The first year and a half, Berlin had continual problems with sepsis, nearly dying once, and he endured six surgeries. The Nguyens still marveled at their “miracle baby.”
“Mentally, I kid you not, he was bright,” Dee explains. “At 9 months, he started to talk. ‘Mama, Daddy, food’ … sometimes we just watch old video of him before the accident. Every time we watch, we just cry.”
The “accident,” as Dee calls it, happened during a surgery when Berlin was 18 months old, an abdominoplasty to tighten his slack abdominal muscles. But his breathing tube became blocked, and his brain was deprived of oxygen for some 15 minutes. He was revived, but then he stopped breathing again for five minutes.
“He was pretty much dead twice,” Dee says. Doctors were able to get him breathing again, but he slipped into a coma. He emerged from that, but he began having seizures. For the most part, medication can control them.
After this ordeal, not only were Berlin’s physical challenges exacerbated, but the damage to his brain was severe.
“Sometimes they diagnose him at the same age level as every other kid, but the problem is, he can’t give it back to you,” Dee says. “He understands his family; the teacher learned to understand him, his expressions and what he wants. But normal people, it’s hard for them to understand him.”
And yet he still connects with pretty much everyone he meets. “He’s got a big heart,” Dee says. “He brings life into people: He just smiles, and it’s very contagious.”
After the accident, Linh took a year off work to take care of Berlin; even after that, she couldn’t go back to working full time. Dee, meanwhile, was pushing ahead, working 15-hour days on the fast track to an executive chef post with the Ritz — but he wasn’t happy.
“I realized I was missing out on caring for Berlin,” he says. “Most of that fell on Linh and Grandma. I was like, ‘What the heck am I doing?’ I felt like a bad dad and a bad husband. I said, ‘It’s time to rethink things.’ ”
Dee began working on a concept for his own small restaurant, but he worried about the time demands. Then in 2006, when he saw the space tucked around the back of the shopping center not far from their home, it struck him that it was the perfect location for a breakfast place. And if he were on a breakfast/lunch schedule, he’d be home every afternoon to help care for Berlin.
So Dee resigned from the Ritz-Carlton, and in August 2006, Break of Dawn was born.