Leap Day Tragedy Brought to Life by Savage Artist
On Feb. 29, 1996, Laura Ritenour gave birth and lost a child.
Leap Day in 1996 should have been one of the happiest days of Laura Ritenour's life–she was giving birth to her third child.
But Ritenour, from Laurel, and her husband, Leonard, knew chances of life for Joshua were extremely slim–Joshua was 24 weeks old when he was born with a fetal defect condition called VATER syndrome.
"He lived for just over an hour," Ritenour told Patch.
Joshua's life began and ended in Washington Adventist Hospital on the most rare day on the calendar. The only evidence of his life were a few body measurements and a couple of blurry Polaroid photographs taken by a nurse.
Less than three weeks later, seeking comfort in a symbol of a lost child, Ritenour brought those photos to artist Sylvia James George in Savage Mill. She asked George if it was possible to make a clear painting of her son.
"She took my hand and said, 'I will do the best that I can do,'" Ritenour recalls.
George used the Polaroids, along with a photo of Ritenour's daughter whom Joshua closest resembled, to make a pastel, which Ritenour was able to show friends and family.
The pastel now sits by Ritenour's bed in her Laurel home, next to this poem written by her oldest son, Paul Burgio, who was 11 at the time:
When my mom told me she was pregnant,
I pitched a fit.
Then I got used to it.
Then one day there was a problem…
Now I will not have a little brother.
In the years since Joshua's death, Ritenour had a fourth child. She joined and eventually chaired a local non-profit chapter of Miscarriage, Infant Death and Stillbirth (MIS), a support group for mothers of infants who suffered premature death.
Since Joshua's birth was on Leap Day, people would tell Ritenour that she only had to think about Joshua's death every four years, but she doesn't see it that way.
"I'm going to think about my child every single day of my life," she said.