Miracle Child: Part II
The sequel to Miracle Child
"Jackie, come on, we're going to be late!" called Harold, my husband. I grabbed my suitcase from our bed and rushed down the stairs. I followed Harold out to the garage, and we both climbed into the car. Harold put up the garage door, turned on the car, and we pulled out of the driveway. We were on our way to the airport. We were flying to Orlando, Florida, where our youngest son, Brian, lived.
It was the fall of 1997 and time for Brian's annual check-up. Ever since the infection that almost took his life when he was five, Brian has had to have check-ups every year with his cardiologist to make sure the hole in his heart is closing as it should. And every year things have looked good. So I wasn't too concerned. But still, as his loving mother, I wanted to be there for my son during his check-up, and I knew he wanted me there. He had always been scared of hospitals and doctors, and I didn't blame him one bit. He hated going to these annual check-ups. In fact, he hated them so much, that he was past due for one. It had been nearly a year and a half since his last check-up. He didn't seem eager to make an appointment, so I made the appointment for him, with Dr. Leonard Green, a respectable cardiologist that lived in Orlando.
Now the time had come for the appointment, and so, Harold and I were flying to Florida to stay the weekend and be with Brian during the check-up.
An hour later, we had arrived at the airport, checked our luggage, and had just boarded the plane. We fastened out seatbelts and listened to the whole safety lecture the flight attendants were giving.
Soon, we were in the air. The flight only took an hour and a half. It was a smooth flight, and we landed at the Orlando Airport right on time.
As we exited the plane and entered the airport, we saw Brian and his girlfriend, Samantha, waiting for us. I hurried over to Brian and hugged him tightly. Then I pulled back for a good look at him. He looked good, except for being a little pale. But I just brushed that off as nervousness about the appointment later that afternoon.
After fussing over Brian for a few minutes, I turned to Samantha and hugged her as well. Brian had been going out with Samantha Stonebraker since he first joined the Backstreet Boys. She had gone to school with AJ, and he had been the one to introduce her to Brian. Ever since, they have been inseparable. Harold and I have grown to know Samantha very well, and we love her like a daughter.
After we had all greeted each other, we went to get our luggage. Then Harold went to see about renting a car. Brian and Samantha owned a jeep together, but there was not enough room for all four of us in it, so we decided to rent a car.
Soon, Harold and I were driving to our hotel in the rental car. Brian's appointment wasn't until two o'clock that afternoon. It was only noon now. We had decided to unpack and then meet Brian and Samantha for lunch before heading to the doctor's office.
Two hours later, we were all waiting in the waiting room of Dr. Green's office. We had enjoyed a leisurely lunch, and made it there in perfect timing. I watched Brian fidget around in his chair. I knew how nervous he was by the way he was tapping his foot and biting his nails. I reached over and patted his hand. He looked up, pulling his finger out of his mouth. I offered him a reassuring smile, and he managed to smile back.
Finally, a nurse entered the waiting room. "Brian Littrell?" she called. We all stood up. "Right this way," she said, smiling. She led us down to a small room at the end of the hall. "First I need to weigh you," she said to Brian. He took his shoes off for her and stepped up onto the scale. "One hundred thirty-five pounds," she said, writing it down on his chart. "Thanks a lot. Dr. Green will be in to see you soon." With that, she left the room. Brian perched on the examining table. Samantha sat down beside him, and Harold and I took seats on the other side of the small room.
Dr. Green came in a few minutes later. Samantha quickly jumped off the table and stood against the wall next to Harold.
"Good afternoon, everyone," Dr. Green said. He held out his hand. We all introduced ourselves and shook hands with him. I liked Dr. Green already. He was an older man, with graying hair and blue eyes. He seemed very nice, like a grandfather. Harold, Samantha, and I watched as Dr. Green took Brian's temperature and blood pressure and listened to his heart. After all that was done, he took him down the hall for the usual EKG and CT scan of his heart. We all waited back in the examining room for him. The tests didn't take too long. Soon, Brian returned. He was alone.
"What did Dr. Green say?" I asked.
"He said to wait here, and he'd be in in a few minutes to talk to us," Brian replied. So, we all sat and waited.
Finally, Dr. Green came back in. I couldn't exactly read the expression on his face, but I could tell he did not have good news to give us.
"I'm sorry," Dr. Green began, as if he was reading my mind, "but I'm afraid I don't have very good news to give you." My eyes widened. I looked anxiously at Brian. He looked quite pale all of a sudden. I knew how scared he was. I was terrified of what the doctor was going to say myself.
"What is it?" Harold asked.
"I'm afraid the hole in Brian's heart hasn't closed as it should have. In fact, it has made his entire heart grow abnormally large. Right now, his heart is about the size of a three hundred pound linebacker's heart."
I gasped. "What do you do to treat it?" I heard myself asking.
"We need the close the hole," Dr. Green said. "This requires open heart surgery."
Brian's baby blue eyes opened wider. "I have to have surgery?!" he cried.
"This is not a life threatening condition right now," Dr. Green said. "Right now, the surgery is optional. But if you wait too long, it could be potentially life-threatening."
"When do I have to have this surgery done?" Brian asked. I knew he was thinking about his commitment to the Backstreet Boys, who had just begun to grow popular in the United States. They were already huge in Europe and had a big European tour coming up.
"It can wait for a few months, "Dr. Green replied. "I know you must be very busy with your group. The recovery period is about two months, so you'll want to schedule the surgery for a time when you have some time off."
Brian nodded. I could tell he was trying not to cry. I was having a hard time not breaking down myself. After all these years, I had thought the hole was almost closed. I never expected to hear that all was not well. I thought Brian's heart problems were a thing of the past. But not anymore.
We talked to Dr. Green for a few more minutes. Brian said he would have to talk to the rest of the guys and their management before scheduling the surgery. After that, we all walked out to our cars in silence. Before I climbed in, I turned to Brian and hugged him tightly. "We'll get through this, baby," I said bravely. He just nodded and offered me a tearful smile before climbing into his Jeep. Harold and I waved to him and Samantha and slowly drove away. As soon as we pulled out of the parking lot, I broke down into tears. Harold tried to comfort me as we drove back to our hotel. But I could not be comforted, knowing that my baby had to have surgery. It just broke my heart even thinking about it.
Harold and I stayed the weekend, spending as much time with Brian as possible, trying to comfort him. He tried to act brave about the whole thing, but I could see through his macho act. I knew he was terrified, as was I.
Monday morning, we had to fly back to Lexington. It was a tearful good-bye for the three of us at the airport. I didn't want to leave Brian, but I knew I had to. I made him promise to call us when he had scheduled a date for the surgery and kissed him good-bye. Then, we boarded our plane.
I didn't hear from Brian until a few weeks later. He had talked things over with management and scheduled the surgery for a date in late February, not long after his twenty third birthday. We talked for awhile and finally said good-bye.
After that, Brian and the guys went to Europe to start their long tour. During this time, I was very worried about Brian. He called be often, and when he did, he always sounded so tired and run-down. I didn't think he should be performing and travelling so often, but he assured me that he was doing fine.
Sometime in January, while he was still on tour, he called us from Europe to tell us that he had had to postpone the surgery because of some extra tour dates that had been added. It was now scheduled for late March. I was not happy about this. I was worried he was waiting too long to have the surgery, and I was irritated at his managers for making him postpone the surgery. But I knew he loved touring, and he didn't want to let anyone down. So I kept silent about him, not wanting him to think I was disappointed in him.
But then, Brian was forced to postpone the surgery again because of some video the group was supposed to shoot in late March. This time, I was mad, and I let him know it. I was not mad at him, but at Johnny and Donna Wright, his managers, the people that were doing this to my son. Couldn't they see that his health was more important than some stupid video? Everytime I talked to him, he sounded more and more sick and tired.
After talking to his doctor, Brian rescheduled the surgery for May eighth. It was the last time, he assured me. His doctor had told him he would not be able to go much longer than that date without surgery before it became life threatening. I prayed that he hadn't waited too long already.
The months passed, and the date of the surgery grew nearer. We all grew more and more nervous as each day passed. The first day of May, Brian finally came home to Lexington. The surgery was actually taking place in Rochester, Minnesota, a place where none of the fans would expect Brian to be having it. That was what he wanted. He and the guys had already had a big press conference, telling everyone about the surgery. At the conference, Brian had asked the fans not to send him flowers and cards, but to instead send donations to the foundation he had set up, the Brian Littrell Endowment for Pediatric Cardiology. I had never been prouder of my youngest son, and I let him know it.
The few days before the operation passed quickly, too quickly. But it was a time for all of us to grow closer. One afternoon, Brian and I went out for a drive, just the two of us. Suddenly, Brian took out a cassette and put it in the tape player in the car. A song started to play that I had never heard it before. I recognized Brian's voice right away as the song started. I didn't realized what the song was about until the chorus came on.
You showed me,
When I was young just how to grow.
You showed me,
Everything that I should know.
You showed me,
Just how to walk without your hands,
Cause Mom, you always were the perfect fan.
When I realized the song was about me, I began to sob. Brian pulled the car off to the side of the road and hugged me. I hugged him tightly, and we both cried. I sat there, holding him and stroking his hair for the longest time. Finally, we wiped out faces off, and he slowly pulled the car back onto the road and drove us home.
The day before Brian's surgery, the whole family flew to Rochester. This included Harold and I, my oldest son, Harold, both sets of Brian's grandparents, and Brian's girlfriend, Leighanne. He had broken up with Samantha a few months before and started going out with Leighanne, an actress, who he had met during the video shoot of "As Long As You Love Me". Leighanne was nearly six years older than Brian, but she was very nice and wanted to be with him through this whole ordeal. They had only been going out for a few months, but already they had a very strong connection.
Unfortunately, the rest of the guys couldn't be there for the actual surgery. They had to perform at Disney World for Graduation Night. They were flying straight to Minnesota afterwards, but they would not be able to see Brian before he went into surgery.
That night, the night before the surgery, I was relaxing in my hotel room, when there was a knock at the door. Harold was taking a shower, so I got up to answer it myself. I opened the door to find Brian standing there.
"Hi, Babyduck," I said, smiling at my son. "What are you doing?"
"Mom, can I talk to you?" Brian asked
"Sure, sweetheart," I said, surprised and happy.
"Come to my room," he said. I nodded and followed him next door, to his hotel room. We walked in and sat down on the bed together. Brian looked down at the floor for a moment, silent.
"What do you want to talk about, honey?" I asked him. When he looked up, I saw tears brimming in his eyes.
"I'm really scared," he admitted, the tears flowing down his cheeks. I put my arm around him and pulled him close to me. He snuggled up eagerly.
"I know honey, but everything is going to be fine," I told him, trying to be brave for him. I didn't want him to know how scared I was myself.
"But what if it isn't?" Brian asked, his voice trembling. "What if something goes wrong?"
"Oh, Babyduck, you know what Dr. Green said. The surgery is routine. Nothing will go wrong," I tried to tell him, but I knew he wasn't convinced. For a few minutes, he was silent. He just snuggled close to me.
But suddenly, he looked up and said something that nearly broke my heart. "If something goes wrong, will you please take care of Dad for me?" I started to cry then, unable to hold back the tears any longer.
"Honey, that's not going to happen," I said, my voice faltering.
"Please?" Brian asked again.
"Well, of course, Babyduck, but I promise, nothing like that will happen. You are going to be just fine," I said. I rubbed his back, which was shaking with his sobs.
"I love you, Mommy," Brian said through his tears. I wrapped both arms around him and cradled him in my arms.
"Oh, I love you too, baby," I said, crying harder. I rocked him gently back and forth, just like I used to do when he was a baby, and soon, we both stopped crying.
After that, I felt closer to my son than ever. He had poured out his heart to me. My love for him was so strong, I knew it would help him pull through
The next day, we had to go to the hospital early, even though Brian's surgery was not until that evening. His doctors had to run tests on him to make sure everything was ready for the surgery. He was not allowed to eat or drink anything all day, except for ice chips.
The whole family and Leighanne were at the hospital all day with Brian, keeping him company. The day passed slowly, making it seem even worse. It was the waiting that was the worst part of all of this. I half wished they would just take him into surgery and get it over with.
Finally, it was almost time for the surgery. A nurse put some medication into Brian's IV that would help relax him before they took him up to surgery. Then we all took turns spending a few minutes alone with him. When it was my turn, I tried hard not to cry. Seeing him lying in that hospital bed, attached to an IV and wearing a hospital gown, reminded me of when he was five. The memories began to flood back, but I pushed them away. This is not like then, I told myself. Everything will be just fine.
As the medicine kicked in, Brian seemed very cheerful and not at all nervous, which made me less nervous too.
After we had all taken our turns alone with Brian, the doctors let us all gather around his bed one last time before the surgery. We talked to him for a few minutes. He was drowsy from the medication, but still seemed in high spirits. Then the doctors and nurses came in, rolling a gurney. They lifted him onto the gurney, and asked, "Are you ready to go?" All of a sudden, Brian began to sob. Seeing him get so upset made me start to cry also. I leaned over and hugged him tightly.
"Shhh, Babyduck, it'll be all right," I said, soothingly. "Mommy's here." Finally, his tears slowed.
Right before he was wheeled away, he said his last good-byes. "I love you, Leigh," he told Leighanne, who gave him a tearful smile. "And I love you, Harold and Mommy and Daddy," he said, tears streaming down his cheeks. I began to cry again.
"We love you too, son," Harold said. I saw his eyes shining with tears as well.
"We'll see you in about an hour," my mother told him, patting his head. He offered her a grave smile. Then, the nurses and doctors wheeled his gurney away. I watched as he was wheeled out of sight, a lump rising in my throat. As soon as he had disappeared down the hall, I threw my arms around Harold and sobbed.
The surgery was supposed to last only about forty five minutes. We all sat in the waiting room and prayed. Forty five minutes came and went without any sign of Brian's doctor. After an hour, I began to get very nervous. Had something gone wrong?
Another hour passed, and I was in tears. All of us were terrified.
Finally, Brian's doctor came into the waiting room. I gasped and jumped up.
"What happened?" I cried.
"Brian made it through with flying colors and had been taken down to recovery," the doctor said, smiling.
"What took so long?" Harold asked.
"Well, while closing up the hole, we found another, much smaller hole that we had never noticed before. We closed that one as well. That's why the surgery was so much longer than we had expected," the doctor explained. I nodded.
"When can we see him?" my mother asked.
"He is still unconscious now," the doctor replied. "When he wakes up, you can take turns visiting him in recovery." We all nodded, and the doctor left.
We waited another hour before a nurse came to tell us we could go see Brian.
"Can I go in first?" asked my mother.
"Sure," I said. She walked down the hall to recovery and stayed for a few minutes. When she came back, Leighanne asked to go. After Leighanne, I finally got to go in.
When I entered the room, I was startled by Brian's appearance. He was very pale and still. He had a breathing tube in, so he couldn't talk. But he was awake and very glad to see me. I pushed my way past all the machines he was attached to and gently hugged him. He gave me a weak hug back.
By the next morning, Brian was moved back into his regular room and was taken off most of the machines, except for an oxygen tank and an IV. The guys had all arrived the night before and were eager to see Brian.
The following day, he was up and walking again, wheeling his IV around with him.
He spent four days in the hospital. Then he was released. We spent a few more days in Minnesota before flying back to Lexington. Brian and Leighanne were going to stay at our house for a few weeks before going back to their home in Orlando. Brian and the guys were taking two months off from touring so Brian could recover. But they were to hit the road again on July eighth, exactly two months after his surgery.
Those two months flew by, and before I knew it, Brian and the rest of the guys were getting ready to begin their U.S. tour. I was worried about the start of the tour, not sure Brian was ready yet. But the show must go on, he said, and on July eighth, the Boys performed their concert in Charlotte, North Carolina. They made sure there were paramedics and oxygen tanks backstage, just in case, but Brian called me after the concert and told me everything had gone perfectly.
After that, I tried to worry about him less. Eventually, he seemed to be back to his normal self and very happy. I knew the ordeal was finally over, and I could relax.
1998 had been a hard year for the group. They had many hardships to endure besides Brian's surgery. But they overcame them all.
1999 turned out to be a great year. In May, the Boys realized their new album, Millennium. It sold over one million copies in its first week, breaking many records. The last track on the CD was "The Perfect Fan", the song Brian had written just for me.
On Christmas Eve that year, Brian proposed to Leighanne. They are now engaged to be married sometime this fall. The Backstreet Boys also have a new album coming out in the fall, which they have been working very hard on. 2000 is looking to be another great year.
This whole surgery thing has proven once again what a special person my Brian is. Once again, he had overcome his medical problems. Hopefully, he will never have to face them again. But, even if he does have more battles to fight in the future, I know he can overcome them, for he has proven yet again that he is my miracle child.
Miracle Child: Part II Ó 2000 by Julie