Firman Parlindungan and his daughter, Inaya, are set for his graduation May 5.

Doctoral research can pose rigorous challenges — data glitches, tight deadlines, federal approvals. And life doesn’t stop as PhD students push doggedly toward dissertation defense. Many have families. They juggle finances and outside obligations.

Firman Parlindungan and his wife, Oja, came to The Ohio State University from Indonesia four years ago so that he could study reading and literacy in the College of Education and Human Ecology — a nationally ranked program. They never expected that they would also depend on the university’s expertise to save their child’s life.

When Parlindungan discovered after a prenatal scan that their unborn daughter had a hole in her diaphragm, he determined to be a good father while continuing to become a groundbreaking researcher.

Parlindungan studied literacy classes taught in Muslim schools to understand how children both deepen their faith and negotiate their integration into the fabric of America.

He was in the process of gathering and analyzing data when his baby girl was born at the university’s Wexner Medical Center eight months ago. Ohio State proved to be a good choice for the whole family.

“During the first 45 minutes of her life, the doctors did everything to stabilize her,” Parlindungan said.

The couple named her Inaya, which means gift of God.

Numbers mean a lot to a researcher. The survival rate for a newborn with Inaya’s condition is 50 percent, the doctors told the couple. “What made us at peace is that we believed she will receive the best treatment here in Ohio and that we have good people around us who are very supportive and caring,” he said.

EHE doctoral student with wife and daughter
Oja and Firman Parlindungan with their daughter, Inaya.

Parlindungan drove Oja to the hospital in the mornings, “and then I went to the school for collecting data for about four hours. And then I went back to the hospital, and stayed during the rest of the day.”

The baby was transferred to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Dr. Katherine J. Deans, an associate professor of surgery at Ohio State, repaired the hernia and their little girl spent her first 100 days in the hospital.

While the baby healed and gained strength, Parlindungan buckled down on his research so that he could meet his three-year deadline. In the evenings, he and his wife settled into Inaya’s hospital room, watching her slow recovery. Parlindungan parsed his data and wrote. The new parents spent most nights sleeping on recliners next to their daughter.

Parlindungan’s dissertation committee urged him to focus on his family first. Adrian Rodgers, an associate professor of teaching and learning, was concerned for his advisee.

“As deadlines drew near and Firman met them, I said to him ‘I don't know how you're able to keep it all going,’” Rodgers said. “To which he replied, ‘To be honest, most of the dissertation was written in the waiting rooms of the hospital.’”

The research is unique. The hard work paid off.

“His is the only U.S. study that considers the intersection between faith-based schooling for Muslims and reading and writing, and is an important step in thinking about how teachers can help Muslim immigrant children understand their new home,” Rodgers said.

Rosy-cheeked and adorably pudgy, Inaya saw her dad successfully defend his dissertation in April. She and Oja Parlindungan will be in Ohio Stadium May 5 to cheer him on as he is hooded and receives his diploma from President Michael V. Drake.

When Inaya is a bit stronger, the family will return home so that her dad can help shape Indonesia's next generation of teachers.

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