(EDITOR'S NOTE: Glimpses of God features true stories of people who have experienced what they view as miracles in their lives. According to the dictionary, the definition of a miracle is "an event that cannot be explained according to the laws of nature and is considered to be an act of God" or "something extremely lucky that would not normally be possible." We let you, the reader, decide. Have you experienced what you believe is a miracle in your life? Let us tell your story. Submit a short account of your experience to firstname.lastname@example.org and include your phone number, full name and email address. We will contact you for an interview and further information).
From the very beginning of life, Brody Lee Toner showed signs of challenging the world with his unique personality.
His parents, Jodi and Bryon Toner, of Cogan Station, were expecting their second son sometime in January 2007. When the projected "due date" came and went, Jodi had a series of ultrasounds and stress tests. Nothing in the tests indicated cause for alarm and when Brody finally made his debut on Feb. 5 at the Williamsport Hospital he weighed a healthy 9 pounds, 9 ounces. All seemed well.
Clockwise from above, Brody Lee Toner lies in a hospital bed as his older brother, Kyle, looks on. In inset, brothers Kyle, left, and Brody Toner in a more recent photo. Below, Brody’s parents Bryon, left, and Jodi Toner, of Cogan Station.
Jodi remembers the nurses taking Brody to the nursery, hours passing, family coming and going and then, late in the afternoon, her concern growing because her son had not been returned to her. Her anxiety was validated when doctors came in and said her baby's oxygen levels were not good.
"Our pediatrician, Dr. Russell Gombosi, called Geisinger hospital to confer with their doctors about what might be wrong with Brody," Jodi said. "Then a cardiologist, Dr. Robert Mangano, called me and explained that they would need to Life-Flight Brody to Geisinger."
The consultation between Brody's pediatrician and Mangano seemed to indicate the baby had a heart defect called "transposition of the arteries." The relatively rare condition almost always is diagnosed in the first hours after birth and affects boys more than girls. It is life-threatening because the "great" arteries of the heart are reversed, preventing oxygen-rich blood from mixing properly with oxygen-poor blood. The result of transposition of the two vessels is that too little oxygen is in the blood pumped from the heart to the rest of the body.
By 10:30 p.m. Brody had been transported to Janet Weis Children's Hospital, part of Geisinger Medical Center in Danville. His father and aunt drove to the hospital that night and a few days later Jodi was able to follow them. Like all mothers, she worried that Brody's heart never would function properly and, if he did survive surgery, would he make it through recovery. His birth weight was a plus, but he still was a fragile newborn.
On Feb. 8, doctors performed a heart catheterization on Brody as preparation for the cardiac surgery. Five days later, Brody underwent a 12-hour operation that rearranged his heart arteries to their correct position so that proper flow of blood and oxygen could occur.
"I was not worried," said Brion. "I thought it was just routine for this condition and that after surgery everything would be fine. We were told he would probably need only one surgery to correct the condition."
The operation went well and that night Jodi and Brion planned to stay at the Ronald McDonald House on the campus of the hospital.
"It was so hard to leave Brody but we needed to get some sleep," remembers Jodi. "Then about midnight, the hospital called with an urgent message to "get over there."
It would be the first of many sleepless nights, frightening phone calls, discouraging procedures and endless days when Brody would improve and then quickly take a turn for the worse.
"There were problems with him from day one," Jodi said.
The parents were called back to the hospital that night because Brody had begun to bleed internally. The doctors opened his chest once again, stopped the bleeding and left the incision open. He was attached to numerous drains and tubes.
"He had the surgery on Tuesday, Feb. 13 and by Sunday (Feb. 18) he was not improving," Jodi said.
They ran tests and diagnosed Brody with Respiratory Syncytial Virus, which infects the lungs and breathing passages.
"Eventually his lungs were full of holes, they turned gray and collapsed. He had 11 chest drains all at one time," said his mother. He also was attached to a feeding tube, a tracheotomy, drains, monitors and scopes. Each day, with no progress, the pediatric staff would come up with other procedures to try to make him better. Innumerable medicines were administrated and adjusted to determine the best dosages. Some were discarded when they did not work and new medication added. Everyday brought new challenges and new anxieties.
At one point, the doctors told the Toners that everything possible was being done. Yet, Brody continued to take one step forward and another back. Twice he "coded," which is medical jargon for suffer-
ing cardiac arrest, and was brought back to life.
"They never thought he would pull out of this," said his mother.
To offer hope to the Toners, doctors cited examples of other children in dire medical circumstances that had been healed. Eventually, as more and more procedures were tried on Brody and seemed not to work, the doctors said, "Whatever we knew about medicine is not the case with Brody. He is rewriting the rule book." The pediatric medical staff began explaining it as, "Brody's way or no way."
The days turned into months. The time spent at Brody's side required Brion to take off work at Alcan Cable (now General Cable) and Jodi to be away from their other son, Kyle, who was 7 at the time and being cared for by Jodi's grandmother. It was during this period the Toners realized a vast support system had been formed to meet their needs.
"One day Brion's supervisor from work showed up at the hospital," Jodi said. "I thought it was so nice of him to visit. He surprised us with a big envelope that contained gas cards, donations and contributions of vacation time given to Brion by his coworkers so he could continue to be with his family and still be paid. It was amazing what people did for us. There were fundraisers, meals brought to our house for Kyle and my grandmother, people sent donations of gift cards and money," Jodi said.
Although at that time social networking was relatively new, Brody's story had gone out to many people. The Toners heard from people who were praying for Brody across the country and as far away as Japan.
"It made us realize how much it means to have help in a time of trouble. It changed the way our family thinks now about giving back," Jodi said.
It was 4 a.m. on a March morning when the doctors delivered final terrifying choices to Brion and Jodi. "This is it," the doctors said, "Brody is either going to make it today or he is not. We have two options."
The doctors explained they could put a scope down Brody's throat to direct oxygen to one of his lungs and allow the other lung, which was full of holes and diseased, to rest. The other option involved placing Brody on an ECMO machine (short for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) which would provide cardiac and respiratory support oxygen to his heart and lungs. The machine would remove the blood from Brody's body, reoxygenate it and give his lungs a break so they did not have to work so hard. The blood then would be recirculated through his body with fresh oxygen.
"With his condition they really didn't want to have to do it because he could bleed to death," Jodi said.
Brody's parents were encouraged to call the extended family to the hospital because of the gravity of the situation.
"The ECMO machine was set up in the next room," said Brion, "and the scope was on a stand in Brody's room. We thought that was it." All the long months of trying and failing had come down to this moment.
Miraculously, the last trick in the medical staff's playbook was not needed. True to form, the feisty little guy began to improve. His oxygen levels started coming up and he seemed to take a 180-degree turn for the better. The medical personal were relieved and amazed. They joked, "He can hear us, he knows what we are saying and he's going to prove us wrong." Once again it seemed to be Brody's way or no way. However, there still was a long road of recovery ahead.
Brody's stay in the pediatric intensive care unit lasted for five months. During that time he endured more that 50 IVs and countless medications. He had so many tubes and machines connected to him that he couldn't be moved. It was three months before he could be held by Jodi, Brion, or brother, Kyle. The family spent one holiday after another, after another at his bedside ... Valentine's Day, Easter and Mother's Day. Jodi looked forward to having her son home by her birthday at the end of April.
"We had a goal for each holiday to be home and each one we were still there," Jodi remembers.
When his parents finally were allowed to take him home on July 5, 2007 it was a tearful, yet joy filled parting from the doctors and nurses who had become family.
"People who work in the field of medicine and especially with pediatric patients are so very special," Jodi said. "We are so thankful for them and the job they do!"
One doctor in particular remembers the Toners with admiration. Dr. Kamal Pourmoghadam, who was Brody's cardiac surgeon and now is with Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Florida, recently said, "Toners are great parents. It was my pleasure to take care of little Brody. His parents were, and are, extremely dedicated to Brody, which was obvious from the start."
For a year after Brody returned home he was on 12 medications, had a feeding tube and required home nursing care. During the past seven years he has managed to amaze family, friends and those who kept him in their hearts and prayers. He has taken on life with real gusto.
This past February, Brody celebrated his seventh birthday. He is a robust first grader who enjoys playing baseball, fishing with his dad and helping his brother collect blankets at Christmas time for donation to homeless shelters. He loves talking to people and telling stories and entertaining friends, family and those he's just met. No one can be a stranger for long around Brody.
"We always say he is making up for lost time from when he was a baby in the hospital and couldn't communicate," said his mother.
He is especially fond of playing with police cars, fire trucks and ambulances. "Maybe he'll end up helping other people like he was helped," said his mom.
Anyone meeting him today would never suspect the terrible trauma his little body endured. There are traces of scars left from the tubes and drains but no medical or physical handicaps. He undergoes an annual EKG and lung examination but all is well.
"He is just normal," said his mom, savoring the joy of that word. "The doctors and nurses at Geisinger and prayers and God's hands are responsible for our miracle."
Brody began life in the face of daunting challenges. By meeting the challenges with determination he taught those around him that, sometimes, "rewriting the rule book" is what makes a miracle possible.