Human Interest

He only lived 20 minutes, but he changed his family’s life forever

Baby Scott wasn’t expected to exit his mother’s womb alive. One doctor even suggested that an early death would be the best thing for him. But his parents disagreed, and they fought for his life.

Scott’s mom, Liz, recalls her ultrasound appointment after she and her husband, Brett, found out about her unexpected second pregnancy:

The ultrasound tech was very, very quiet and would barely make eye contact with me. I knew something was really wrong. Shortly thereafter the doctor [who] was not very kind, [who was] very cold and clinical… proceeded to tell me that the “fetus” had a lot of problems and was not “compatible” with life.

Brett is an active duty Army Apache pilot, and their first child, Georgia, was only five days old when he was deployed to Iraq. Liz remained in Texas with Baby Georgia, recovering from her C-section. Another baby was the last thing on their minds during a brief visit home mid-deployment, but their son was conceived and welcomed. Liz says she had a feeling her baby was a boy, and he would be named after Brett’s father, Scott, who had passed away just two months before Brett’s deployment.

Liz and Brett

After a routine doctor’s appointment, Liz found herself called back suddenly for an ultrasound. Brett was still deployed, so she took a friend with her to find out if her baby had spina bifida, as the test indicated. What the young mother heard was more shocking. A cold-toned doctor told her that her “fetus” was not “compatible with life.”

“I stopped her and asked her what she meant. In the Army they are not allowed to suggest you have an abortion. They are not allowed to pay for an abortion, but they have their ways around it. She, not so nicely, let me know that my child was not going to live and if I wanted to do something about it, she would send me to a place that could help me,” said Liz. “I sat up, looked her in the eye and said, ‘I do not believe in abortion, nor will I have one. I want a second opinion and I want to go to the very best doctor I can.’ She seemed very shocked.”

The doctor explained Scott’s serious state to Liz. He had a rare condition called “Limb Body Wall Complex,” and most children with this condition don’t make it to term. The doctor continued:

He only had a 2-vessel umbilical cord; most are 3 vessels. His umbilical cord was only 8 inches; most are over 30 inches. His stomach never fully formed, so his organs were on the outside of his stomach, called Gastroschisis. He did, in fact, have spina bifida: a quarter of his spine was missing, making him paralyzed from the waist down. He was missing a kidney and a leg. Lastly, his chest cavity was too small, and there wasn’t enough room for his lungs or heart to expand. To say he had problems was an understatement.

After an amniocentesis to rule out any genetic defects, Liz was sent for a second opinion. And Liz made one more stop— at the Red Cross office. She explains:

When a soldier is deployed, a Red Cross message is sent in emergency situations to either make the soldier aware, or to get the soldier home. I was in complete shock over everything that had happened. The reality was, that short of a miracle, my son was going to die.

It was December 19 when Brett got the message from his commanding officer, who took him to the phone to call his wife. It was five weeks until the end of his deployment, but because of the extreme circumstances, Brett was allowed to go home.

This time, instead of her husband’s time at home being a celebration, the experience was “surreal.” Just days before Christmas, there were no tree or decorations — just a somber realization that Brett was home because of a heartbreaking diagnosis.

They headed to a specialist in Austin, where they confirmed most of Baby’s Scott’s conditions:

We had a very sick son…nothing short of a miracle was going to save him. Even with the full knowledge that he was sick and more than likely going to die, we were not going to abort him. As his parents, we believed that we needed to give him every chance possible at life. We had a long talk with the specialist who assured us that he was not in pain.

The couple decided to do everything in their power to save their son. And prayer was their priority. “My husband and I are both devout Christians; we believe in God and we know that He is the one who gives life. He is also the one that takes away life,” said Liz. “We placed all our trust in Him.”

Liz and Brett attended a healing conference at Bethel Church in California:

At the end of that conference I knew that we were going to see healing for our son. However, where most people go wrong is that they believe that only real miracles happen the way we want them to. One way or another, our son was going to be healed. He was either going to be healed and live a normal life in our family, on earth, or he was going to be healed and in heaven.

As she continued her pregnancy, Liz was told to “not be surprised if I came in for an appointment and there was no heartbeat. They truly did not expect him to make it, and the surprised look on their face at all my appointments showed that.”

Another medical appointment with an Army specialist who had seen a case similar to Scott’s left them with a plan and a medical team on the ready:

We were truly hoping he would be born without any problems; however, if the doctors were right, then we would make sure he was comfortable and loved and go from there. By this point I had a whole team of doctors, all the top doctors at the hospital [where] we were going to deliver. We had a plan in place to try to give Scott…a chance at life.

But their specialist appointment also included a discussion of Scott’s possible death. Liz says:

It is truly the hardest thing in the world to sit down and talk about funerals and whether or not you are going to cremate or bury your child that you can feel moving inside of you, that is giving you all the impressions in the world that he is fine and going to live. …

We talked often about what we would do if he died. However, at the same time we still talked and dreamed about Scott living and God giving us the miracle we desperately needed… We hoped and prayed that the doctors were wrong. We knew that at the end of the day, God was the one who gave life and He was also the one who decided when life was over. I often times sang the song, “It is well with my soul.” I desperately believed that this song was true, and I clung to any hope or promise that this nightmare would have a happy ending.

That April, as Brett was on a work trip, prior to a scheduled C-section, Liz’s water broke in the night. Both her husband and her best friend were out of town, and so was her doctor. Her best friend’s husband came and took her to the hospital, which created its own conflicting emotions:

The nurse came in all happy and asked me a few questions. I told her not to talk to me again until she had read my chart and called the head of Labor and Delivery and the head of the NICU. The nurse wasn’t sure what to make of all of this, but she left. I could tell she had finally read my chart when she came back because her whole demeanor had changed.

They sent Liz to Labor and Delivery, but her own doctor “was the only one who treated me with respect and didn’t look at me like I was crazy” in her efforts to carry Scott and believe the best for him. At the hospital, the doctor she first encountered met her coldly. “[She ]referred to my son as a fetus, regardless of me asking her not to.” Thankfully, the head of Labor and Delivery arrived and offered Liz kindness and compassion. She said the best hope for Scott would be a “classical C-section,” where the doctor cuts vertically, rather than horizontally; it was the best-case scenario to give Scott a chance at life. Brett could not get back in time, and so for the sake of Scott’s life, they did the C-section that day.

Once he was delivered, they immediately gave him to me, while they finished closing me up. I held Scott the entire time he was on the earth. He lived for 20 minutes, which was truly a miracle. The doctor thought that he would die while in utero and that he would never survive childbirth. I thank God every day that I got to hold him and love him. Scott knew nothing but love on this earth. Those 20 minutes with him were amazing. His face was so sweet and pure. You never would have known looking at him that he was so sick. Ultimately, he died because his lungs were too small and could not sustain life. He never felt pain; he only felt love. Unfortunately, all the things they found wrong, were in fact there.

Baby Scott

The hospital allowed Liz as much time with Scott as she needed: “I honestly held him for as long as they would let me, since I knew that once he left my arms, he was never going to come back. Saying goodbye to him was the hardest thing I have ever done.” Brett never got to meet his son, however.

In the weeks and months after Scott’s death, Liz’s body and heart were healing. Doctors tried to prescribe anti-depressants, she says, “but I knew that I was going to have to deal with the death of my son. Sooner or later the pain comes out. I wanted to deal with it as it came so that I could be as healthy and whole for my daughter.”

Four years later, with the help of fertility drugs, Liz and Brett welcomed another son, Caiden, into their family. Caiden was only the first of the blessings after Scott because 10 months after his birth, they were pregnant again with baby Rowyn. These two blessings, born 18 months apart, are Liz’s reminders of God’s redemption.

Liz, Brett, Georgia, Rowyn, and Caiden.

Despite the pain and loss that Liz and her family experienced with Scott’s short life, she remains hopeful:

What we went through with Scott was not about me or my husband or what we wanted. We believe in life; that life is precious and that we have to do everything we can to encourage life. I could choose life, not aborting my child, and deal with the pain of losing my child if the doctors were right. I knew, though, that this pain was not of my doing and that ultimately, I would find healing. The other option was to choose to abort my child. I had many people telling me this was the right choice. But I also knew that I would deal with the pain and regret of that choice for the rest of my life. I knew that I would always wonder, what if? What if I was wrong? What if God had healed him?

[Because I chose life], I do not have those questions. I could have saved myself a lot of stress and pain. I would have been done with the pregnancy earlier and not having to go through such a big surgery. I could have a uterus that was strong and allowed me to have more children. But I couldn’t think about that… at that moment the only thing that mattered was my son. The son that was inside my womb and needed me to be his mother and fight for him and to give him life. I had to do what was best for my current child and not worry about future children or if they would even come. I focused on my son and giving him the best life he could have.

Today, years later, Liz says she’s experienced much healing from her loss:

I do not regret any decisions I made in his short life. I am grateful for the short time I had with him. Scott taught me to love. He taught me to love regardless of how much pain will come with loving him. He opened my heart to so much. I truly believe I am a better mother because of him. I know love, I know life, and I know pain. I know I have a son in heaven whom I cannot wait to reunite with. But until that day, I have children here on earth who need me.

And she has a message for other moms who are given the same news — that their baby is “not compatible with life.” She says, “Life is valuable and worth fighting for, even if it’s only for 20 minutes!”

Liz’s 20 minutes with Scott are 20 minutes she will always consider worth every effort of their fight for his life.

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