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Staff photo by GRANT MORRIS

Laura Petrigno, left, holds Logan as her wife, Richanne sticks her tongue out playfully at her, Thursday evening at their home in Milford. Shortly after the artificial insemination for Logan took, it was discovered that Richanne had a brain tumor the size of a golf ball. Laura's employer doesn't offer insurance for gay couples, so Richanne can't have the tumor removed because of the cost unless she left New Hampshire for a state that gave gay couples equal rights.
Friday, December 30, 2011

Uncertainty of illness, health care looms over gay couple, new child

MILFORD – The camera crews have left, and the television screen has gone dark. But now more than six weeks after Richanne and Laura Petrigno shared their lives with a national audience, their story continues, growing more uncertain by the day.

The Milford couple, who welcomed their daughter Logan in July, told the story of their pregnancy earlier this fall on an episode of “Secretly Pregnant” on the Discovery Fit & Health network. The show, which first aired last month, followed the couple throughout the pregnancy, documenting how a brain tumor diagnosis put Richanne’s life at risk and forced the couple to hide their news from friends and family.

Now that the final credits have rolled, the show has not captured Richanne’s ongoing struggle to survive the tumor, which has only grown worse in the months since.

Because her wife’s work doesn’t extend health insurance benefits to same-sex spouses, Richanne, 25, who is unemployed, is left without medical coverage, unable to afford treatment.

“If I wasn’t married right now … I would have my brain surgery and I’d be on with my life. Now, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Richanne said earlier this month, choking back tears.

“Honestly, I wish that we could just start filming (the show) now,” Laura, 22, added, glancing lovingly toward her wife. “There’s so much more of our story to tell.”

Conflicting feelings

The couple’s story started about three years ago and nearly 2,700 miles west.

Laura Petrigno, born and raised in Milford, had moved in 2008 to Prescott, Ariz., for college, where she met Richanne Hamilton, a California native, at a youth camp where the two volunteered.

The couple struck up a quick romance, moving in together within six months.

“I loved how free-spirited she was,” Richanne said.

Within a year, they began discussing plans to build a family. Arizona law, however, prohibits same-sex couples both from marrying and adopting. So the two decided in fall 2010 to return to Laura’s native New Hampshire to build a family.

In 2009, New Hampshire became the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage.

“I wanted to come back here and raise my family with my family,” Laura said. “That was our goal…to be happy like everyone else. Unfortunately, it hasn’t really played out that way.”

Midway along their cross-country trip, Richanne and Laura got the news they were waiting for. The artificial insemination – self-administered before they left Arizona using a cup and a syringe – had worked, and Richanne was pregnant. But that news was preceded by another call that left the couple fearing for their future.

On Nov. 8, 2010, less than a week before they heard about the pregnancy, test results revealed Richanne was suffering from a tumor the size of a golf ball growing inside her brain.

Going back several years, she had experienced severe headaches and other pains she attributed first to an infected tooth, then to hypochondria.

“I was convinced there was nothing wrong with me, so I didn’t even go back and get the test results,” she said.

But the test results showed something different.

The brain tumor, officially classified as a benign meningioma, had been growing for years, doctors said. And news of the pregnancy further compounded the situation as doctors warned that it could breed hormones that could cause the tumor to grow further.

“It was conflicting feelings,” Laura said. “It was like, ‘Great, I finally get what I want, but not really because it came at such a bad time.’ We didn’t know how to feel.”

The diagnosis prompted many questions: What was the treatment plan? Would Richanne survive the pregnancy? Would the baby be healthy?

One question never crossed the Petrignos’ minds.

“We never thought about (giving up the baby). Not once,” Laura said.

“I just felt like if it was meant to be that I actually got pregnant, then it was meant to be that I would have her,” Richanne added with a broad smile.

The couple opted not to have surgery during the pregnancy to keep their baby safe. As the pregnancy advanced, Richanne’s symptoms grew. Dizziness, memory lapses, loss of consciousness.

“Some days I couldn’t really get up,” she said. “That hasn’t changed.”

On July 13, Richanne gave birth to a healthy baby girl. Logan, now 5 months old, has continued to grow. She has a thin head of dark hair and sparkling hazel eyes.

“Every time she does something, it’s a big celebration,” Laura said excitedly. “She rolled over for the first time, and I think we scared her because we were cheering so much.”

Moving forward

Richanne’s future remains less bright, however.

Without insurance coverage, Richanne hasn’t seen a doctor since August. She has plans to go for a consultation next month, but in the meantime, her symptoms have continued to worsen.

If she were single, Richanne could qualify for the state’s Medicaid coverage, she said. But because she is married, she is left to depend on her spouse’s plan. Under the federal Defense of Marriage Act, however, Laura’s employer, a multi-state technology company, is not required to offer coverage to same-sex spouses.

“Just to have the title ‘married’ doesn’t mean anything unless we have the same rights,” Laura said. “It doesn’t help us at all.”

Moving forward, Richanne has applied for disability Medicaid coverage, but she won’t hear back until next month at the earliest. In the meantime, the couple has considered moving to another state to seek better benefits.

They’ve even thought of divorcing to help Richanne gain better access to the state’s Medicaid program.

“It’s sad, but that’s what we’re thinking of just so I can get help,” Richanne said.

For now, the couple will have to wait and hope for the best. They’ve started with formal adoption proceedings to make sure Laura is legally recognized as Logan’s mother in all 50 states should anything happen. And they’re starting to make arrangements for several fundraising events to help cover some of the medical bills.

“It gets scary … we’re just hoping something good happens,” Laura said as Logan, babbled in the background.

“I fear every day that I won’t be there to watch her grow up,” Richanne added, wiping away tears. “I worked so hard to get this little girl. She wasn’t an accident. She was a miracle … I just hope I can get the help that I need.”

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or