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Bringing Samuel Home

by Kris Breneman

    My husband connected emotionally to Samuel well before I did… I figured I’d “feel connected” once I finally saw him and held him. Until then, I had too much logic pumping through my tired brain to really feel much. Too much medical jargon and adoption technicalities consuming my every waking thought.
We received our call from CHASK on Valentine’s Day just three months ago. I sat down with the phone, a pen, and several scraps of paper in hand, along with a single name and phone number to get me started. Life would never be the same again…. One minute I’m putzing about thinking about making a few last-minute Valentine’s cards for my husband and four children, the next minute I’m sitting with my head in my hands after a few phone calls, wondering what I had gotten myself into!
The good news for us was that we hadn’t gotten ourselves into anything. God was, in His sovereignty, controlling everything. “Awesome” is the word that best describes what it feels like to be moving within the divine Will of God. Later, during our 10-day stay in Southern California, my husband and I both recognized how powerfully God had gone before us. He was, indeed, our Vanguard, our Rearguard, and our mighty Standard.
In the midst of that first day of phone calls, I remember the distinct impression of feeling as though I was trying to put together a complex puzzle, with no box-lid picture to guide my effort. Additionally, the size of the puzzle seemed to grow exponentially with every phone call I made!!
Samuel was born Monday, February 11th, in Southern California to birth parents who had already made an adoption plan for him pre-natally, when they first learned of his anticipated special needs. However, despite their best efforts to provide him with an adoptive family, their plans evaporated after the first couple arrived from out-of-state and sat down with the cardiac surgeons. They were under the impression that this baby boy had nothing more than a heart murmur. Angry and disappointed, the first couple left the hospital – later, a second couple did likewise. The baby’s social worker at the hospital had already contacted Social Services by the time we were contacted, and the birth parents were heart-broken and desperate for someone to accept their child.
A week later, when they learned that we were on our way down from north Idaho to California to adopt their baby, they were incredulous. Why would we do this for them?
Samuel was diagnosed at birth with Heterotaxy Syndrome and Asplenia. Heterotaxy results in severe cardiac defects. Samuel had an Unbalanced Atrio Ventricular Septal Defect with Pulmonary Atresia, as well as a few other anomalies. Basically, he was born with such a large defect in the septum in his heart, that he essentially had just one Atrium, one Ventricle, and one valve between the two, with no pulmonary artery to route the blood flow from his heart to his lungs. Instead of a four-chambered heart, he was born with a two-chambered heart. Later he was also diagnosed with gut malrotation, which is not uncommon in babies born with Heterotaxy. Not being a medical professional myself, I began a one-week crash course - intensive training on the human heart by making full use of our internet access, while I waited for our home study to be updated so that we could travel.
Because his birth parents had intended to release him for adoption at birth, our little baby boy was nameless when we learned of him. Over the weekend I had a long discussion with the Cardiac Nurse Practitioner in charge of his care. She filled in plenty of details about his cardiac condition, and some hurdles that he would need to overcome in the weeks ahead. He had been placed on full life support shortly after birth, and had just come through his first open-heart surgery at four days of age. He was small, weighing just 5lbs 3 oz at birth, and the medical professionals caring for him were not overly optimistic about his recovery. Coming through the surgery was just the first step on the road to eventually seeing him discharged. In the weeks ahead he would need to learn to eat – a skill that is “automatic” at birth, but must be learned if there has been a delay. As the nurse spoke of him, without a name to call him by, I offered her the name that we had chosen for him. “Samuel David” (meaning “asked of God” and “Beloved”). I could tell she was greatly relieved to finally have a name for this sweet little baby.

I mentioned that my husband connected emotionally well before I did. In fact, he was committed that very first weekend. He was able to rejoice over a new life being given to us, as well as weep and mourn for the son that would, most likely, not outlive him. For me, it took a few more days. For one thing, I was continually considering that he might die before we could even travel to see him. What then? Six days after hearing of him, that following Wednesday, I spoke with the baby’s hospital social worker. After sending her some basic information on our family, along with a photo of us, she was willing to consider that we might just be the ones to follow through and adopt this child. Her final question to me was the shock-to-commitment that I needed. She asked me, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how committed are you to this baby?” I paused for a moment to check my heart, and then responded, “10! He’s ours. We’ll be coming down to get him, even if it means bringing him home for a funeral here.” Her reply echoed my own thoughts at that moment, “Wow!! I guess you can’t get any more committed than that!” Yes, my thoughts exactly! My mind had finally committed, and now my heart was at risk. No more guarding my heart against disappointment and tragedy. Now my heart was entirely exposed – naked and laid bare. Pondering this thought, I realized that I had just removed my heart from my breast and laid it in the very hands of God… But, is there any safer place for it? I knew my Lord’s love for me was real and tender. He could be trusted implicitly. Yes, my heart was in the safest of hands.

Worry? Doubts? Fear? Yes, those were still daily companions at that point. One night, when I couldn’t sleep, I had a short talk with the Lord. “But Lord, what if he dies?” I cried out. His response? “Kris, Who gave him the breath of life?” I replied, “You did, Lord.” Again His voice spoke, “And Who has the power to revoke that breath of life?” With dawning realization, I answered, “Oh… Only YOU Lord!” What amazing peace flooded my soul with that understanding. No matter what God’s Plan was for Sam or for us, we could trust Him to carry it through according to His Will. There’s nothing wiser or greater than God’s Will. We could trust Him and His Plan, no matter what transpired.

We traveled to Southern California on the 25th of February, and spent an incredible week learning all we could from the Drs., nurses, and hospital staff. We were repeatedly confronted with joy and excitement from all those around us as they learned who we were and what we had come to do. Again, it was evident that God had gone before us and prepared the way. One of the main things we needed to learn was how to feed Sam. As it was explained to us, because of his cardiac condition, his calorie burn was the equivalent of running a marathon every day. He needed extra calories with every feeding to offset how hard he had to work to get the food into him. Just eating one ounce of formula was a major chore, which left him breathless and panting after just a few sucks. We learned to make him pace his eating, so that he would have the stamina to finish the required 40cc (just over 1 oz) at every feeding. Both my husband and I practiced with him under the guidance and direction of the hospital feeding experts. What a fantastic experience!
After just 18 days in the hospital, Samuel had amazed the Drs. and nurses with his rapid progression in feeding on his own, and he was discharged into our care on February 29th. When we finally had clearance to travel inter-state with him, we flew home. The Drs. required that we have oxygen support on the flights home, which Sam tolerated relatively well. We were greeted at the airport in Spokane, WA by our four older children – Kate (13), Tabitha (12), Caleb (11) and Rebecca (9) – along with my Dad, who had been able to travel out from Michigan to stay with the four kids while we were in California collecting Samuel. A prouder bunch of kids you’ve never seen! Every one of them has gotten involved with feeding him, carrying him around and reading or singing to him. I’m blessed every day as I witness our children’s total love and acceptance of Sam. For my husband and I, it had taken only a day or two of spending time with him and holding him for us to bond in such a way as to feel as though he had always been our very own. It wasn’t awkward or forced; it was the most natural feeling in the world. Now, back home with our four older, biological children, we were seeing the same natural progression of total love and acceptance borne out in each one of them. Incredible!

Sam’s now 3 months old, and it’s been a long, sleepless road so far. I’m averaging four hours of sleep a night, and after 9 weeks, the strain is telling. He’s been a very fussy baby since we brought him home, and he’s had a difficult time with the different formulas we’ve tried with him. A few weeks ago we had him seen by a GI specialist (gastroenterologist) and she was very helpful in identifying some of the root cause of his fussiness. Because of his chronically low blood oxygen levels (cyanotic heart) his bowel is damaged. She described his pain by explaining that his digestive system was inflamed and any food that moves through his system is like sandpaper on an open wound. Ouch! She recommended some changes in his meds and a change in formula to an amino acid based medical food. We’ve seen some great improvements in him overall since this change, and he’s gaining weight more steadily now as well – still only weighing a mere 8lbs at 3 months of age. Despite all of the stress and demands, we still move, day in and day out, with hearts of compassion, understanding, and acceptance for Samuel – just as we would have with each of four other children. Only God’s grace could enable us to claim that.
Up ahead, Samuel will need two more major heart surgeries to improve his heart function so that he can continue to survive.
I praise Him that He has moved in our lives in such a way as to cause us to step in and become Samuel’s advocates and defenders – his loving, protective family. Yes, it’s worth it all, just to know that we’ve counted one life as precious and of great worth.
Are we scared? Occasionally. But when my emotions start to rule me, I am reminded of God’s promise to be my constant Resource. I’ve found that coping with the stress of Sam’s special needs requires daily time in the Word of God and in prayer, so that I can stay “tapped-in” to the Source of my daily strength.

Editor’s Note:

On June 3rd, we received a phone call letting us know that Samuel went to be with Jesus. In the hospital, he was just hours away from his next open heart surgery.

Around 3:30 pm, the nurses took Sam to the treatment room. While they were getting the IV inserted and drawing blood in preparation for surgery , Samuel stopped breathing. His pulse stopped shortly after that. Both the cardiologist and surgeon were called and they tried for 45 minutes to get his heart restarted, but it would not continue to beat for more than 15 seconds at a time. His lab work showed his blood acid levels so high that he would be brain dead, if they got his heart started again.

They elected to stop the chest compressions and let him go home to Jesus after kissing Samuel good-bye.

Kris writes, “Samuel’s broken heart is now completely whole. Unfortunately, our broken hearts will take longer to heal.

I never knew it could hurt so much.. We all loved him dearly, I don’t think it could have hurt any more if we had lost one of the children we have brought into the world. Our family is no longer complete without Sam.

God gave him life for a reason. His days were numbered from the beginning of time. We just praise God that He allowed our family to bring joy into his little life for the short time he was alive.

Cards, letters, and gifts to offset expenses for the Breneman family can be sent to

NATHHAN / CHASK’s address or to  subject= Breneman Family