Over the years, I have been touched by the stories of other Christian women. Women who live out their convictions in ordinary and sometimes, extraordinary circumstances. Their faith encourages me, challenges me and stirs me to keeping pressing on. For Christ.
Today marks the first in a series of posts about women with unique stories to tell, but who share a common theme. To live a life of faith.
I'd like to introduce you to Jennifer Westbrook, a mother from Texas. Here is her story...
On September 20, 2011 I was starting my last patient of the day. I’m a dental hygienist. I was gushing over my new baby, Austin, to my patient. It was my first day of my 5th week back at work. I got a call from our sitter's husband and he said "my baby quit breathing", and that the fire department was there. I told him I'd be right there and rushed out. I drove there as fast as I could crying and pleading with God not to take him back, please don't take him back. I called my husband and told him Austin quit breathing.
I beat the paramedics to our sitter’s house. As I pulled up and got out of the car she came running out of the front door, saying, "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry!!" I thought she was telling me he was dead. I cannot describe the feeling of horror and disbelief I felt in that moment. We went inside, and I braced myself to see my baby being worked on by paramedics. I could barely see him through all of the paramedics. He was not moving. So tiny. It was his 3-month birthday. They took him to the ambulance and he started trying to cry in short spaced out yelps. We took it as a good sign...then the paramedics asked me if he had a history of seizures. I said no, and neither did we. He had one on the short drive to the Abilene Regional Medical Center. When we arrived, my husband, Chris met us there, along with our daughter Audrey and many of our wonderful friends, my bosses, and our Abilene family.
They did a CT scan and an X-ray and told us that there was fluid on his brain, and pressure was building in his head. It was swelling up and rock hard. I asked why this was happening, but they said they weren't positive without further tests, and that they weren't equipped to treat him. They called Cook Children's Hospital in Fort Worth to care flight him there. The helicopter trip from Fort Worth to Abilene was 1 hour. They couldn't do anything for him, so they told me to lay next to him on the bed and try to comfort him. His crying hadn't stopped. It had turned into a low growl. He was in so much pain. The flight team finally got there and started trying to get an IV, but he was dying. His organs were shutting down and his veins were constricted. His skin was mottled. And I couldn’t breathe. They were asking us if one of us wanted to ride in the helicopter with him. I couldn't think. Chris would drive with Audrey. I didn't want to leave Austin. I couldn't breathe. My friend Lisa had to tell me I could drive, or fly, and both WERE OK choices to make. So I chose to step away from the situation. Get my head on straight and ride with Chris. They were still working on Austin to put in an IV, and could not take him until they got one. When Chris and I walked out of the ER, our friends had packed our bags, someone had picked up food and a little cooler of drinks, and it was all packed into our car. My boss, Dr. Christie handed me a hundred bucks cash to have on hand and hugged me. We took off. Lisa stayed behind with Austin to keep me updated.
During all this time at the hospital, the sitter, Kara, kept texting me asking if Austin was ok. I would say "he had a seizure" and she would say "but he is going to be ok, right? He is still crying, right?" I asked her if she could think of anything that happened during the day to his head. She said no. Her story originally, was that she was giving him his bottle, and her girls were getting loud in the bedroom so she propped him on a pillow on the couch and went to calm them down. When she came back, he was turning blue. She thought maybe he spit up and choked on it.
Lisa told me that they were calling this “non-accidental head trauma”. She told me they thought he was shaken. I texted Kara and told her what the doctors said and asked her again if anything had happened to Austin's head. Her story completely changed. So then we knew without question that she had done something, but I still thought it was an accident of some kind and she was scared to tell me what really happened. I would soon find out that it was no accident, and it had happened before.
After about an hour on the road, Lisa called to tell me they finally did the IV and were about to take off. We arrived at exactly the same time they did. We were taken to a small room to wait. After 45 minutes or so, doctors started coming in to update us. The neurosurgeon sat down and told us there was bleeding and fluid on his brain, and there was evidence of older blood on the CT scan. We asked what that meant, and he said it meant that there was an older injury, as well as what had happened that day. He did not offer us much hope, except that his coloring had improved since he had been there. Before he finished, a caseworker came in and sat down. She told us that Kara had been taken to the police station, questioned, and had admitted to shaking Austin and was in jail. We were in shock. Everything points to the worst but you still don't want to believe it. It was 11:30pm by this point. They took us to see him, and he was intubated, tubes and wires everywhere. My parents got there around 2 am. We were up, not knowing what to do with ourselves until about 4:30 am. Slept 30 minutes. Woke up to a feeling of disbelief. And the next days ran together. I found out 3 days later from a friend who read the article in the newspaper that Kara “shook him twice, and threw him on a couch". She threw my baby. I started sobbing uncontrollably. The next day she bailed out of jail on a $50,000 bond. I didn't want to tell Chris. I wanted to shelter him. But, he already knew and wanted to protect me. We quit trying to keep things from each other after that. At that point, I decided that I wanted to focus on my son and his recovery.
I did not want to spend time or energy on anything else.
My only focus was to pray for 100% restoration for Austin. My first prayers were simple. "God, fix my baby that Kara broke."
I learned of Austin's story from a friend who follows his progress on Facebook. I asked Jennifer a few questions...
What prompted you to create a FB page for Austin?
I didn't create the page. Chris’ cousin created it to help us keep everyone updated. They would take the updates I posted on my personal Facebook page and copy them to Austin’s page. They also monitored the page for any negativity and cruelty and deleted comments as necessary. After a couple of weeks, they backed off on the page and gave Chris and me control of it. The story hit the media hard and even made national news briefly, so the page grew fast, and still grows steadily. I know I have a responsibility to represent myself and the Lord well, and I have done my best to be truthful and sometimes, very raw.
Early on, you stated on your Facebook page that you wanted to keep the conversation geared towards Austin's recovery and prayer. You said you did not want to place focus on the abuser or discuss the abuse. Can you tell us a little bit about why you made this decision? And how did you have the strength to let it all go and focus on Austin?
It was not out of strength at all, but out of weakness. I was so broken, scared, lost. I knew I could not deal with people focusing on Kara, and reading constant negativity and bashing. I knew I needed an uplifting place to post his updates and to receive encouragement and reassurance. I still feel fragile, and when I do get the occasional negative page member, I find myself answering their questions factually and shortly, but I shut the conversation down pretty quickly. I just can't dwell there. What's done is done, I can't change it. The only thing I want to focus on and put energy into is the One who can heal Austin.
As mothers, we have to trust other people to help us with our children when we work or have other commitments. How do you deal with the flood of emotions that came from this tragedy and how will you trust anyone with your children again?
I don't have issues with trusting my children to other people after this. I know that this is not someone reasonable that did this, and I know that not everyone has such horrible intentions. Austin does have separation anxiety now, and I worry more about him being upset or stressed than I do about someone abusing him. I have never left my children with someone I did not trust. I did trust her. I knew her for 3 years and she took care of Audrey for 2 1/2 years before this. All I can do is make the best decisions I can for my kids day to day, one decision at a time. But I will not live in fear.
Is there a particular verse that has encouraged you during this difficult season?
Our life group leader gave Psalm 91 to us when he came to visit. We read through it, and then began reading it over Austin. On the third day at Cook Hospital, Austin was having a very long seizure, through the meds and the rescue meds. Chris' brother started reading Psalm 91 over him. He seized all the way through the entire chapter. As the last word was spoken, his seizure stopped. He didn't have any more seizures like that again.
We also love the scripture from Romans:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.
Romans 8:28 NIV
Do you think it's possible to forgive someone for unimaginable evil? How do you do it?
I do. I prayed for a year for help with this. A couple of strong motivators were that many verses that talk about healing begin with talking about forgiveness, leading me to believe that forgiveness was a big key to Austin’s healing. Well I would do anything... anything for that. Also, I realized that Kara is just a person. She is someone that let Satan get a strong foothold in her life. She let him take control of her emotions and life. That was her biggest crime. This realization helped me to direct my anger at the source of this: Satan. After a lot of prayer and meditation on these things, I was able to release her. I have reached what I believe is an acceptable form of forgiveness. I am not bitter and I do not seek any kind of revenge through the court system or any other way. I have released her.
Click this link to witness a miracle caught on video...
If you would like to visit the Prayers for Austin Westbrook Facebook page, click here.
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