‘The Three of Us Were It:’ A grandmother’s annual gift celebrates three generations united by Magee
In her 101 years, Melva Deitt has seen much of the world, from breathtaking castles in Russia – where she and her late husband were treated, as American tourists, like royalty – to most of Europe and the intimidating streets of Morocco.
But in the end, it’s the house where she raised her only daughter – and where her daughter then raised Melva’s only grandchild – that holds her heart.
“I always say: I’ve had a wonderful life. I had good parents, a good husband, a wonderful daughter, and a wonderful grandson,” she recalls.
For the latter, Melva is especially grateful: Curtis Paul Bucher, born prematurely on Sept. 11, 1989, so tiny that Melva’s daughter, Eileen, dressed him in Cabbage Patch Kids doll clothes when she first brought him home from UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital.
As a preemie, Curtis began life in Magee’s neonatal intensive care unit, and his grandmother was so pleased with his care that she donates $1,000 to Magee every year on his birthday.
At 36, Eileen was expecting her first – and, as it would turn out, only – child when she went to the hospital for routine monitoring in late July 1989. She appreciated her obstetricians, Dr. Robert Kaminski and Dr. Robert Stern, who kept close tabs on her. She even remembers Dr. Stern calling Dr. Kaminski from the Bahamas, where he was vacationing with his family, to check on her.
“I swear, those two doctors slept at the hospital,” Eileen recalls. “Anytime I went in for any kind of test, one of them was always there.”
That July, in the 27th week of her pregnancy, Eileen was busy making plans when the technician asked her how she was feeling.
“I thought I was having indigestion,” Eileen says; otherwise, she felt fine. But then the technician broke the news: it wasn’t indigestion; she was in early labor.
Shocked, Eileen refused to believe it. Her baby was due Oct. 8, the same birthday as Melva’s mother. And she protested that she wasn’t ready to give birth just yet; she had things to do.
Magically, both doctors appeared at her bedside, convincing her to stay while they assessed her. They put her on bed rest for the remainder of her pregnancy; labor that premature now classified her as high risk.
After that, Melva accompanied her to the hospital for her frequent checkups, sometimes two or three times in a week. It was the second time in her life that Melva was a Magee regular; 20 years earlier, she went to the hospital every day to sit with her sister, Lorene McKrell, who was treated for breast cancer. Lorene died in 1969 at the age of 49, but Melva never forgot the quality of her care.
On Sept. 11, 1989, Eileen and her husband went to the hospital at 4 a.m. for yet another test. The doctor gave her a choice: they could induce labor that day, or she could come back again the next day.
“I was not a morning person to begin with,” says Eileen. “I said, ‘if you have time today, let’s just do it now.”
Curtis Paul Bucher, named for both of his grandfathers, arrived weighing 3 lbs., 11 oz. He stayed in the NICU for two weeks before he gained enough weight to finally go home.
For Melva, it was love at first sight. Her beloved husband of 40 years, Paul Deitt, had died the previous year, in the miserable heat of the summer of 1988, just 17 months after being diagnosed with asbestosis. A man who seldom raised his voice, Paul didn’t smoke or drink, and always came home to their Ross Township house, bought from Melva’s parents, right after work. He was especially close to Eileen: “The three of us were it,” Melva recalls; he would have loved his grandson.
Paul and Melva had traveled the world together, and Melva continued to travel with friends after his death. But when Curtis was born, she doted on him. After two weeks in the Magee neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), he came home to grow up in the same house where his mother and grandmother had been raised. The family was small, but the roots were strong; Melva moved up the street to a nearby apartment, helping to take care of Curtis through his childhood while his parents worked.
Out of gratitude for the prenatal care Eileen received, and the care that allowed Curtis to thrive in the NICU, she also established the tradition of donating to Magee: “It’s the least I can do,” she says.
Now, in adulthood, the three generations remain close, often sharing dinner together and seeing each other almost daily.
“They’re great buddies. He adores her, she adores him,” says Eileen. “All my mom has to do is whistle, and he’d be there for her.”
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