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July 4, 2003

July 4, 2003:

The morning of July 4, 2003, was like any other Independence Day. We slept later than usual and looked forward to an evening of patriotic revelry at the town square in Marietta, Georgia. Little did we know that an unimaginable tragedy would strike our family a near-fatal blow by noon and would transform a traditional day of celebration into a four-day, bedside vigil of shock, anguish, grief, and unceasing prayer.

The holiday celebration had actually started the night before when we attended a patriotic musical and fireworks display at our church. As the five of us sat side-by-side watching the loud and colorful explosions, we had no forewarning of the imminent danger or the horrible, gut-wrenching loss that fate was poised to deliver in just a few, short hours. On the contrary, we were relaxed and happy as we watched my two grandchildren delight in the sights and sounds of our American heritage, high above the parking lot of Mount Paran North Church of God.

Amber Lynn would be five on August 5th, and Jacob had just turned three on June 23rd. Chip and Jamie, my son and daughter-in-law (ages twenty-six and twenty-three), were busy covering their little ears as the loud bursts erupted overhead. Amber loved fireworks, but the loud explosions were a little scary to her ears, despite the brilliant, colorful bursts that delighted her eyes; so, Chip held her in his lap and covered her ears with his hands. Jamie tried covering Jacob’s ears too, but he decided to watch from inside their car, where he felt less threatened by the deafening sounds. As the finale came to its thunderous conclusion, we headed for our adjacent homes about thirty miles away in Cartersville with renewed excitement over the upcoming 4th of July celebrations.

Due to the timing of the patriotic musical and fireworks display at the church, our dinner was postponed until we got home. Even though it was close to midnight, we decided to cook steaks on the grill and sit outside and talk for awhile in the warm, night air. The kids had eaten earlier, but they were wide awake as we discussed our final plans for the holiday festivities. Jacob played outside as we cooked; and Amber lay in her bed and watched a VeggieTales™ video (her favorite past time!)

After eating, Jamie put Jacob to bed, and Chip went in to read Amber a bedtime story, but she was happily watching her video, so he decided to allow her to continue, uninterrupted. Around one or two o’clock in the morning, he checked in on her again, and she was asleep. Shortly thereafter, Chip and Jamie retired for the night.

Since their marriage in November of 1997, Chip and Jamie’s sleep schedule had frequently revolved around his shift work at UPS. At that time, Chip worked the late night shift, so when Amber was born in August of 1998, she quickly adapted to their schedule of being awake at night and sleeping during the day. In fact, Amber was an innate “night owl” who was fortunate enough to have been born into a family of night owls! And, since their family lived with me continuously, from the time they got married until we moved into our two, adjoining townhomes in October of 2002, I was also a night owl who willing adapted to their unusual sleep schedule. When Chip moved to the day shift in the fall of 2001, we all had some problems adjusting to his new schedule, so we frequently reverted to a late night schedule on weekends and holidays. This was easily facilitated because Chip’s day shift job didn’t start until noon. So, we often stayed up late and got up late, just not as late!

Amber never completely adjusted to the earlier schedule. She always wanted to stay up late watching videos, and then sleep until noon. This was in part due to her severe, developmental delays. At the age of almost five, she was still unable to sit up unassisted, to crawl, to walk, or even to talk, although she could understand much of what was said to her. She was confined to a bed or a wheelchair twenty-four hours a day, but she tried incessantly to get up. At times, she’d lie on the floor or in her bed for hours doing abdominal “crunches” as she tried to sit up. Eventually, around the age of four, she got where she could pull up on her knees, wobble around for a minute or two, and then fall over sideways, giggling. From the time she was a baby, we encouraged her to try and get up. Fearing that she would be disabled for life, we encouraged her to rise to her potential and to ask Jesus to help her if she couldn’t do something she wanted to do. She’d listen intently and then work harder and harder to accomplish the seemingly impossible.

Before she was six months old, Amber had been diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, but later her doctors admitted that they didn’t really know why she was the way she was. After multiple tests (MRIs, CAT scans, genetic, neurological, and blood tests), the medical profession had no idea why Amber was so severely handicapped; and, they offered little hope for any significant improvement. As her family, we hoped and prayed for a miracle for Amber, but we were prepared to care for her completely throughout her life, if necessary.

When Amber began to show an interest in videos during her first year of life, we indulged her by buying her the complete Baby Einstein™ series. We thought she’d never grow tired of those videos, but she eventually did when she was given a VeggieTales™ video for her second birthday. As we started collecting this new series of videos, with more mature themes for young children, we began to notice her absolute joy in watching the Biblical videos played over and over again. Certain ones were her favorites, and she’d let us know by whining loudly when she didn’t like a particular video as much. Whereas other toddlers would be running around and getting into everything, Amber was content to sit for hours watching the same videos played repeatedly on her VCR. Sometimes she’d sit strapped in her booster chair or wheel chair, or she’d lie on the floor in front of the TV or in her bed; but, videos were her joy and pleasure in life, so we made sure she had a large selection to choose from, hoping she wouldn’t get bored. When he put her to bed on the night of July 3rd, Chip had no idea that it would be the last time he’d see Amber smile or hear her babble in delight over a VeggieTales™ video. In every respect, it seemed like any other night.

On the morning of July 4th, I was awakened by a phone call from Jamie. She had just received a phone call from my niece, Katie, who wanted to borrow my steam cleaner for the day. It was 11:22 AM. As I dozed for the next half hour or so, I was not surprised when I heard a sudden pounding on my door and the sounds of shrieking. I figured Katie had arrived with her six-year-old daughter, Taylor, and that she and Jacob were playing in my garage and beating on my door. As the pounding got louder, I stood up and walked toward the door, but instead of laughter, I heard Jamie screaming and crying: “Amber’s not breathing!” As I opened the door, I found Jamie hysterical, and we immediately ran next door.

I found Chip with Amber on the floor in their bedroom. She was blue and obviously not breathing. He was trying to perform cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on her while on the phone with 911. As I approached the scene, I instinctively started doing chest compressions while Chip performed mouth-to-mouth, and the 911 operator gave him instructions. I remember thinking, “Oh, my God, NO!” But, I suppressed my worst fears and kept compressing her chest as we waited for the paramedics to arrive. Within a few minutes, they burst into the room and took over CPR.

Jamie was still in hysterics and screaming repeatedly, “God, please don’t take my sweet baby girl! Please don’t take my Amber!” as the paramedics began their more experienced CPR efforts. Jacob was somberly watching as they carried Amber out the front door and loaded her into the ambulance. I ran next door and threw on the red, white, and blue outfit I’d worn the night before, ran a comb thru my hair, and quickly brushed my teeth. Within 60 seconds, I was back next door with my purse expecting to take Jamie to the hospital since Chip had agreed to ride with Amber in the ambulance. But, the ambulance had not departed and my heart sank as I imagined that they must not have gotten a pulse. Just when that fearful dread began to overwhelm me, the paramedics shut the door and left for Cartersville Medical Center. So, Jamie, Jacob, and I jumped into my car and drove the quarter mile to the hospital and then rushed into the emergency room.

As we entered the emergency room, an authoritative nurse stopped me and told me I’d have to take Jacob to the waiting room. Jamie was allowed to stay in the Emergency Room (ER) for a short period of time while they restored Amber’s heartbeat and put her on a respirator, but she was asked to wait with Jacob and me when she fell into hysteria again. Chip stayed continuously with Amber in the ER, calmly observing the work of the doctors and nurses as they made life saving efforts over his first-born child. As he suppressed the deep sobs that would overtake him at times, he remained, steadfastly, at her side, even as she was life-flighted to The Children’s Hospital at Scottish Rite in Atlanta.

As we helplessly watched the rescue helicopter lift off from the Cartersville Medical Center’s launching pad, Jamie and I both had tremendous anxiety over Chip’s being on board. In spite our desire for him to stay with Amber, we were both having visions of the helicopter crashing in route to Scottish Rite, and we were terrified we would lose them both, which was more than either of us could bear.

The next forty-five minutes were, undoubtedly, the most gut-wrenching of our lives. Our immediate task was to stop by the house and grab personal items for a probable over-night stay at The Children’s Hospital. Next, we had to stop for gas and then at the bank to get cash from the ATM before heading south toward Atlanta. As we turned south onto I-75, we were almost paralyzed with fearful dread over Amber’s critical condition. In our hearts, we wanted her to live; but, in our minds, we knew that she could be severely brain-damaged from the full cardiac arrest and lack of oxygen to her brain. If only we had an idea of how long her breathing had stopped; but, we didn’t. She was in God’s hands now, and we found it difficult to breathe as we drove the 40 miles to the hospital.

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July 4, 2003
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