Love conquers all
She tooled around the driveway atop a pink bicycle with plastic training wheels, valiantly chasing her two brothers on a scooter and a motorized mini Harley-Davidson, screaming and giggling, careening down a steep hill to the road below.
Lana Coil stood in the doorway of her Chicago Park home, keeping a watchful but proud eye on the high jinks. In a moment, the sun would set and it would be time for dinner and games inside.
Just let them play, she thought. After all, a day tooling around on scooters and bicycles was a rare treat for the children who Lana Coil decided to raise after giving up a budding law career 1 1/2 years ago.
In an instant, Brandi Coil jumped from her bicycle and ran to the woman’s arms.
“I love Mommy,” she said softly, her dark eyes focused on a visitor. “She’s not Sissy anymore,” eschewing a term of endearment for an unfamiliar one.
This afternoon at the Jelly Belly candy factory in Fairfield, Sissy officially becomes Mommy during an adoption proceeding at the facility’s visitor center.
Signing the papers ends more than a year-long odyssey for Lana Coil, 35, and her father, Leland, who took the children – each of whom was born with a rare, incurable skin disease – under their care after Leland Coil’s wife died unexpectedly.
“This is the ultimate Christmas present. There’s nothing else more in the world that I want,” Lana Coil said.
“I loved those kids so much last year, and I love them so much more now,” said Lana, who moved with her father to Nevada County in August 2001 to take care of the children, who were born with recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa, which causes the skin to blister, bleed and slough off if touched even slightly. Because the skin can’t graft to the body properly, the children must be bandaged from head to toe in Vaseline-coated gauze.
The disease is generally fatal, and the 100,000 or so who have it probably won’t live to see 30, which adds to the immediacy of today’s proceedings.
“I really, really long for the security of these children,” she said.
After today, no longer will people near to her express confusion over what Lana Coil is to her children. “Legally, I’m nobody, and that’s bothered me. I’ve given them everything and I can’t live tomorrow without them,” she said.
The children are excited for many reasons, too.
“I’m going to have candy corn, because then I can get all fat and chubby,” Corey said, laughing as his 9-year-old brother, Alex, chases him on the motorcycle.
Lana Coil and her family have lived quite a year since alerting the medical community to the family’s needs for a full-time nurse.
In addition to trips to Disney World and Disneyland, donors have purchased hydraulic tables so the children can be easily dressed and changed, a high capacity washer and dryer, and new beds. The family visited San Francisco’s PacBell Park for a Giants game, and the children visited an East Bay camp for children with rare diseases like theirs.
Raising the children has been a joy, Lana admits.
“It’s easy because they’re such incredible kids. I see them smile and it just recharges me,” she said.
With joy came setbacks. Corey, 10, a fourth-grader at Deer Creek School, visits Stanford University Medical Center every six weeks for a procedure to open his esophagus, which closes because of the sores that grow on his throat. Acid reflux also causes erosions in the esophagus, which makes him choke at night.
“I used to cry every time we went to the hospital,” Lana said. “But he’s still a trouper. He doesn’t get discouraged. He knows his body really well.”
Brandi’s sores have become more noticeable in the past year.
“It’s been heartbreaking to see (the sores) overtake her body,” said Lana of Brandi, who turns 8 years old three days before Christmas, and attends Nevada CIty Elementary.
Leland Coil, 59, who with his wife has been a foster parent to dozens of children over two decades, has experienced change, too.
The 32-year veteran of the city of Oakland’s fire department will become “Grandpa” after today. He also is engaged to be married, and will be moving to a new home nearby.
Leland adopted each of the children with his wife, Sheryl, from a Fairfield couple who spent years battling drugs and living on the streets.
Sheryl Coil, 53, died suddenly on Oct. 29, 2000. Lana Coil, a former Chevron accountant, quit her job as an employment-rights attorney in Oakland the next day.
“They’re going to be in great hands,” Leland said in his sandpaper voice. “I’m glad to see they’re going to have a mommy again.”
One of the biggest positive changes has been the addition of a full-time nurse to take care of much of the children’s’ medical needs.
Medi-Cal and Sierra Nevada Homecare have paid for 36 hours a week of care provided by Rae Dwyer, 57, a nurse with three decades of experience in surgery and the operating room.
Dwyer arrived in January, after many nurses turned the assignment down.
“How do you see a family and say, no, I can’t help?” Dwyer said about accepting the job. “How can you walk away from that?”
Dwyer, dressed in blue scrubs and tennis shoes, wears her shock of white hair short. She speaks in clipped sentences. Her job isn’t necessarily of love, but of responsibility. Her presence means Lana Coil spends more personal time with the children.
“The job is tedious and time-consuming, but you can see there’s a more settled aura about (the children). Before, everything was new, and now this has become home.”
Dwyer, who accompanies the children to medical appointments and went to Disneyland with them, has seen a positive change in both the children and in their new mother.
“They’re beginning to blossom. I can’t begin to wonder what good things are going to happen,” said Dwyer, who describes Corey as a “little man,” Alex as outgoing and Brandi, who mugs for the camera and smiles incessantly, as “just Brandi.”
“They deserve the best,” she said, “and it’s exciting to see Lana blossom into a mom. She’s going to be great.”
That, Lana Coil said, is the one thing she is certain of.
“It feels wonderful,” she said. “It’s going to be exciting and a novelty without having to go through this lengthy discussion about who I am.”
She recently picked out a birthday card for Brandi that reads, in part, “for my daughter.”
“That felt incredible.”
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