A Story of Hope
by Virginia Forste
With Dana, Patty, and Courtenay Bythewood
It has been a long and bumpy road for the Bythewood family, members of Christ’s Church. Patty and Courtenay’s son, Brent, and his wife Dana, live in Nashville, Tennessee. They each had a child of their own when they married and wanted to become a family of five. However, pregnancy was difficult and heartbreaking. The first attempt resulted in a miscarriage at thirteen weeks. A second pregnancy developed outside the uterus and was unable to thrive. The couple was hurting but decided to try once more. A pregnancy occurred and seemed to be developing normally. Unfortunately, problems developed once again.
A Dismal Declaration
At twelve weeks into the pregnancy doctors noted dire concerns. Fluid was accumulating around the baby’s heart and lungs. Dana and Brent were told this was irreversible and that the baby would not survive beyond twenty-two weeks. Medical personnel offered to induce and end the pregnancy. Dana and Brent chose to leave it in God’s hands.
At the same time, their Nashville church, Cross Point, was going through a discipleship experience called “Awaken.” Church members were deeply engaged in prayer and fasting for the city of Nashville and for their individual needs. Family, coworkers, and friends rallied around the Bythewoods as they prayed for their baby girl to make it and for her heart defects to be minimal.
Likewise, in Cincinnati, friends, church staff, the elders, Patty’s moms’ group, their Sunday morning group, and the Pray.com community were rallying around Patty and Courtenay and their family as the couple prayed and watched their child and his family endure this trial.
“Sometimes you don’t know how to pray; the pain is great; the burden is heavy, and other people are lifting you up,” Patty shares. “It is such a struggle watching your children struggle—all we could do was pray. Lots of times I would ask God, ‘Why?’ But we’ve seen our children’s trust walk grow by seeing what God can do.”
But God Was Working
As Dana’s pregnancy and the church’s Awaken experience progressed, doctors were astounded to find the detrimental fluid around the baby’s heart had disappeared at nineteen weeks! Through tears, the doctor stated, “We have never seen this happen, you guys have gotten your miracle! This changes the conversation.”
The pregnancy progressed from there, and the couple discovered they were having a girl. Brent and Dana chose the name Emily Hope. “Emily” means hard working/striving and “Hope” for the hope we have in Christ. Doctors prepared Brent and Dana that Emily’s heart would need three surgeries. These would take place immediately at her birth, at three months of age, and around age two.
Emily Hope was born three weeks early, weighing 8 lbs. 7 oz. after a hard but relatively normal delivery. She was whisked away to the NICU where she spent her first two days of life with an oxygen mask, heart monitors, and a feeding tube. Quickly, however, Emily started making huge strides and was able to breathe on her own and breast-feed. After six nights in the NICU, the doctors were astonished at how stable Emily’s heart was and let Dana and Brent take baby Emily home!
Doctors have discovered that Emily could wait for all three of the surgeries and are now planning for one big surgery when she is about eleven months old. The Bythewoods praise the Lord for answered prayers!
“She’s our miracle baby,” says Patty. “We have great peace about this because we feel God’s fingerprints are all over this and he will not fail us.”
God’s Providential Hand
For the required surgery Dana and Brent had chosen a top surgeon in the field at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. Then they found out he had taken a new job and was unable to perform Emily’s surgery. Due to Emily’s extremely complicated heart they were encouraged to take her to Boston Children’s Hospital. This would mean being far from home, from two older children, and their jobs.
Thankfully, they had a connection in the medical field. About fifty years prior, Patty’s father ran a State Farm insurance office. A client came in from India. Patty’s parents became quite close with the client and his family over five decades. The client’s son became an executive at Boston Children’s. When the Bythewoods found out they would be going to Boston they reached out to the family. Of course, they were ready to help in any way possible and help meet all of Dana and Brent’s needs for the surgery and recovery, as well as a place to stay. Any need that might arise would be taken care of—thanks to a family connection made many decades earlier. Patty loves to say, “God walks before us.”
Dana added, “God is a way maker and we are so grateful.”
Emily Hope was also diagnosed with Down syndrome. Dana and Brent both grieved when they first learned about this. However, they know God has chosen them to be Emily’s parents and chosen Emily for their family.
Dana affirms, “She brings us so much joy! We know God’s plan is perfect and we are just so incredibly thankful for her. We have heard that her extra chromosome will bring extra love and extra joy.”
Through prayers and conversations, Dana and Brent have been able to be a witness to the Lord’s power for the medical staff and others with the same diagnosis as Emily. “We would never have prayed for this to happen with our children, but their faith has become stronger, and they’re willing to share their testimony with anybody because they want to give God the glory,” Patty explains.
Emily Hope isn’t just surviving, she is thriving. The family is now preparing for her major heart surgery in Boston anticipated to be around the end of May or first of June. Dana and Brent have been documenting their journey on a Facebook page, “Baby Bythewood.” You can follow the Facebook page as their journey continues and join them in prayer. You can watch their testimony here.
Reaching Out to Community
If you are going through one of life’s storms, Patty offers this encouragement: “When something hard happens, I go straight to my closest friends who are believers and they lift us up. Surround yourself with people who believe in the power of prayer. I trust that God is working all things out and that he’s got great plans for us. I hear him saying, ‘Hold on. I’m working on this.’”
If you are young and/or not connected with a church and you have parents or family members who are, we hope you are thankful for that example. Patty and Courtenay encourage everyone to make Sunday worship service a priority, as well as make sure you are connected to a strong faith community. When those storms come you’ll have the support and people who can point you to Jesus’ arms and help you when you may have no idea what to pray. Community and support are gifts given by God and we simply were never meant to live without them.
Virginia Forste is a former elementary education teacher and stay-at-home mom who frequently blogs with other moms at textingthetruth.com.