Young Wilcox couple copes with tragedy
By Joseph Bell
“Now they were bringing even infants to Him that He might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’” - Luke 18:15-17
WILCOX – For one young couple living in Wilcox, months old wounds from every parents’ worst nightmare may be beginning to heal.
Grady James Cherry, second born son to Heather (26) and Steve Cherry (27), was born Friday, Nov. 15, 2013 and spent the next nine days fighting for his family to have a chance to know him.
Born four-and-a-half weeks early, Grady’s young parents thought nothing of the early surprise; after all, their firstborn, Troy (3), was a welcome addition at three-and-a-half weeks early.
“It wasn’t a shocker to us,” Heather said. “Grady was 7 pounds, 1 ounce, 19 inches long, and he actually cried, something that Troy actually didn’t do, so that was good. They were working on him afterwards, and again, we didn’t think anything of it.”
After getting pregnant for the second time, the couple decided they did not wish to have any more children, a realization that led to Heather having her tubes tied after Grady’s birth in DuBois.
“Grady was crying and that was more progress than we had had with Troy at that time, so I went along with having my tubes tied,” Heather said. “Within 12 hours, he was life-flighted. He just kept declining, he had fluid on the lungs and the doctors just couldn’t figure out why that was happening. We didn’t find out till later that Grady had severely underdeveloped lungs.”
According to multiple medical journals, the lungs begin forming very early in fetal development. How this was missed during Heather’s routine checkups leading up to Grady’s birth remain a mystery.
“He was on a ventilator, tubes coming out of his chest, his bellybutton, he was just hooked up and wired,” Heather said. “I gave birth around 8 a.m. and we didn’t really see him until later that evening, so it was a long time. He just kept snowballing, they couldn’t get him stabilized, and he just wasn’t responding to the oxygen.”
Grady was life-flighted to Pittsburgh around 10 p.m. to try a different type of gas to assist him with his breathing.
“Shortly after Steve left, the nurse told me that somebody wanted to see me, someone was here to help,” Heather said. “This man came in and sat by my bedside, and told me he was ‘Ryan from Grady’s Decision.’
“I had to think for a minute and I said ‘Wait a minute, did you know that we named our baby Grady?’ He just stopped and looked at me, and couldn’t really believe it himself.”
Grady’s Decision was founded by Ryan and Katrina Smith of Erie. It is a 501c3 non-profit organization created to present a glimpse of God’s love to families experiencing premature births as well as those families with children needing specialized medical attention. The organization helps assist with parking costs, food, housing near hospitals and transportation needs.
With their help, Heather and Steve were able to make ends meet as they traveled to and from Pittsburgh at Children’s Hospital.
“He was stable for a few days but Friday was terrible and they brought me in to give him a kiss before they hooked him up to ECMO and I said he was gone then,” Steve said. “They hooked him up, brought a little bit of life back to him but it was just terrible.”
ECMO is an intensive care medical procedure called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, simply a technique of providing cardiac and respiratory support oxygen to patients whose heart and lungs are severely damaged.
In Grady’s case, ECMO would give his underdeveloped lungs a much needed rest.
Meanwhile, Heather was recovering from a Caesarean section when she was contacted by Steve’s sister, who was with him in Pittsburgh.
“She said the doctor wanted to talk to me, and by the sound of it, it wasn’t good,” Heather said. “The doctor basically said he wouldn’t make it through the night if we didn’t do this ECMO procedure.”
By this time, Grady’s chances of surviving weren’t good.
“He was stable for a few days before his liver started to go, he needed his blood cleansed and it was just a mess. He went into liver and kidney failure— it was just awful,” Heather said. “The Saturday before he passed, he was just very calm and stable, and we thought maybe he was going up. Steve and I went out to eat that day, we just felt better, felt we had a breath of hope, and I think we slept in until 8 a.m. or so, that was sleeping in for us. We went to go see him and they wouldn’t let us in because he was having a CAT scan, and we really thought nothing of it since he was constantly having tests, and we had become accustomed to that.”
All the commotion that morning was because doctors discovered Grady was bleeding on the brain.
The constant battling had finally reached a breaking point.
“It was extremely sad,” Heather said. “Our families came down and the pastor came in, and it was a good way for him to go.”
Grady James Cherry, just nine days old, died Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013 in Pittsburgh. He was laid to rest in Holy Cross Cemetery in Rasselas just two weeks after he was born.
“I will not cause pain without something new to be born,” says the Lord. - Book of Isaiah
It wasn’t until January of the new year when stark realizations began to surface.
“I had a few friends that had just had babies, and it took a while for me to process that I won’t be able to do that again,” Heather said. “There’s still a piece of me that may always feel like I’m missing out but you take the good and the bad. It’s been a test to get through this but I don’t think I ever stopped believing in my faith, I just didn’t understand.
“Before Grady got really sick, I saw a vision that made me think he was going to pull though. My understanding now is that it was a vision of Grady in Heaven, only because Grady and Troy weren’t together.”
Rather than try a tubal ligation reversal, a procedure typically not covered by medical insurance and with costs in the thousands, the couple is instead turning to adoption.
“I looked at it as why try to force a life when maybe we can save one?” Heather said. “I had a nurse tell me about an independent adoption that she did as she found a birth mom and adopted, and it was around $4,000. That’s kind of what got us going because we had heard stories of adoptions costing upwards of $50,000, and we realized there was no way we’d ever be able to do that.”
Several published reports list the average adoption costs when working with an agency at roughly $34,000 while public adoptions from foster care come in at just over $2,000, but with several different factors impacting costs.
“We’re approved by the state government to be foster parents so if a baby were dropped off at the hospital as part of the Safe Haven program, we could foster that child for six months,” Heather said. “If the parents would sign over the rights, we could adopt the child, and that’s kind of the route we’re hoping to take. We’re trying to keep all our options open.”
A spaghetti dinner benefit to help raise money to begin the adoption process is scheduled for Sunday, April 6 at the Wilcox Community Center. There will also be an auction and bake sale. The event is scheduled to start at noon and will continue until all the items are sold out.
The couple also created a campaign called the "Adoption Option" which can be found on Facebook, on Twitter at @theadoptionhelp, and at www.theadoptionoption.weebly.com.
"We hope to someday turn this campaign into a non-profit organization to help families adopting with financial, emotional and spiritual support," Heather said.
Steve is currently employed at Gas Field Specialists, Inc. while Heather is a writing tutor.