Saturday, December 6, 2008

Jacob's Story: Told by His Grandmother, Glenna

“We’re having a boy!” Our daughter, Sarah, had written an e-mail, but we could hear her thrilled voice as if she were with us.

She and her husband, Josh, had a little girl. Elyse was four, sweet, playful, and the baby of the family. She had two cousins, our older daughter’s son, Evan, and his sister, Brookie.

Bernie and I had looked forward to having a big happy family, and when Sarah became pregnant the second time, it looked as if we were about to have the perfect family.

Our new grandson was due May 21, 2004. At the end of March we visited a friend in Florida. I kept in touch with both our daughters whenever we traveled. I called Sarah, reached her voicemail, and left a message. We didn’t hear from her that week.

When we returned we learned why. Sarah called and told me she had her sister, Mary, on the line. She had something to tell us and she could only bear to say what she had to say once.

She’d gone for a checkup the week before; during the exam the doctor discovered something unusual about her baby boy’s heartbeat. She’d gone to a specialist immediately and learned that the baby’s heart was malformed.

“But they are sure they can correct it,” she told us. “As soon as he’s born they’ll do surgery.”

When he was born, Sarah held Jacob for a few minutes before he was whisked away to another hospital. We stood in the hallway outside the delivery room. As the little cart with life support attachments that held our baby boy passed us, it stopped and we were allowed a glimpse.

“He’s a good-looking guy, isn’t he?” Bernie said. What he was really saying was much more than that.

Jacob Noah Beachy spent most of the first month of his life in the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit. The surgery wasn’t done immediately; doctors wanted his heart to grow some first.

When Jacob came home he was receiving nourishment through a tube. Though they didn’t say why, the medical staff had urged Sarah to begin feeding him with a bottle even though he wouldn’t be able to take much. She’d planned to nurse him, but his intake needed to be measured. Only much later did she learn about babies who failed to learn to eat and thus languished when the feeding tube was removed.

Sarah fed Jacob with the bottle, held him, loved him, and handled him with care, as did Josh. Elyse, on the other hand, tickled, played, wrestled and talked to him like the little brother he was. She was never rough with him but treated him as the playmate she’d been waiting for.

His biggest smiles were for her. They were best friends. She looked out for him. And he adored her.

Jacob’s first open-heart surgery came early in 2005. We had no illusions; the risk was enormous for our tiny boy. We held our breath until we knew he was all right.

In spring 2006 Jacob underwent another surgery. We prayed, and through the requests of family and friends, churches across the country kept him constantly in their prayers.

The second surgery was successful; two down and one to go.

Jacob was two then. He began hippotherapy that same spring. Hippotherapy is speech, physical and occupational therapy delivered while a child is riding a horse. It’s a therapy that cannot be reproduced in any other setting. Anyone who’s had a child in pediatric therapy knows that it’s hard work. But the movement of the horse helps children with balance and motor skills.

Two common threads run through parents’ stories about their child’s hippotherapy sessions: they can hardly get the child off the horse at the end of the session, and their child’s speech skills improve dramatically. The kids don’t say much while riding, but after the session, it’s like opening a floodgate. That certainly was the case with Jacob. He’d hold lengthy conversations (for a three-year-old), talking about riding his horse, Major.

My heart soared and swelled to near bursting when I saw him walk for the first time. Once when I came to visit he greeted me at the door with, “Look, Grandma – I run.” And he ran to the kitchen.

His vocabulary grew quickly to include quesadilla and pedometer. And he told me the names of everyone in the family: Sissy Noah Beachy, Mommy Noah Beachy, Daddy Noah Beachy.

Jacob was love itself – he brought joy and laughter into any room he entered.

In June, 2007, Jacob went into the hospital for the procedure that would make the final repair to his heart. The surgery went well and Jacob was recovering on schedule. After a few days doctors removed a drainage tube from his chest. They discovered a small herniated area and decided to perform surgery to correct it.

During that surgery Jacob contracted MRSA, the antibiotic-resistant staph infection. The next six weeks can only be described as a living hell.

Jacob died on July 21, 2007. He was exactly 38 months old.

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