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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Born Dead

By Amy Brown Denoyer
Sept. 16, 2012

“I was breech stillborn.”

How do you respond to a statement like that? Joshua Brown seemed to sense my need to digest the statement, and he waited as I looked into his serious brown eyes to see if he was teasing. He wasn’t.

“My dad drove from St. Anne to St. Mary’s in 15 minutes,” he continued.

I had to wonder just how fast his dad was driving. Provena St. Mary’s Hospital in Kankakee is 17 miles north of St. Anne, Ill. Compounding the situation, this happened on a cold January night.

To look at Joshua, you wouldn’t think there was anything very miraculous about his life. At 5-foot-5, his stature doesn’t seem compatible with the person he reminds me of most — Clark Kent. However, his inner strength is more than super.

“From a young age I knew God existed,” Joshua says. “No one told me; I just knew.”

When you contemplate how Joshua’s life began with an ending, it all makes sense. Sometime during the night of Jan. 29, 1974, Joshua’s mother, Shirley, knew something was wrong. The mother of seven was no stranger to the pains she was feeling, pains that weren’t due for another two months. As her husband, Harold, rushed her to the hospital, she feared she would give birth inside the car.

Upon arrival, the nurses wanted Shirley to sit on a gurney, but she refused.

“They kept insisting,” Shirley says. “But I told them, ‘I can’t; I’ll sit on my son.’”

Upon examination, it was clear that Joshua was partially born.

“The nurse took one look at us and screamed as she rushed out of the room,” Shirley remembers.

In 1974, things were handled a lot differently than they are now. The delivery room didn’t have oxygen. By the time the doctors delivered the baby, he was stillborn. The weight of his little body had cut off the oxygen in the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck.

The doctor gave up hope for the little guy. Fortunately, the anesthesiologist didn’t. For two long hours he worked against the clock, and finally the baby took his first unassisted breath. A priest was rushed in to baptize him, and his mother named him Joshua Jacob.

“Don’t get attached. He’s not going to make it,” the doctors admonished Shirley as they placed Joshua into an incubator. She didn’t listen to them, and, apparently, neither did Joshua.

When he had survived two days in the incubator, the doctors advised it would be best if Joshua were moved to the neonatal unit of Mercy Hospital in Champaign. Shirley was again given little hope.

 “They told me he wouldn’t live very long, and if he did, he would never be normal,” Shirley says. “His brain had been without oxygen for two hours, and they said if he survived he would be a vegetable.”    

Shirley kept vigil at his incubator, often accompanied by her oldest son, Tony. After a month they were finally able to take Joshua home.

Although he grew a bit slower physically than her other kids, Shirley noticed Joshua was quicker at other things. He began talking at an early age.

“I remember holding him on my lap when he wasn’t quite 2 years old,” Shirley recalls. “His brothers were playing Parcheesi. They rolled the dice and counted their moves out loud, ‘One, two, three.’ Joshua responded, ‘Four, five, six.’

“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing so I told my older sons to say it again. Again they said, ‘One, two, three,’ and Joshua responded again with ‘Four, five, six.’”

One of Joshua’s other brothers said, “One, two, three, four,” and Joshua responded with “Five, six, seven.” Joshua’s brothers spent the rest of the day getting the toddler to count.

Joshua’s physical growth was a different story. Before he reached 5 months, Shirley noticed that Joshua’s legs and arms were becoming more and more rigid. Knowing that something wasn’t right, she decided to take him to the University of Illinois at Chicago Hospital.

Cerebral palsy was the diagnosis, but “normal” is how Shirley treated Joshua.

“When he would fall down, I’d just say, ‘Get up, Joshua.’ I expected him to try. I never babied him. I wanted him to be the best he could be.”

Nightly she would put him through physical therapy, rubbing his legs and moving them up and down. All her efforts paid off as Joshua began walking on his own by age 2.

When he turned 5, Joshua started kindergarten and attended all regular classes. He was never held back, and graduated with his class in 1992. He went on to attend college and obtain an associate degree in business and marketing management.

The only physical difference between Joshua and most other people is a mild limp. His left leg is slightly shorter than his right. His speech is very clear except when he gets too excited and will sometimes stutter slightly.

Quick-witted with a quirky sense of humor, Joshua is often found laughing or making someone else laugh. It’s hard to believe the doctors thought he wouldn’t make it.

“I never gave up,” Shirley says, smiling at Joshua with deep affection. They have fought a long road together.

And I’m very grateful, for I became Mrs. Joshua Denoyer on March 23, 2002. The boy who was born dead, the one they said would not be normal, has grown into a man whose life warmly touches everyone he meets.

My husband is a student at Illinois School of Ministry and is a licensed minister with the Assemblies of God. He currently serves as the associate pastor and missions director at First Assembly of God in Watseka, Ill. — the church where we met.

 My brother, Daniel, said it best when I told him Joshua’s story. “God resurrected love for you twice: first Jesus, and then Josh.”

 Amy Brown Denoyer lives in Sheldon, Ill.

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