was born. Life was good. Their world was turned upside down, though, three years after that. Their son Austin was born prematurely. He weighed less than two pounds, and his airways were constricted by lung disease. Austin was taken to the neonatal intensive care unit at Maine Medical Center, where he lived for five months before succumbing to his condition. He never got to see his Scarborough home.
Katie lost her job — she and Matt went to see Austin daily at the NICU. Noah, who was then seven, would accompany them three to four times a week. Because of the risk of infection, though, he had to remain outside the unit, only able to look in through the glass window. “I grew to know the hospital well,” says Noah, “but I couldn’t get to know my brother. I could only see him in pictures or through the glass. It was very hard, very frustrating.” The weekend that Austin was taken off his ventilator, he was moved into an isolation unit so the family could spend time with him. “The first time I got to hold him was the weekend he died,” says Noah. Little Isabelle, only three, got to be Austin’s big sister by learning to change his diaper.
A lot has changed for the Paradis family since that sad time. After having worked for companies like Pioneer Plastics, Bass Shoes, and Unum, Matt struck out on his own in 2005. He is a business broker, helping companies or individuals sell or acquire other businesses. Katie is now an NICU family support specialist with the March of Dimes. Isabelle just turned nine and dreams of becoming a fashion designer. Noah, 12, has been gifted with a beautiful voice. He’ll be singing the roles of a student revolutionary, a sailor, a prisoner, and a factory foreman in the Portland Stage Company’s production of “Les Miserables” on July 11th and 12th. He would like a career in theater. Most joyously, three years ago the family adopted Allie, who was born in Louisiana. Shy one moment, and running to help me carry my light stand the next, Allie likes nothing better than to be hugged and cuddled by mom and dad. “I didn’t want our experience with Austin to be the last chapter of my reproductive career,” says Katie. “We very much wanted another child.” Austin is remembered, however, in a memorial garden in the backyard where I photographed the family. It is full of lushly growing shrubs and plants, all of which were given to them by friends and family members to honor the young life passed.