Photo: Today, people on the street are more apt to recognize Brody before they realize that his father, Jason Simpson, is the Chief Meteorologist at WHNT News 19.
“Hey,” said the lady, “It’s Brody!”
The lady who spoke in a friendly voice to the adorable toddler gave no more than a passing glance to Brody’s dad, he was just the man with the big smile who quietly beamed down on his miracle son with pride and affection.
“These days he is more recognizable than I am,” Brody’s dad laughed.
Some people might recognize the man as Channel 19’s Chief Meteorologist, Jason Simpson. The Holly Pond native has reason to smile these days, but for a while it was a different story.
On May 7, 2015, Jason, 34, and his wife, Lacey, 33, were relaxing on a normal Thursday evening after Jason got home from doing the ten o’clock weather. Their children, Walt and Shelby, were asleep. Suddenly she grabbed his arm, “My water just broke,” she exclaimed.
Although Brody, the third of the Simpson’s three children, wasn’t scheduled to make his appearance for another four weeks, he was apparently a bit impatient and ready to join the family a little earlier than expected.
By 1:30 a.m. on May 8, Lacey was being prepared for an emergency C-section. Little Brody, the early bird, took his first breath at 6:28 a.m. Friday morning after an exhausting night.
Within four hours of the delivery of their 6 lb. 7 oz. son, the Simpsons were in a hospital room hearing something almost incomprehensible. Their tiny son had a serious heart condition. Dr. Matthew Israel patiently explained that little Brody had Shone's Syndrome. The Huntsville pediatric cardiology specialist led them through the gamut of complicated procedures and that baby Brody would have to endure before he could have the surgery that would save his life.
“It was absolutely crushing,” said Jason. “Lacey and I weren’t prepared for anything like this.”
By the time they got to see their new baby, he was under the warmer; I-V lines, probes and tubes covering his body. “We rolled back to Lacey’s room on the fifth floor trying to grapple with what we already knew, but more bad news was coming.”
What they learned was that although Brody’s heart worked, it would not last long without surgery. He had a severe coarctation (narrowing) of the aorta which prevented sufficient blood flow. “Without the other visible issues, the heart condition might have been found too late,” they were told.
“The words “we are going to have to transfer you to…” seemed to take forever to roll off the doctor’s tongue,” Jason recalled later. “…Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham.”
“An exhausting, emotional day took a turn, and a heavy, crushing kind of fear weighed on us. We knew Children’s to be top-notch. We knew UAB had the best of the best in medicine. We knew he would be in the best hands in the world, but all of this hitting at one time was just too much to handle,” he wrote in a note to viewers on WHNT’s blog.
The couple took comfort in their faith. “Romans 8:26 says ‘Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.’ I’ve probably read that and heard that a hundred times or more over the years, but Lacey and I were about to figure out what it really meant. There were no words to pray; it was just a deep, inward groaning begging for Brody’s life,” he remembers vividly.
Brody was flown by helicopter to Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, where, Jason says, they were given the best of care. “Brody is truly a child of Children’s,” Jason reflected. “He was given top notch care in the NIC unit there.”
Jason remembers the fear that built up as time for the operation approached. “But we knew we had to hand Brody to God,” he wrote, again to his fans at WHNT. “That’s not nearly as easy as it sounds when you hear about it or read about it. Pediatric surgeons Dr. David Cleveland and Dr. Robert Dabal rebuilt and reworked Brody’s aorta in a two-hour operation. Brody came off by-pass and moved back to CVICU for recovery; Dr. Cleveland personally brought us the good news of a successful surgery. Brody’s unusual cardiovascular set-up was so unusual that the two seasoned surgeons told us it might be the first-ever occurrence of this particular condition.”
The Simpsons were in Birmingham for a month. Jason literally vanished from public view on Channel 19, although his fans knew exactly where he was, and they were praying and soliciting prayers from others for Brody, daily.
During their time at Children’s the couple stayed at the nearby Ronald McDonald House. It had all the amenities of home, it was safe and they were able to focus on their son and not worry about having to travel to a motel. “It really takes a load off of the parents. You worry about your child, and the Ronald McDonald House takes care of you.
“Ronald McDonald Houses all over the U.S. are supported by donations,” he explained. “On Oct. 15, you have the opportunity to help by donating your spare change in each McDonald’s franchise. It’s called the ‘Day of Change.’ Even a large company such as McDonalds can’t do something of this magnitude without help from the various communities where they are located. Having had this place to stay when Brody was hospitalized made a big difference for us, and for all families going through something like this.”
Jason, who previously worked at Birmingham’s Channel 33/40 as a meteorologist, says that although he lived in Birmingham, and had heard of the Ronald McDonald House, he really didn’t understand the impact and importance of the facility. “They are there to provide and help families from out of town who have sick children and might not have a place to stay, especially for long periods of time,” he said. “The ‘Day of Change’ helps to defray some of the cost of running each facility. The money collected in each region goes to the nearest Ronald McDonald House. In our case, any money donated in north Alabama will go to the Birmingham Ronald McDonald House.”
As the hours and days passed, the little guy proved to be more resilient than anyone could have ever guessed. With each surgery, procedure and treatment, Brody grew stronger, but it was a very stressful and heart-wrenching time for the family. For those families going through similar illnesses Jason offers this advice, “When you are in the hospital with a sick child, it’s counterintuitive to think that visitors get in the way. The important thing to know is that people can come by and give you a hug and it’s like they take something of themselves and give it to you. Former church members, friends, people came by for brief visits and they sent text messages and it was very important to us that they cared, those moments stick in your mind long afterward.”
These days there is much to be thankful for in the Simpson household. Brody just finished his eighth surgery this past summer. “It was like being in a storm until the beginning of this year,” Jason described. “Now he smiles all the time, is happy and growing steadily.”
Jason and Lacey will never look at the Miracle Network Balloons or Ronald McDonald Charities in the same way, knowing that some of those little dollar balloons helped to fund the technology, train the surgeons and build the hospital that saved Brody’s life. He often thinks of the people who are now going through what they did. “We are put here together to love and support each other. Some are there for a few days, some for a few weeks, some for over a year, and some never make it home. We don’t know why, but I’ve learned not to ask that question,” said Jason. “Sometimes it feels like lightning is striking all around with bad news in the next room, alarms down the hall, tearful moms and dads in the waiting room; we are blessed that Brody is recovering, but we will never forget to pray for the other children in this unit and those who serve them.”
The Simpsons have become involved in several fundraising efforts to help pay back some of the gratitude and emotional debt that they feel they owe the people and places that they have come in contact with over the last year. On Mother’s Day weekend, 2016, they helped to raise $105,000 for Children’s of Alabama by taking part in a fishing tournament “Castin’ N Catchin’,” on beautiful Lake Guntersville, at Goose Pond Colony, where they were joined by Boyd Duckett and Randy Howell, of Bassmaster’s fame. “We had perfect weather,” said Jason. “We awarded $25,000 in prizes, with first prize being $10,000, and were still able to present Children’s of Alabama with $105,000.” The tournament will be an annual event.
“The one thing I would like to stress to people is that when you see those donation boxes at McDonalds, or the Children’s Network balloons, give it a second thought before you turn and walk away, because you never know when it could be your family who is in need of their services,” said Brody’s dad.
To find out more about the Children’s Miracle Network, visit http://give.childrensmiraclenetworkhospitals.org/.
For information about the Ronald McDonald House Charities, see http://www.rmhc.org/.
Details about Castin' 'N' Catchin' can be found at http://www.castinncatchin.org/.
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