Inspirational journey

Cartersville 9-year-old seeks heart transplant

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Praying their son’s “story will continue to inspire and point others to Christ,” Danny and Courtney Parker are grateful to their Cartersville community for its unwavering support. Known for his athletic abilities and friendly nature, 9-year-old Brody is in need of a heart transplant.

“When Danny and I bought our first home in Cartersville over 15 years ago, our plan was to stay a year or two and then move closer to Atlanta,” Mrs. Parker said. “However, we quickly realized that Cartersville was going to be a forever home for us based on the community.

“We could never thank everyone enough for the support we have received. We see so many families here at Egleston fighting their battles alone, and we are time and time again humbled that we have so many fighting ours alongside of us.”

As the rising Cartersville Elementary School third-grader continues to regain his footing after experiencing heart failure and an embolic stroke, she shared it is uplifting for him to receive an outpouring of well wishes while staying at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston.

“To see Brody’s face light up as he receives cards, gifts, videos from those he loves is such a huge blessing to this mommy’s heart,” Mrs. Parker said. “We love our town and can’t wait for Brody to be back home doing all of his favorite things — including cheering on his favorite Canes!

“This journey was obviously so unexpected and I think we are still trying to process it all, but one thing we know for sure, the Lord has huge plans for Brody and we know his story is going to impact others in ways we can’t even begin to imagine.”

After noticing their son was experiencing labored breathing June 1, the Parkers admitted him to CHOA at Scottish Rite based on the recommendation of their friend, who is a nurse. Along with an examination, her suggestion was impacted by Brody’s diagnosis of pneumonia in May.

Life-flighted to Egleston June 2 around 12:30 a.m., Brody entered the cardiac intensive care unit within a half hour of arrival, with his heart appearing to be “severely stressed.”

“A quick echocardiogram — echo — was conducted and they immediately noticed that Brody’s heart was barely functioning, perhaps 10% at best,” Parker said, adding a chest X-ray in May revealed his son’s heart was enlarged, when compared to a similar X-ray five months earlier. “At this point, they were concerned about Brody going into cardiac arrest and the attending cardiologist made the decision to call in the surgical team and immediately place Brody on a ventilator and ECMO — essentially partial heart/lung bypass. This is essentially full life support.

“In no way am I attempting to over exaggerate this, but the cardiologist I was referring to literally looked me and Courtney in the eye and said, ‘I’m afraid if we don’t get Brody on ECMO now, we may lose him.’ We later learned that this decision, combined with the expert, incredible staff here at Egleston literally saved Brody’s life. To put all of this in perspective, beginning Saturday, June 1, Brody went from normal activities — swimming and playing cornhole in our backyard — at 2 p.m. to life support in a matter of 12 hours.”

Striving to help his heart heal by giving the organ an opportunity to rest on ECMO, Brody’s condition unfortunately showed no signs of improvement 48 hours later. Determining he was experiencing dilated cardiomyopathy — heart failure — Brody’s medical team recommended June 4 the Parkers start seeking a heart transplant for their son.

After undergoing open heart surgery June 5 to install a ventricular assist device, Parker said doctors discovered Brody had an embolic stroke, with no mobility in his right limbs. It was later determined the stroke occurred prior to open heart surgery, not during — as first assumed.

“Today, Brody has been off of the ventilator and in daily rehabilitation through physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy for just over three weeks,” Parker said. “In all, he spent three weeks in the CICU and was able to move to the cardiac stepdown unit on June 24, where he remains today. Brody’s performance with the VAD has been great, so at this point, his primary objective is twofold — get as strong as possible physically and as nutritionally healthy as possible, which are the two biggest indicators of how quickly post-transplant recovery occurs. He can receive a heart literally any day now.

“… Three weeks ago he didn’t have the strength to hold his head up while in a sitting position, and [he] now is walking unassisted. All of the doctors are amazed by his progress. A huge praise from the Lord: he is likely right-brain dominant — stroke was mostly left brain — so cognitively he is in outstanding condition given the severity of the stroke. By that, I mean his memory is intact, he can read/write, and has retained his wonderful personality.”

Staying by their son’s side throughout his journey, Courtney and her husband, Danny, celebrated two holidays — Father’s Day and Brody’s birthday — at Egleston.

“As his dad, I’ve described both of these days as both the hardest, yet sweetest Father’s Day and birthday I’ve experienced with Brody,” Parker said. “During our first week here, we had a few experiences where we weren’t sure if Brody would make it to see another Father’s Day or birthday. In that sense, those two days couldn’t have been sweeter knowing that we had our son by our side. On the contrary, it was incredibly hard to watch him go through such a difficult trial during this time. That said, the Lord is faithful and has sovereignly protected him in some miraculous ways.

“It is impossible, as best we can tell, to truly understand what it means to be fully dependent on the Lord until you are put in a seemingly tragic situation in which you have no control over. This journey has done that for us. We have truly learned what it means to completely give ourselves and our kids to the Lord, fully trusting that no matter what, be it good or bad, that He is a good Father who loves us and will sustain us through any trial we may be forced to walk through on this Earth.”

Members of Cartersville First Baptist for 10 years, the Parker family — which also includes 6-year-old Adley — is active at their place of worship. Along with Parker teaching a Financial Peace University class and being a vocalist for the church’s worship team, his wife has served in children’s ministries, among other areas.

“Brody was a normal, athletic, optimistic kid just like so many others,” said Derrick Jackson, former CFBC worship pastor who transitioned to the executive pastor at Woodstock First Baptist Church July 1. “From being the star player on his soccer team — scoring the most goals — to a week later being on machines keeping him alive was shocking to everyone.

“There was a time we were not sure Brody was going to make it. That same strong heart that pushed him up and down the soccer field was now failing at a rapid rate. He needed a miracle.”

Drawing together, Bartow’s faith-based community joined others in prayer at Cartersville First Baptist June 4.

“Pastor Drew Startup and I decided that we needed to gather the Body of Christ to pray,” Jackson said. “People from CFBC, other churches, the community and even people who worked with Danny in Atlanta met at CFBC to gather for an evening of prayer.

“The sudden outpouring of affection and concern was incredible. Over 300-plus people showed up that evening. From young kids to senior adults, for about an hour we prayed specifically for Brody. It was one of the most incredible times I have ever experienced in my 19 years of ministry.”

To help offset Brody’s medical bills, Jackson started a GoFundMe account with a goal of $50,000. As of Friday afternoon, the drive has generated about $25,000.

“Heart transplants are the most expensive organ transplant in the world averaging about $1 million,” Jackson said. “Brody has a transplant policy with a high deductible and no limit, which is an awesome thing. That was a specific answer to prayer.

“However, his current care — he has been at CHOA Egleston for four weeks; his future care — Scottish Rite next week for rehab; and eventual care — back to Egleston for a heart transplant then back to Scottish Rite — will cost. We want to do everything we can to offset the cost for the family.” 

Noting the Parkers have “touched all of our lives,” Jackson is appealing to the public to provide essential financial support during this time.

“We love this family and we want nothing more than for God to take Brody’s story and do something amazing,” he said. “Please consider helping a 9-year-old boy fight for his life and undergo an incredibly risky and tricky transplant. One of the most powerful things we can do is pray for this family and support them financially.”

Further details about Brody’s GoFundMe account can be obtained online at www.gofundme.com/brodyparker.

“It is impossible to put into words how incredibly blessed we are with the support we’ve received,” Parker said. “Through family, friends, church family, local community and many, many more, the support we’ve received has been overwhelming and has given us more help in a difficult time than they will truly ever know. We have seen people be the hands and feet of Christ and help our family through this time in ways that we never could have imagined.

“We’ve heard so many stories of prayer support from around the country and the world — literally — and how Brody’s story has impacted them in a positive way for Christ. What would I say to those who have supported us? Your support has meant more than we can ever explain, and we pray that Brody’s story will continue to inspire and point others to Christ. That is what this vast level of support is helping achieve. We are eternally grateful.”