It wasn’t long after Jordan and John Michael Brasher of Clinton found out they were going to be the parents of a baby girl, that they also learned some difficult news. Their unborn baby, Katherine, had a heart defect. But now, almost a year later, the Brasher family is celebrating a living miracle.
In January 2017, the Brashers were told that Katherine had hypoplastic right ventricle, a ventricular septal defect, and a hole between her ventricles, among other problems. Because of her almost nonexistent fourth chamber, she only has three that are functioning.
“The technology to detect the heart defect early in the pregnancy is actually fairly recent,” says Jordan, which has significantly increased the chance of survival for babies with this condition. Jordan had to go in at least twice a week for ultrasounds, and though Katherine wasn’t in any immediate danger in the womb, the doctors expected that she wouldn’t be able to breathe on her own once she was born.
The doctors told Jordan and J.M. that Katherine would have to undergo a series of three surgeries, known as the Norwood procedure: one when she was born, one a few months later, and one around 3 years. Though they were grateful that the doctors had a plan, the news of their daughter’s condition was a lot to process.
“You can’t be fully prepared for something like that,” says Jordan. “But it helped to be able to know some of it in advance.”
Katherine Ann Brasher was born on May 17, 2017. She was immediately taken to the NICU and then the PICU, before going into her first surgery only 7 days later.
“It was terrifying,” says Jordan. “The hardest part was watching them take her away.”
The Brashers basically lived at the hospital that first month. Despite not being able to eat until after the first surgery, little Katherine quickly learned to breastfeed.
“Her being able to eat was a big deal,” says J.M. The doctors told them Katherine was the only Norwood baby they knew who was able to breastfeed.
They were also able to go home only a month after Katherine was born. “It all went much better than expected,” says J.M.
But the Brashers now faced the challenge of providing medical care for Katherine in their home and preparing for another surgery in the fall. They were trained on how to hold their daughter and operate her oxygen machine.
“Every morning we would give her four different medications, weigh her, check her oxygen levels,” says Jordan.
The 25-foot cord on the oxygen tank kept them stationed downstairs.
“We were pretty much tied to that machine,” says J.M. “I hardly slept at all.”
Jordan says they had to constantly make sure Katherine’s oxygen mask stayed in place, securing it with tape so she wouldn’t pull it off.
“I would wake up every 20 minutes to be sure it hadn’t come off,” says Jordan. “The worry was constant.”
Several times they had to rush back to the hospital and spend the night there because Katherine’s oxygen levels were too low.
Because of Katherine’s condition, she had to be kept inside for months, with only a few people allowed to visit. Jordan says it was hard not being able to have playdates with her sister’s infant, Emery. Instead, the cousins would FaceTime with each other.
“It was, and still is, a full-time job,” says Jordan. “But I love getting to wake up with her each day.”
However, Jordan says the loneliness during those months was difficult.
“You want to take your baby out and let others see her, but we couldn’t do that,” she says. “Not being able to be around anyone else was hard.”
Thankfully, Jordan and J.M.’s parents visited regularly to help out, allowing Jordan a chance to leave the house for a little while. J.M.’s employer, Ergon Biofuels, also gave him paid time off to help take care of Katherine.
On October 5, Jordan’s birthday, baby Katherine had her second surgery, which allowed them to remove her oxygen mask.
“We were so used to the tubes, that we had stopped noticing them,” says Jordan. “It was so great to just see her face.”
Now, at 8 months old, little Katherine is defying the odds. The Brashers were told that their daughter might never be able to eat on her own, that she would have trouble gaining weight, that she might be developmentally delayed. But anyone who met Katherine today would only see a joyous baby girl.
“Besides having a few more doctor visits than most kids, she’s pretty much normal,” says J.M.
Within their four years of marriage, the Brashers said they haven’t had the best luck. Between the tornado that destroyed their apartment and cars, several job changes, and medical issues with their dog, they’re no strangers to hard times. But they say all those trials helped to build their faith and prepare them to tackle this year’s challenge together.
“We make a good team,” says Jordan.
“It’s easy to get depressed and think the worst,” says J.M. “But you can keep your head above the water.”
“Ask for help,” adds Jordan. “It gets stressful when you try to do it on your own.”
In fact, the Brashers say they were amazed by the outpouring of love from the community. “We wouldn’t be here without lots of prayer and support,” says J.M.
Friends, community members, and church family from First United Methodist Church of Clinton offered them the best of southern comfort: prayer and food. First United Methodist Church of Southaven held a diaper drive for them and Sumner Hill Junior High took up a collection of around one thousand dollars.
The Brashers moved to Clinton 3 years ago, and Jordan says after the support they’ve received from the town this last year, “I feel like I’ll never leave.”