Child's health issues offer lessons for young family

The Hatchers -- Hannah, Harrison, Heath and Hays
Staff Writer

A 5-month-old girl's fight with a birth abnormality is teaching a young Oktibbeha County family lessons in community, compassion and life they are only beginning to grasp.

Hays Hatcher was born in February. Within a few days, parents Harrison, a deputy with the Clay County Sheriff's Department since Nov. 1, and Hannah, noticed the newborn having difficulty breathing.

Known as "stridors," the rasping sounds usually are an indication of laryngomalacia, a condition that occurs when the trachea and esophagus collapse together when a child breathes.

Most children grow out of it. But 10 to 15 percent of cases require surgery.
Hays was one of those.

She had surgery at Lebonheur Children's Hospital April 19 and while better, is still having some issues.

The family had another stay in Lebonheur in May. They've spent a total of 10 days there so far.

Acid reflux can contribute to the problem and doctors have her taking medicine. They'll continue with that regimen for four weeks and then do more tests to determine whether another surgery is needed.

But that's not all of Hays' problems.

She also has a chest deformity; she is missing a set of ribs and has an extra lumbar vertebrae. The result is a one-inch depression in her chest.

It's a deformity that may be contributing to other problems and cause issues the rest of her life.

But doctors can't do anything about that until she's a teenager.

In some ways, the parents at least know what's happening, even if it means anxious waiting when they'd love to have answers now. But that's still better than some of those first few weeks, which included 90-minute screaming sessions in the middle of the night, often while Harrison was working the night shift as a deputy and Hannah was home dealing with it alone with a newborn and another child.

"He was so easy so we didn't really worry about things with her," Hannah said, referring to Heath and then Hannah. "People said, 'oh, it's just colic.’”

"Even when she'd be having these horrible episodes, she'd be smiling. That's why we never really knew it at first. It was every night.

"The hardest part for me was realizing during those hour and a half screaming sessions that she was suffering, she was struggling to breathe and we didn't know it. I deal with the guilt of wondering what she was thinking," Hannah said.

"It's hard to look back and blame yourself, but it's hard not to, too," Harrison added.

"The really hard part is we still don't know what's going to happen with the chest deformity and what that will mean," he continued.

"Being a girl is hard enough, being a teenage girl and having to deal with the deformity, I can only imagine how hard it will be," Hannah chimed in.

"That's why we work very hard now on accepting it. We want her to be happy in her own body, to grow up that way. It's part of who she is and that's special. She is made in the Lord's image, we all are.

"We are caught in a hurry-up-and-wait game, but we're not just waiting six months, we're waiting 10 years or more when it comes to the deformity and how big of a deal it's going to be," Hannah described. "And on the breathing issues, we want facts, but we don't have them all yet."

"They wanted to do an MRI but advised against it because it would be exposing her to radiation. We like that advice, but we don't like not knowing," he added, noting the lessons they've learned in patience.

The 27-year-olds are natives of Lowndes County, Harrison from the western part of the county and Hannah from New Hope. He worked for the MSU and Starkville police departments before getting accepted into the Mississippi Highway Patrol. But at the academy, he blew out his knee.

Clay County Sheriff Eddie Scott hired him Nov. 1. She was working part-time for Billy Doughty at Doughty Financial Group in West Point.

Doughty has allowed her to cut her hours to as few as four a week.

"He's been super understanding," she said.

Scott and the Sheriff's Department? Words can't really describe that.

"You hear it all the time in law enforcement, that everyone is family. With my job, that's really true. It's not just lip service, something you say and laugh about. It's not just empty promises. It has been a huge blessing for us," Harrison said.

"I've never had this kind of support from a boss, a leader, like I have from Eddie, as a father figure and a boss."

That ripples across the department. Harrison tried to work all the extra hours he could before and after Hays was born so he could build up comp time to be able to take off when he needed to be with his family. Scott finally made him stop because he worried about his health.

"We'll donate you the time, you stop worrying about it and be with your family," he recalled the sheriff saying.

Other deputies worked extra shifts to cover for him, they called, came by, checked in.

"These are people I'd worked with just a few months," Harrison recalled.

The department and the community recently had a fundraiser for the couple. Lewis, a retired state trooper, and Martha Gail Stafford, the owners of the Tin Top Restaurant in Pheba, spearheaded the effort.

The Boston butt sale raised more than $5,000 to help with the family's medical expenses.

"They just did it all. I met them right after I started work and we just hit it off. I go out there at night sometimes and sit on their porch and talk. Where else can something like that develop in just a few weeks? It's just the way the whole community is," Harrison stated.

"It's been a very big learning experience for us, that sense of community."
Heath and Hays are young now and certainly don't realize the gravity of the health issues or even all the things going on.

Heath is gregarious, curious and playful, but well behaved as he plays while mom and dad are talking with a visitor in a Starkville coffee shop.

Hays sits in a bassinet or in dad's lap, all smiles and bright-eyed. Dad occasionally tickles her, prompting even more smiles and laughs.

It's also mom's and dad's own subtle self diagnosis to see how she reacts and whether the deformity is causing any pain or discomfort.

Mom and dad hope the children one day will understand it all.

"We kept a journal when we were dating and we passed it back and forth. We still do it, we write things down they say or do, or things we see or think about or our thoughts and worries so we can share with them in the future. They will be able to see and reflect on how the community rallied around us. We hope it will really speak volumes to her.

"In his line of work, he may not come home one day," Hannah continued matter-of-factly.

"They will have a part of their daddy in his own handwriting, something to have for the rest of their lives."

The journal isn't the only lesson they are building for their children.

"A big way for me to carry on what we've gotten from the community is to show them, to do by example. It's all part of what goes into building a family atmosphere, a community," Harrison described.

"It's one of those things we can pay forward. That's what we can show our children. I've already got a friend whose son is having some medical issues. I've been able to talk to her," Hannah added.

And then there is Lebonheur.

"As bad as it is for us, it could have been worse. When we go to Lebonheur, we get to go home. A lot of those kids never get to go home. In our eyes when we are there, we are a low priority compared to what many of those children and families are going through.

"It makes us thankful. We try to listen and talk to as many of them as we can. That's all some of those parents want, is someone to just listen and understand. It's been a beautiful experience for us," Hannah recalled.