|A Bullet in
Baghdad, a Son's Need, a Mother's Love
There are mothers who will
spend today missing sons and daughters fighting overseas.
There are women who have lost children in those wars, for whom
Mother's Day will never be the same.
And then there is Eva Briseno.
Joseph Briseno Jr., Eva's
27-year-old son, is one of the most severely wounded soldiers
ever to survive. A bullet to the back of his head in a Baghdad
marketplace in 2003 left him paralyzed, brain-damaged and
blind, but awake and aware of his condition.
Eva takes care of
"Jay" in her suburban Virginia home where the family
room has been transformed into an intensive care unit, with
the breathing machine and tubes he needs to stay alive.
April 8, 2010 photo, Joseph Briseno, right, kisses his
son Joseph Briseno Jr., 27, as he and his wife Eva
Briseno transfer their son to his wheelchair at their
home in Manassas, Va. (Jacquelyn Martin / AP)
Try to imagine this life.
Each day starts with two hours
of bowel care, an ordeal as awful as it sounds. She labors
over his body, brushing his teeth, suctioning fluid from his
lungs, exercising his limp arms and legs, and turning him
every other hour to prevent bedsores.
She sleeps a few hours at a
time, when the schedule says it is her turn, often slumped in
exhaustion by his side.
She has been out to dinner with
her husband, Joseph Sr., once in seven years.
She could have a better life if
she put Jay in a nursing home. Or if she went back to using
the home health care nurses the government provided. But one
looked indifferently without wiping Jay's mouth when he
drooled. Others fell asleep on the night shift, inattentive
while Jay suffered seizures.
It's hard for a mother to watch
such lapses. The nurses don't love Jay. His parents do. So
they have chosen to care for him on their own, and you will
not find them feeling sorry for themselves — only for him.
A lesser man would leave, Eva
says of her spouse, whom she has known since grade school in
their homeland, the Philippines. A lesser woman would cringe
at the wound care and bodily indignities that Eva has learned
to manage for her son, Joseph says.
"I can't walk away from
this. She can't. I'm very proud of my wife," he said.
What keeps Eva going is hope
that stem cells or some future treatment advance will help her
"I do believe in
miracles," she says.
Yet desperation clouds her
prayers. "Most of the time I ask God if I can take Jay's
place," she confesses, unable to suppress a sob.
Hearing his mother, Jay cries
too, the tears silently slipping from his blind eyes.
For Eva, the tears began the
day Jay shipped out, on his 20th birthday in 2003. He was a
student at George Mason University, hoping to become a
forensic scientist. He had joined the Army Reserves and was
surprised to be called up so soon. Eva took a cake to his unit
before he left.
At first, she wasn't very
worried: Jay was assigned to civilian work, building community
relations. A few months later, the call came. One of those
civilians had shot Jay in the back of the head at point-blank
range. His spinal cord was shattered, and cardiac arrests led
to brain damage that left him unable to see or to speak more
than an occasional word.
His family became a mass
casualty of the wound.
His parents quit their jobs and
drained their savings to take care of him after he came home
from hospitals and rehabilitation centers. His younger
sisters, Malerie and Sherilyn, help when they can, and Joseph
does a big share. But much of the care falls to Eva, a small,
doe-eyed woman who weighs 100 pounds to Jay's 147.
At first, she took care of Jay
in the basement, using a hoist that some charities provided to
lift him into a wheelchair and the shower. But descending
those stairs became a descent into hell. After a while, Eva
could no longer bear caring for him in that cavelike setting.
So they moved Jay upstairs,
surrounding him with white walls, bright flowers and
Washington Redskins gear so he will have cheerful things to
look at in case he has glimmers of vision the doctors can't
Eva fills his days by reading
him news stories, telling him how good he looks and how nicely
he is dressed, and playing the "young people music"
he likes on the radio. He grins when the Redskins win, or when
Linkin Park, Eminem, Jay-Z or Beyonce are on. Others get a
"He doesn't like Mariah
Carey or Kelly Clarkson," Eva laughs.
She reminisces about Jay as a
teen who loved track and field, played pranks on his sisters,
tested her nerves when he was learning to drive, and hosted
parties with friends in that basement she now avoids.
Jay's care requires a schedule
with such military precision that trips to the grocery store
or to church must be planned two days in advance.
It starts at 6 a.m., when Eva
gives Jay medicines, logs his blood pressure and temperature,
and begins his bowel care. That involves properly positioning
him, giving suppositories and bathing him afterward. If it's
not done right, he can suffer obstruction or impaction, and
they've been down that road before.
Next comes grooming, and
cleaning the breathing tube that attaches to his respirator.
By noon, Jay is dressed and into a wheelchair, a lunchtime
sludge of nutrients draining into his feeding tube while he
listens to the TV. Afternoons bring physical therapy and
twice-weekly prayer sessions with a deacon who comes to their
At night, they give Jay
breathing treatments, empty his urine bag and weigh its
contents, because a change in volume can be a sign of trouble.
When taking care of such basic
needs in babies, "you see them grow" and have the
joy of watching them progress, Eva said. "Now, every day
is the same," and the only changes are bad ones, she
said, starting to cry again.
A year ago, Jay had a setback
and lost the ability to swallow. Two months ago, he suffered a
nicked kidney and internal bleeding after an operation for
When the doctors showed Eva his
big wound and how to care for it, "I thought at first, 'I
cannot do it,'" she said. But again, she rose to the
The degree of care the Brisenos
provide is unusual, said Dr. Mitchell Wallin, one of Jay's
doctors and a neurologist at Georgetown University and the
Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
"Most patients in this
kind of condition would not be able to live at home,"
Wallin said. The Brisenos "are doing an incredible
job," he said. "They don't take enough breaks.
They're almost too dedicated."
Jay's father has a plan:
forming his own home health care agency to supply nurses for
Jay and other wounded veterans.
"The only way we can move
on with our lives is to hire and interview, from the start,
these nurses," he said. "One of them straight up
told us, 'I'm in it for the money.' We just looked at each
other and said, 'You're in the wrong house. You're not coming
The Brisenos are proud of their
son's service despite the price they all pay for it now.
"This is the effects of
war, its effects on families. War is ugly and the American
people need to know this," said Jay's father, who spent
17 years in the Army himself.
Eva admits regret but also
"Probably other mothers
regret having their sons or daughters go to war, especially
when they come home hurt. It's not easy seeing your child be
in this position," she said. "We are so proud of Jay
and we thank God every single day that we have him."
By MARILYNN MARCHIONE (AP)
Oklahoma cancer patient
trades her life so her baby could survive
Crimm drinks from a bottle held by her aunt Jennifer
Phillips in The Children's Hospital at OU Medical
Center. JOHN CLANTON
Stacie Crimm called her brother
with astonishing news. “You're not going to believe this,”
She laughed and cried all at
once that day in March as she explained that five pregnancy
tests showed she would be having a child. It was a joyous
surprise at age 41 but even more so because she'd been told
she would never be able to get pregnant, said her brother, Ray
But even as she shopped for
clothes for the child she longed to hold in her arms, she knew
something was not right.
She sent 159 text messages
about her pregnancy to her brother in the months that
followed. Many were joyful but then the bone-chilling messages
came in during the predawn hours. She said severe headaches
and double vision tortured her while tremors wracked her
“I'm worried about this baby,”
“I hope I live long enough to
have this baby,” said another message. “Bubba, if anything
happens to me, you take this child.”
Initially, she and her brother
used the Internet to try to diagnose her illness. The single
mother-to-be had been exposed to mold while she was remodeling
her home and her symptoms seemed to match up to mold exposure.
At her family's encouragement,
she visited a number of doctors. In July, a CT scan revealed
that she had head and neck cancer.
Now she had to choose between
her life and her baby's life. Phillips said she agonized only
for a while before deciding against taking potentially
lifesaving chemotherapy in hopes that she would soon hold a
healthy baby in her arms.
The turning point
Crimm collapsed at her home in
Ryan and was rushed to OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City on
Aug. 16. Doctors said that the invasive tumor had begun
wrapping around the brain stem, slowing squeezing the life out
But on a beautiful sunny
morning two days later, Crimm felt good enough to sit on the
edge of her hospital bed to visit with her brother. He
returned to his medical equipment business in Edmond with a
At noon, the baby's heart rate
plummeted. Then Crimm's heart stopped 90 minutes later. With
“code blue” issued, doctors and nurses rushed to
resuscitate her and decided it was best to take the 2-pound,
1-ounce baby, Dottie Mae, by C-section.
Phillips raced back to the
hospital, where the baby was in neonatal intensive care and
the mother was in intensive care in a separate building.
“Sister was dying right
there. She was gasping,” he said. “The human body fights
A mother's will
Crimm's will was so strong she
got off the ventilator and was no longer under sedation after
“There was still a lot of
hope at that point,” said Jennifer Phillips, Ray Phillips'
Doctors told the family that a
treatment plan developed for Crimm could offer a small chance
of surviving the aggressive cancer.
“The cancer was such that it
had crossed one of her eyes and it had destroyed the muscle
behind her eye. It paralyzed her throat. When she did talk,
she was hard to understand. As far as her mind, she was there,”
Ray Phillips said.
But Crimm's improvement was
short-lived. She often fell unconscious and hadn't been able
to sign Dottie's birth certificate. She hadn't named the
father so Phillips gained guardianship because she frequently
told him that if she didn't survive, she wanted him and his
wife to raise the baby with the four children they already had
“I think she's a miracle. I
just want to do right by her and do what Stacie asked,”
Jennifer Phillips said.
A nurse's determination
On Sept. 8, Crimm stopped
breathing and once again was resuscitated. Hospital doctors
and nurses warned the family that she likely was dying.
“Her heart had stopped. She
quit breathing. She was technically dead, and then they
brought her back,” said Ray Phillips.
But she had not yet held the
baby whose life she had chosen above her own.
She'd never touched the golden
fluff of fuzz framing her baby Dottie's angelic face. Never
counted those fingers as tiny and perfect as a doll's. Never
looked into those dark blue eyes.
But a quiet yet determined
nurse and mother, Agi Beo, couldn't bear to think of Crimm's
“She was in the last stage
with the brain tumor. And she never got to see the baby,”
“This baby was everything she
had in this world.”
With Crimm's death imminent,
Beo worked with nurse Jetsy Jacob to step up their questioning
of the family, healthcare professionals and disease experts
about Crimm's condition, including her staph infection. They
talked to Neoflight, the medical center's neonatal transport
team, about using a capsule-like ICU to safely move Dottie.
When his sister regained
consciousness later that day, Phillips asked what she thought
about possibly seeing Dottie. Crimm's eyes popped open and she
raised her hands as if to ask where was her child.
Nurses wheeled Dottie down the
hallway to her mother moments later. Phillips said doctors,
nurses and others clad in protective gear gathered as nurses
carefully lifted the baby from the incubator under her
mother's watchful eye.
They placed the baby on her
mother's chest. Mother and child gazed into each other's eyes
for several minutes. She smiled at the baby who at last lay in
No one said a word. No one had
a dry eye.
Stacie Crimm died three days
Last week, Ray Phillips
fulfilled his last promise to his sister. Healthy, 5-pound
Dottie went home to live with Ray and Jennifer Phillips and
her four new siblings.
BY SONYA COLBERG
October 16, 2011