Waiting for the Miracle to Happen
The parents prayed in the waiting room while the doctors opened their son’s skull. An operating room nurse who said she’d sneak out with news did not come out. The day fell to hospital twilight. Jeff and Kathy were too frightened to say much. Brian’s older sisters Shannon and Megan joined the silent huddle. Seven hours after the operation began, a haggard surgeon came out and said he’d done all he could. Fred Epstein said he’d gotten the bleeding to stop, removed most of the tumor. They’d done a biopsy. We’ll see, he said, trying to sound hopeful.
The next 48 hours are critical. Anything can happen. Don’t be surprised if Brian sleeps for the next day or two. Jeff and Kathy saw their child falling through darkness. They set up vigil beside Brian’s bed in intensive care. After midnight, one or the other would catch fits of sleep in the waiting room.
Day Two passed to Day Three. Day Four. Darkness and light passed for a fifth day. They whispered to him and, through the tangle of needles and tubes, they kissed his lips. Brian would not wake. They prayed for the certain miracle to come soon. Day Six, his temperature soared and plunged wildly. The boy held life by a thread. He was taken for another operation to insert a monitor measuring brain pressure.
Back in Warwick, neighbor Roe Lawrence asked Father Desmond O’Connor to lead a small prayer service for Brian. They’d hold it in a conference room. By the time word got around Warwick, the main sanctuary had to be opened. Shannon and Megan went. Megan had run a cross-country race that day, haggard and unprepared, but something happened. She ran her best time ever, finishing first for Warwick. Brian’s friends were there. Mike Lawrence, Lauren Buturla, Allison Cleary and Gerard Friedler. Coaches, neighbors, teachers. As Jeff and Kathy sat vigil with their son, a packed church in Warwick huddled in prayer.
The next day, Oct. 29, Kathy and Jeff walked into an office full of doctors and nurses and social workers. The professionals bent their heads, eyes to the ground, as Dr. Epstein met the eyes of the parents. The biopsy results were in. Brian’s tumor is malignant and very aggressive. In this kind of cancer, we’re sorry, there are no known survivors. The parents stopped the doctors. They didn’t want to hear about timetables for death. A monster had invaded their boy and the monster must be driven out. The doctors said they’d do everything they could. Everything. But they couldn’t do anything if Brian stayed in a coma.
The next day, surgeons put a tube in Brian’s throat and set up feeding tubes for his stomach. He showed no signs of waking. Two neurologists checked Brian and then came to see Jeff and Kathy. They spoke to the parents about “quality of life.” Questions might arise about life support. They just wanted the parents to begin thinking …
No, his parents said. You don’t know Brian. You don’t know miracles.
Ten days had passed. They stayed in the room waiting for their boy to wake. Kathy had hardly eaten and the doctors urged her to take some food. Jeff and Kathy walked arm in arm out into the bustle of Manhattan’s Upper East Side. This was nearly their first time outside in weeks and their legs were unsteady. They stumbled into a small dark Italian restaurant.
The two of them had met back in 1978 in a New Haven music club. She loved his passion for baseball, his deep goodness, his plans. Jeff worked for Union Carbide and he had it all figured out where and when life would happen. He loved her dreaminess, a free spirit with both feet on the ground. Then they had a family and he gladly gave up the Fortune 500 rat race for a good stable job in Ellenville and time for the kids. Little League coach, the whole deal. She gave her love to all her children; she gave her free spirit to Brian.
Hunched over in the Italian restaurant, the mother of a dying boy put her face in her hands. She picked up her head and her eyes searched upward. “Jeff, look.” Hung from a wall directly above them was a statue of an angel. Yes, at last, a sign of the coming miracle. Kathy and Jeff broke bread.
A week later, their boy awoke.
Brian was able to follow commands by looking up and down with his eyes. He could not move anything else. He could not speak.
Ten days later, his two close school buddies came to visit. Gerard and Mike DeGroat were both 13 years old. Walking to the room, they were scared stiff. Brian couldn’t talk, his mother said to them, couldn’t move. What would he look like, what would they say? They walked in. They saw their ball-playing buddy motionless, a drooping face surrounded by tubes. OK, OK. Gerard began talking a blue streak to Brian. How school was going, who was going out with who, should I sign you up for the diving team, Bri? Brian looked at them and his eyes sparkled. As Gerard and Mike gabbed cheerfully, Kathy saw tears run down their cheeks. Once they wept, they no longer seemed afraid. Brian communicated with them through eye movement. Up for yes, down for no. Yes, sign me up for the diving team. He’ll be fine, they all decided. His parents were certain. The boys were certain and they could hardly wait to visit him again.
The next day, Brian moved his right fingers and toes ever so slightly. A few days later, his mother set up communication by reciting the alphabet. Brian would squeeze her hand at the correct letter. First thing he spelled was pizza. He hadn’t had anything to eat in a month. Sorry, said his mother, can’t eat yet. His right side continued to improve. He was transferred downtown to Beth Israel Medical Center for radiation treatments. Thanksgiving arrived. Jeff and Kathy and the girls gathered at Brian’s bedside for celebration. He could not walk or talk or eat or speak. That morning, he was able for the first time to raise his hand in a small wave.
Brian and the family had never given so much thanks.
A couple of days later, Warwick track coaches St. Lawrence and Paffenroth came to visit. Brian burned with joy. He opened his mouth and out came the sound of “hi.” On Dec. 18, he was able to eat his first solid food. McDonald’s french fries.
Christmas Eve, the Warwick Volunteer Ambulance went to Manhattan and brought Brian home. Friends and neighbors greeted him. Aunts, uncles, cousins celebrated Christmas with him. Gerard came over and Allison bought over socks and a can of silly string. Warwick volunteers brought him back and forth to Manhattan for radiation. New Year’s Eve, in the hospital, Brian and Jeff stayed up until midnight waiting for a better year. On Jan. 9, Brian had his last radiation treatment. The nurses had a big surprise going away party for him. The doctors who had seen Brian after surgery stopped by to see him.They were shocked at his progress. Incredible, they said. And if he didn’t walk yet, thought Kathy, so be it. Whatever they had to go through, they would. Make it all the more impressive when “20/20″ would one day arrive to cover the miracle recovery.
Their story would show how sick he was, how the doctors said he would certainly die. Then the cameras would pan to a fully recovered Brian romping through an open meadow, running and jumping with a boy’s glee. And we will all bear witness to the miracle.