SHADES STORIES

Noah

Gospel community is most evident when tragedy strikes. That community carried the Bryants through the toughest season of their lives.

Story by Jordan Cox | | Photography by Jordan Cox

It’s July 6, and I’m sitting at the dining room table in the home of Joe and Lisa Bryant. It’s just after 5:30 p.m. The sun is subtly beginning its descent over the back of the house. Joe sits down across from me. It was a long day for him; he’d been on-site with Regions Bank troubleshooting a technological software problem.

The energy in the house is alive, as I suspect it is most days. Their two sons, Benjamin and Noah, sit in the room to the left, just off the dining room. Lisa is down the adjacent hallway preparing a bath for Noah, later walking in politely as if to not interrupt. We don’t shake hands; hers are covered in the remnants of a medicine having just begun the nightly routine for Noah, who was diagnosed with Down Syndrome nearly 10 years ago.

It’s approaching one year since the Bryants embarked on a month-long journey that would test not only the physical health of Noah but their spiritual health as a family. The picture of their home on a summer’s Wednesday evening is starkly opposite from the fear and uncertainty that enveloped their stint at Children’s Hospital last year.

EDITOR’S NOTE

Noah has dealt with respiratory issues for most of his life. Joe wrote in a 2013 email to the staff of West Elementary in Vestavia Hills, "It was in that labor and delivery room six years ago there we first saw the doctors and nurses struggle with his early breathing and heart issues."

Back in the fall of 2015, after worship on an early October afternoon, the family was heading to Buddy Walk, a national fundraiser to support Down syndrome. It was between church and the Buddy Walk that Joe and Lisa first observed Noah not feeling well. The early symptoms weren’t alarming, however. Merely those of a common cold.

After a week of consistent symptoms, Noah’s fever had broken, but he was still struggling with his breathing. Lisa grabbed her iPhone and made a voice recording of Noah’s breathing, which she sent to Joe asking if it sounded normal. The recording was clear enough for a primary care doctor to urge Joe and Lisa to bypass their pediatrician and take Noah to the emergency room at Children’s Hospital.

“They said he was five minutes away from respiratory failure,”

Joe


Silence weighed on the room as Joe, Lisa, Benjamin, and I sit around the table, early evening sunlight beaming through the front window that faces the street in their quaint Vestavia neighborhood.

“So Noah had gone nearly a full week without showing any outward symptoms?” I ask.

“Except for the lethargy on Friday,” Lisa responds.

Doctors admitted Noah to the ICU immediately. By midday Saturday, the decision was made to intubate Noah. Saturday night, he was put on a ventilator in a deep paralytic coma.

As the start of the next week rolled around, Noah’s oxygen and breathing numbers continued to drop. Even still, Joe and Lisa couldn’t fully fathom how rapidly Noah’s health was deteriorating.

Noah’s team of doctors began to get much more aggressive with his treatment. He was on 12 different IV lines, and his lungs weren’t responding to increased pressure from the ventilator.

Benjamin was away on a Boy Scout trip, unaware of the crisis in which his dad, mom, and little brother found themselves. When I ask when they thought about telling Benjamin, neither Joe or Lisa answers directly, but do concede they knew how difficult it would be.

“We saw the grave concern on the doctors’ faces,” Joe says. “We talked to the pastoral staff and saw that the child across the hall wasn’t going to make it and the gravity of that situation.”

So, on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, Joe and Lisa seemed to have grasped just how bleak the outlook on Noah’s chances were. And they knew Benjamin had to be told when he returned home. Joe and Lisa prayed. They didn’t know what kind of conversation that would be.

If you sit with Joe and Lisa Bryant for any length of time, you learn that faith & prayer are two cornerstone themes of their life. The faith and prayers of their entire community are not lost on them. During our 45-minute conversation, they mention their Shades Mountain Baptist Church family and West family multiple times.

Staff & volunteers of the children’s ministry & Hand in Hand ministry at Shades organized a prayer vigil that drew a couple hundred people in a matter of a few hours. The West staff, prior to a teacher work day and service project in Liberty Park, took 30 minutes before the start of the day to pray for Noah.

“We continually started getting these reports of people praying and lifting us up,” Joe says. He says those days reminded him of the scene in Exodus 17:11-12.

Moses told Joshua to go and fight with Amalek while he, Aaron, and Hur went to the top of the hill. As Joshua fought, Israel won as long as Moses held up his hand. When Moses’s hands grew weary, he sat down, and Aaron and Hur lifted them up. Verse 13 of that passage says, “And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.

But not without Moses. And not without Aaron and Hur.

“That’s what it was for us. We were totally drained emotionally, physically and spiritually,” Joe says. “We could feel the constant support of people’s prayers.”

Joe and Lisa had a hope and a faith that God could deliver Noah. That never wavered. However, Lisa is quick to say that, yes, they were afraid.

“Scripture and encouragement that friends would post on Facebook gave me what I needed to keep believing during the long, sleepless nights when I would just sit and watch Noah while he was hooked up to all those machines keeping him alive,”

Lisa says in an email to me a few days later.

“It never ceases to amaze me how someone would post the exact scripture or words I needed to help me keep going—to never give up,” she adds. 

“Seeing the faith of so many was a daily reminder to us that God had a multitude of people holding us up — walking through the journey with us — just like Moses needed his arms held high to experience victory in battle.  We had to have that same help for our own personal victory because we had never been in a place of such desperate need.”

 

Noah was in a battle for his life, and the next day, doctors would try what Joe and Lisa knew was a last resort.

With Noah’s numbers continuing to spiral downward and his lungs not responding — actually worsening — to treatment, his medical team had decided to try a high-risk drug commonly held for premature newborns and drowning patients. Surfactin costs $20,000, and Noah’s team had to go all the way up to the head of the ICU to get clearance.

The Surfactin test took place on Wednesday morning, and because of the chemical nature, Joe and Lisa couldn’t be around. The two of them sat in an empty restaurant in downtown Birmingham praying this far-reaching attempt would somehow stabilize Noah’s condition.

His oxygen and breathing numbers plateaued some after the test, leaving Noah’s medical team stunned. It would be a turning point in his treatment.

Noah’s progress was methodical. A few days of slow improvement, a plateau, a drop off. He couldn’t get over the hump, until a doctor on Noah’s medical team would buck the trend of the rest of the team. Joe was at work one day and took a walk on some property behind his office to pray.

“We could feel the pressure of Noah beginning to step backward,” Joe says, “so I started praying that he’s fearfully and wonderfully made and that he was never meant to have man-made objects in his body. Not 10 minutes later, I get a text from Lisa saying the doctor was in here, and she wanted to go against the team.”

Noah’s doctor wanted to lower his pressures and take out the mainline catheter, making his respiratory system work a little harder to improve. If they kept all of his tubes in and never pushed him, she figured, he’d never beat the plateaus and keep improving.

Seemingly against the medical odds, the decision to push Noah’s body worked, and that would be last plateau he would need to overcome. He made progress – slowly, still – but he would be on his way out of the ICU and into physical and respiratory therapy.

Noah spent 27 days in the hospital. God healing Noah is a miracle. Even medically, it was a miracle. Neither turning point — Surfactin and lowering his pressures — should’ve worked.

Today, Noah experiences no physical or mental repercussions of his illness. He was able to make up his schooling by his teachers coming to the Bryant home every day for the nearly six months Noah was homebound.

God is using that month Noah spent in the hospital to reveal more of himself to the Bryants.

“We believe Noah was healed for two reasons: to strengthen the faith of all those who believed with us for a miracle,” Lisa says, “and God is not finished with him yet. He was born for a reason, to fulfill a purpose, and he has a lot left in this life to accomplish. We believe God can, and already has, used Noah to do mighty works for Him.”

Not only did Noah experience miraculous healing, but God used the Bryants’ hospital stay to stretch their faith in ways Joe, Lisa, and Benjamin are still discovering.

“Rarely does a day go by when we don’t think back to our miracle,” Lisa says. “Not everyone receives that ‘yes’ answer from God, so we want to live our lives in such a way that honors Noah’s gift. 

“We are learning to share our hope with others that are experiencing their own need of a miracle. We used to talk about the lack of miracles in today’s modern society, but God made us believers. We want to encourage others to never give up.”