When Cheri West was expecting her son Braden, she remembers hearing all the things said to her that most parents dread. She never could have guessed that her son’s life-threatening condition would lead to one miracle after another, a story that is still unfolding 18 years later.
“They told us it was bad, a lot worse than we originally thought. I remember them telling us that if we were Christians, we needed to pray that God takes him home,” Cheri said.
The condition, called Pfeiffer’s Syndrome, came with seemingly unbeatable odds. While many children with the condition will not live past birth, life expectancy if they did was about 18 months. Children with this condition can be expected to be blind, deaf or handicap.
“There’s a picture of him when he was born and it shows his skull very well, a distinct clover shape,” Cheri said. “At a month old they let us bring him home. He was not thriving, they knew he was not going to make it. We brought him home to meet everyone so he wouldn’t die in a hospital.”
Braden was home for about a week and started deteriorating quickly. After he developed pneumonia, the doctors called in hospice care.
“Anything a mother doesn’t want to hear is what they told us. It’s amazing with faith in God what you can get through. Anyone who knew us or knew of us were praying for us,” Cheri said.
Still, the West family was hopeful.
That hope was felt by Braden’s nurse Michele Linn when she visited for the first time. Although she prepared herself for the very worst — expecting to arrive in somber conditions — she was surprised by the joy she encountered.
“I knew very little about him, but I did know about his life expectancy,” Linn said. “I sat in the car before I actually went out to admit him. I remember saying ‘Lord this will be the most traumatic thing.’ I was expecting it to be very heavy, very emotional, with lots of tears.”
Instead, Linn said she encountered a beautiful young mom who came out beaming ear to ear.
“She said ‘I can’t wait for you to meet him, you will love him, he’s so awesome,’” Linn said. “It was beautiful to watch Braden’s parents with him.”
Still, he was deteriorating respiratory-wise. Linn suctioned Braden all night long, unsure if it would be enough. They felt like that was his life expectancy, so their goal was to keep him comfortable until he passed.
“I remember praying ‘Lord please take him home or make him better; his family can’t keep watching like this.’ It was like I was on the sidelines watching his life,” Linn said.
Miraculously after a few days, Braden began to make a comeback. He not only outlived the 18-month life expectancy, but he continued to defy the odds again and again.
“He had over 30 surgeries, got a tracheotomy at just 3 months old, and once had a procedure done with a 10% survival rate,” Cheri said. “We had to sign the DNR papers, say our goodbyes and everything. Instead of bad news, the doctors came out and said he was okay.”
At 17 years old, Braden finally had the trachea removed. Still a part of his life, Linn was amazed by how far he had come.
“I think about how he reached every milestone, how he overcame every obstacle,” Linn said. “Knowing he might never walk, talk or eat. That he wouldn’t ever go to school or make straight As. Ask any teacher, coach or pastor. They will have their own Braden story. He’s blessed so many people.”
When Linn was contacted to take Braden’s senior pictures recently, she knew she was up for the job. It gave her the opportunity to celebrate the transition from a tiny miracle in her arms to a huge accomplishment celebrated from the viewpoint of her lens.
“As I drove to the photo session, it flooded over me. I sobbed the whole way out there embracing the beauty of how good God is,” Linn said. “We had three photo sessions and they were all fantastic. Braden took pictures with his Bible, out on the farm with his truck, with his muscles showing, even with his shirt off. We had a really fun time.”
Linn decided to post Braden’s senior session with the objective of bringing inspiration to others. The post received thousands of likes and comments, all of which were positive and supportive. Many told her the post, full of hope and positivity, was exactly what they needed to see in a time like this.
As for Braden, he said he is thankful for his nurse, who stayed up taking care of him all night long all those years ago, and who has remained a part of his life ever since.
“She is so, so, so special to me.”