• Family turns loss of newborn into hope for others


    Forrest was David and Brittany Spence's first child. Immediately after he was born he had trouble breathing; doctors in the neonatal intensive care unit assured the new parents he would be fine.

    "Around 4 a.m. we get a knock on the door and in walks a very disheveled physician with a lab coat and holding a cup of coffee – I'll never forget it – and his first words were, ‘I'm doctor so-and-so and I'm afraid your son may die,'" says Brittany.

    She says Forrest ended up with a Group B Strep Infection and a Grade Three brain bleed. He was sent to Le Bonheur Children's Hospital and placed on a heart-lung bypass machine.

    "The first day you have a kid and they tell you they may not live, then the whole game changes," says David, "Brittany and I joke about the book ‘What to Expect When You're Expecting:' Every mother reads this book, every young mother uses it as a resource and yet there's no chapter on what to do when everything doesn't go as planned."

    Brittany can recall every single day: Day 32 neurosurgeons allowed her to finally hold Forrest, day 51 things took a turn for the worse. On day 55 at 10 o'clock at night, Forrest passed away. His mother still looks at the silver lining.

    "I can look back and see so much of the beauty because I got to hold him and be a part of his life," she says, "But everything I had envisioned being a mom was not that way. I didn't get to take him home, I didn't get to nurse him or wake up with him or do those things. This was the only home my son ever had - was Le Bonheur - and those nurses were his family."

    During the weekend before Forrest passed, an idea was born: David turned to Brittany while they were caring for Forrest in Le Bonheur's pediatric intensive care unit and said, "I wanted to do two things: One, I wanted to do something to carry on his legacy, and, two, I wanted to do something to give back to these families that didn't have the luxury of having the support we did."

    Though it was brought up in the most challenging time for the Spences, the Forrest Spence Fund played a role in their healing.

    "To see that we're able to turn such a tragedy and such a hardship in our life into something positive … it's fun to see people come out and support the cause, be a part of the fundraising event that allows us to really give back to Le Bonheur," says David.

    In the six years since the Forrest Spence Fund was established, the family raised more than $500,000. The money has paid for Le Bonheur patient families' non-medical needs as well as the Forrest Spence Sibling Playroom.

    "When a child is sick in the family, it affects the whole family, the entire family," says Brittany, "It also affects the siblings, and so this is a room they come and hopefully feel safe and loved on, it's happy, there's toys for ages 18 months up to 12 years."

    The Forrest Spence Fund also helps pay 100-percent of grief counseling costs for families that lost a child; it's something Brittany's church did for her when she lost Forrest.

    "There is no guidebook; there is no manual on how to go on with life after you've lost a child. There's nothing that says, ‘Do this and do this and you'll be okay,'" says Brittany, "So counseling is one of those things I think can really help you."

    The Spences now have three other children; they continue to keep the memory of their first child alive.

    "This fund is our baby; it really is. I feel him every time I'm talking to a family; I feel him with me every time I'm pushing ‘buy' on Amazon for a family," says Brittany, "He's a part of it all and none of this would've been a part of us or our story if it wasn't for him."

    The Forrest Spence Sixth Annual 5K is being held Saturday, Aug. 24 at 8 a.m. at Overton Park. For those interesting in participating in the event and supporting the cause, visit the Forrest Spence Fund website (www.forrestspencefund.org) for more information.

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