The following is a letter to the editor submitted by West New York Board of Education trustee Matthew Cheng, detailing why he will seek re-election in November.
I’d like to share a special day for my family. On Friday, January 30, my daughter celebrated her 3rd birthday with her first day of school.
In West New York, we are fortunate to receive state funding for 3 year olds to attend the Early Childhood Program. My daughter started school on her birthday because she transferred in from Early Intervention, a State program that provides services for developmentally delayed infants and toddlers.
It’s been a long road getting here and we are excited for Chaya to start her education here in West New York.
Chaya was born at 28 weeks, weighing just 604 grams (or a little more than a pound) at Hackensack University Medical Center. My wife was hospitalized for three weeks prior to keep our baby inside as long as possible before an inevitable emergency c-section.
The neonatologist said that given the baby’s gestation and weight, there would be a 60% chance of survival. For the first two months, Chaya followed the typical premature baby course but suddenly became very sick.
She began having cardiac episodes where her breathing and body would clamp down and all her vitals would crash. It was very scary. After about two weeks, the doctor sat us in a room and said, “look, we don’t have anything here for her, you need to go now”.
We decided to transfer to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a helicopter came the next day to take our daughter away. Chaya was on so much support that it took three hours to transfer her to the portable equipment.
We spent the next seven months camped out in her hospital room and at the Ronald McDonald House. The Ronald McDonald House was started in Philadelphia so that families could have a place to stay close to their sick children in the hospital.
There were a few surgeries, many procedures, three unplanned extubations (the breathing tube accidentally came out), four code blues, a fire and evacuation, Hurricane Sandy… in retrospect, a lot of excitement.)
The NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) experience showed me exactly how fragile and precious life is. I saw many families struggle, including our own, babies that didn’t make it and a baby who survived ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) and went home.
In the midst of all this, I was inspired to think about what I hadn’t finished in life and decided to complete my Masters Degree in Digital Forensics that I started many years before.
I took two graduate courses, Law & High Tech Crime and Architecture of Secure Operating Systems, at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan at night, and drove back to Philadelphia the same evening to say goodnight to Chaya and a prayer.
After seven months in Philadelphia, my wife and I finally convinced the doctors to let Chaya go home. She was still on oxygen and a lot of medications but we felt we could manage – a hospital is not the best place for a baby to grow up.
Her bedroom and a spare bedroom were filled with medical equipment and supplies and an oxygen concentrator blaring 24/7. We took turns doing the night shift where one of us would sleep on the floor next to her crib. Alarms were always going off.
During the day, we would stroller her up and down Bergenline carrying an oxygen tank on our back. Six months after coming home, we took Chaya to New York-Presbyterian Hospital where the doctors discovered another severe cardiac issue. She’s had two open heart surgeries in the past year and a half.
But you would not know what she’s been through by looking at her – Chaya looks like any other happy, curious and playful three-year old.
I have often been asked by friends and people who do not know me why I fight so hard for the Board of Education. The truth is, I didn’t know what kind of parent I would be but spending almost a year in the hospital, advocating for my daughter and negotiating with doctors and nurses on a daily and hourly basis changed me.
We’ve had to make many difficult decisions in Chaya’s life and have been told countless times that she might not make it. I hope we’ve made the right decisions for her.
In the many dark moments that we’ve faced, I’ve held her and whispered, “you’ve always shown me you wanted to live, please hold on, I love you so much.” I’m so proud of her and how far she’s come.
As my daughter begins this new chapter in her life, I want her to have the best education and opportunities to succeed. That’s why I fully support the Board of Education’s dedicated teachers, support staff and administrators.
For the past year, I’ve advocated for open and transparent School Board decision making. I’m on the Early Childhood Program Advisory Council and I’m in the process of re-starting my daughter’s school’s PTO.
Most importantly, as someone who has a family, I’ve made it clear that if certain appointees and elected officials want to terminate employees and their family members for no reason, then we are going to have a serious problem. Because I’m not afraid to speak up.
And that’s why I’m running for re-election for the West New York Board of Education. I would like the opportunity to continue to fight for our school district, our community and our families. I know we can do better than where we are today.