Mother#8217;s heart breaks to see child suffering

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 29, 2005

Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series on Tanner Williams, who was born two-months premature to Thomas and Jennifer Williams.

On Monday, Jennifer Williams looked into the future and saw a life of promise for her 1-year-old son, Tanner.

On Thursday, she was faced with the reality that she might have to say goodbye to her firstborn child.

Tanner, who was born two months early, has had three open-heart surgeries to repair holes caused by Atrioventricular Canal Defect. In November, surgeons at the Children’s Hospital of Boston placed a patch over a hole in Tanner’s left ventricle. That patch has come loose and lodged in the interior wall of the heart, and fluid is collecting on Tanner’s stomach.

“We’re,” said Jennifer, “running out of options.”

Jennifer and her husband, Thomas, were expecting a natural nine-month wait for their first child. Through four ultra-sounds, the doctors saw nothing to indicate Tanner would be anything but a healthy baby boy.

But on Nov. 19, Jennifer’s blood pressure spiked and doctors were forced to take Tanner early. Even through the morphine, she remembers how she and Thomas emotionally broke down when they were told Tanner was born with a hole in his heart.

“Frustrating,” is how she described the last year. “Horrible. Words can’t even explain it. It’s a nightmare. I’m living a nightmare. No mother would want her child to go through this.”

But amidst the nightmare, there is a bright-eyed dream – Tanner. Each day, she wakes up and goes straight to the hospital, staying with Tanner until around five or six in the afternoon. She won’t leave until he’s asleep, because she said Tanner is incredibly alert. Jennifer said he likes to grab her nose and play with her hair and when strangers enter the room, he stares them down.

“With Thomas, he has a beard, so Tanner likes to play with his beard,” she said.

Still, she regrets that she can’t hold her baby when she wants to.

“You can’t give him a bottle because he can’t have a bottle,” she said. “I haven’t heard him cry since the day he was born. I’ve never pushed him in a stroller.”

Then there’s the separation from Thomas. Her husband works as a sales representative in Prattville and struggles to make ends meet because his insurance only pays 80 percent of Tanner’s medical bills.

“It’s hard on him,” she said. “There’s been a time where we couldn’t make a car payment or there was a bill we couldn’t pay. There are times we’ve both been scared.”

Jennifer said when Tanner was under car at UAB, she would walk into his Prattville bedroom and go through his clothes, seeing what would fit and what wouldn’t, always keeping her eyes on the day when Tanner was home for good.

Thursday morning Thomas took an emergency plane flight to Boston. Because Tanner’s heart is not pumping fluid, surgeons have two options: a valve replacement or a heart transplant. Jennifer said she doesn’t know if Tanner is a candidate for a transplant or not because his lungs were not fully developed at birth.

The other option could leave Tanner on life-support. She said doctors have told her of parents clinging to their children long after hope was gone.

She doesn’t want Tanner breathing through a machine, but the decision to let Tanner go would be the hardest of her and her husband’s life.

“I feel like God’s been trying to take him for 13 months,” she said. “I don’t believe in suffering. Tanner’s suffering.”