A large group of friends, family and community supporters gathered this week in the field in front of Altus Healthcare and Hospice in the Bay Springs community to launch 250 red balloons into the clear, December sky as a show of prayer and support for 17-month-old Wynn, who was born with a congenital heart defect called tetralogy of fallot with pulmonary atresia and mapcas. In addition to Wynn, each balloon contained a different name of a child facing a childhood disease.
“Prayers are going up for all of them,” said Debbie Clay, a friend of the Wynn and McBrayer families who helped organize the event. “It’s a community event for Wynn and the McBrayer family, but there are just so many babies out there with these types of health issues. I think it helps people who are going through it know they aren’t going through it alone.”
Wynn was born June 29, 2010, but a sonogram three months before he his birth found the heart irregularity. According to Wynn’s mother, Ellen Wynn McBrayer, one of every 100 children are born with a congenital heart defect and it’s the leading cause of death in children under the age of one.
Though young Wynn had earlier been placed in hospice care in Atlanta, he recently returned from a month-long stint in Boston that included heart caths, lung scans, blood tests, EKGs and open-heart surgery that changed his entire pulmonary anatomy from a structural standpoint to provide him with a second chance at life. He has since been taken off hospice and the prognosis is much better.
“Through it all we’ve just kept the hope,” Wynn’s father, Scott McBrayer, said. “It’s a much better outlook right now than it has been in months past.”
The McBrayer family will return to Boston in February for another heart cath as part of Wynn’s rehabilitation. Ellen McBrayer described the journey as “a roller coaster of a ride with many, many ups and many, many downs,” but it’s a trip that Wynn continues to survive.
“What a true blessing from God that our family is still on the ride,” she said.
With their other son, 6-year-old Rhett, being born healthy, Scott and Ellen McBrayer are now experiencing a world that they had previously not given much thought. However, through this experience they have found out that there are a lot more parent than they had previously known who have children facing serious health issues.
“Working in funeral service (at Jones-Wynn Funeral Home), I guess we always knew a world, unfortunately, where children don’t always survive, and with our other child we knew a world with wonderful, healthy children, and we didn’t know the world with sick children was so large,” Ellen McBrayer said. “Wynn’s half a heart has made us love and appreciate life with our whole heart even more than we had done before.”
The entire journey has helped bring the Wynn and McBrayer families closer together and appreciate each moment they have together.
“I definitely feel like we have our gift for Christmas,” Wynn’s grandmother, Dana Wynn, said of her grandson’s return from Boston after successful surgery.
Though Wynn is basically a normal 17-month-old, there are signs the family must watch out for such as labored breathing caused by overexertion and the common cold becomes more serious due to a depleted immune system.
“It’s all a little different now,” Wynn’s mother said. “Before the surgery, physically he looked like a normal baby, but he would get very winded and turn blue if he played too hard or ate too fast because his oxygen level would get very low. It was just a very fine line. He was, and still is, very delicate. We still have a long way to go, but time will tell how his heart responds to the pressures and the flows after the repairs.”
The family has intentionally not sought out a prognosis for Wynn’s fate, choosing instead to hold onto the hope and faith that has gotten them as far as they’ve already come.
“We don’t focus on the death part of it, even when we were on hospice. We focus on life and making every day count,” Ellen McBrayer said.
“As long as he has breath, that’s all the hope that we need. It’s a blessing because he doesn’t know he’s as sick as he is, so his spirit and personality are huge. His will to fight and survive is amazing.”
Beyond this week’s balloon launch, the support of the community during the last year and a half has helped the Wynn and McBrayer families through some very difficult times and Ellen McBrayer said it’s hard to put into words exactly what the prayers and support have meant to them during these trying times.
“I know when we were in Boston we were far from home, but I’ve never felt more love from the community than the support and prayers we got on Facebook and our CaringBridge site,” she said. “We got homesick, but we never felt alone because so many people would text and send messages and e-mail. That support and prayer has gotten us to where we are and has helped us to be strong and be brave. We couldn’t do this without the support of the community. In a world where our lives have never been so chaotic, we’ve never felt more protected.”
For more information, or to send the McBrayer family a message go to www.facebook.com/WynnMcBrayer or www.caringbridge.org/visit/mcbrayer.com.