Baby born with no eyes lets mom see bigger picture

Lacey Buchanan is a 28-year-old mother of two young boys.

For the average woman in her shoes, life includes things like playdates, preschool and planning the occasional date whenever there’s a rare break from the chaos.

Lacey is an average woman, but her circumstances are anything but ordinary.

What you’re about to read may leave you speechless.

The Buchanans were dealt a hand in life that would break the faith of most people. They found themselves in a dark hole that was seemingly impossible to escape, and many  in their position wouldn’t have found their way out.

But this family is one of the incredible exceptions.

Lacey chronicles their “climb” with an unbreakable strength, and through the power of social media, thousands around the world have rallied behind them.

This is the story of a brave little boy who is beating all odds.

Christian Buchanan was born with no eyes, but his mother is determined for him to see life’s bright spots – no matter how hard it may be.

It started out so good

Lacey grew up in Woodbury, Tennessee, with her parents and older brother.

“I have fond memories of my childhood,” she says. “My dad was always playing games with us, and my mom was always the rock, there for whatever we needed. I had it good.”

At 15, Lacey met her future husband, Charles,  in church, and the couple dated through high school before getting married in 2008. She majored in pre-law at Middle Tennessee State University while Charles pursued his career.

Life was pretty normal, and they were really happy.

“We were just enjoying being newlyweds,” Lacey recalls. “We got to go on vacations a bit, things we don’t get to do much now. We were just hanging out, enjoying life.”

In 2010, she started law school in Nashville. The summer before her first year, Lacey found out she was pregnant. Since she was on birth control, it wasn’t expected, but nonetheless, the couple was thrilled.

 

“I was pretty excited,” she says. “People said, ‘Oh, you’re not going to law school now.’ I said, ‘Of course I am.’ It was scary … but I was excited.”

The pregnancy was progressing without issue until the anatomy ultrasound at 18 weeks when she found out the baby was a boy. Doctors discovered a cleft lip and palette and gave them a list of possible conditions.

“They said not to Google it, but of course I did,” Lacey says. “We were just clueless and kind of hoping for the best.”

As the weeks went on, Lacey had several doctor appointments but tried not to overthink the situation. Termination was never an option, and all that mattered to them was their baby’s life.

“We were just thinking, ‘We are so in love with this baby.’ We just want him to be OK.”

As Lacey’s due date approached, doctors couldn’t provide any concrete answers, aside from the fact that their baby was missing significantly more than what a typical cleft lip and palette would be.

But they had absolutely no idea what was in store.

On Feb. 18, 2011, Christian Buchanan was born.

Lacey had a scheduled c-section for his safety because they didn’t know if he would be able to breathe on his own.

“It was a pretty high-tension event,” she says. “Double the people scrubbed in because he was just a medical mystery. My surgeon volunteered to do it because she was so interested in the outcome.”

The moment her son came out, Lacey rejoiced.

“It was pretty fantastic from my perspective because he immediately started crying,” she says. “It meant he wasn’t intubated and was breathing on his own. I’m super excited, ecstatic, crying, asking what color is his hair, eyes, who does he look like, is he OK. But nobody would really answer me. All the doctors were really quiet. Then they asked me if I wanted to see him.”

Christian was held up over a curtain, and Lacey didn’t get a good look.

“I don’t specifically remember seeing anything,” she recalls. “I was just so relieved that he was breathing and alive, that’s all that mattered to me.”

She then sent her husband to check on Christian because nobody would give her answers.

But in the midst of things, Lacey started hemorrhaging.

“The doctors were frantic, and I didn’t know what was going on,” she says. “I called my husband over, and I could tell by the look on his face that he was really upset. I said something about Christian’s cleft not being as bad as I thought, but he said, ‘No … it’s bad.’”

Before going to recovery, Lacey was able to hold her son, but he was wrapped in a blanket with gauze covering his eyes. His cleft palette was severe, but Christian was perfect to her.

“That was my child,” she says. “I could care less, I thought, you’re still beautiful, thank God you’re alive.”

Christian was taken to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), while Lacey recovered from the events of the day. So much was going on, she recalls, that they didn’t talk about Christian other than how grateful they were for his safety.

When they finally got to see him again, his eyes remained covered up. All doctors said was that they were unsure of the damage/condition at that point.

“We knew there was something wrong with his eyes, but we didn’t know what,” she explains. “I don’t think I saw underneath his bandages for a day or two. Then a nurse asked me if I wanted her to remove them.”

Christian had no eyes – just tissue in their place, with some movement underneath. They were told he had bits and pieces of his eye structure, but nothing was fully formed or in the correct place.

He was diagnosed with a Tessier cleft, in which the “3, 4, 5 quadrant” of his face was affected. This obviously included the eyes.

At four days old, Christian had surgery to have a feeding tube inserted. While at the hospital, Lacey left his room to pump breast milk and returned to find her husband in tears.

“I asked what was wrong,” she says. “Charles said that a doctor had come in and basically said, ‘Your child is blind, and there’s nothing we can do.’ That’s it. They didn’t wait for me, we didn’t ask questions.  Nothing.”

The next month was a horrible time for the family. Christian spent 28 days in the NICU while Lacey and Charles juggled law school and work while driving back and forth to see their son.

When Christian was finally discharged, Lacey and  Charles spent time learning how to use the feeding tube, as it was his only source of nutrition. They had several doctor appointments each week until Christian's lip-closure surgery at three months old.

“It was terrible,” Lacey recalls of Christian’s pain. “He screamed for 24 hours. No sleeping, just screaming. They broke a bone in his nose and reset it. I can’t imagine a baby his size going through that. I was so young and naïve and a new mom … I just trusted them. Finally, after 24 hours of me begging, they gave him morphine and he was able to rest. It was just torture. It traumatized me for future surgeries.”

It wasn’t until almost a year later that Christian underwent another procedure, this time for ear tubes.

The family took a more conservative approach to his condition, largely because Lacey started questioning things, making sure she was fully knowledgeable before letting her baby go under the knife.

How was life in between the hospital stays?

“We kind of settled down a little once he started healing and not hurting so much,” she says. “He started becoming more of a typical baby. He started babbling, talking. Developmentally, he was behind because of his blindness, so we did a lot of therapeutic rehabilitation.”

Christian is now 5 years old. He’s had a total of seven surgeries – a second and third on his ears and two more reconstructive procedures on the palette and roof of his mouth.

As for the most obvious physical abnormality – Christian’s eyes – nothing has been done at this point.

“His mouth was such a priority that we had to focus on that,” Lacey explains. “The speaking, eating issues. His eye construction – everyone asks me about it – it doesn’t cause him any pain, and there is no reason to do it medically. We want it done to help him socially.”

Is Christian aware that he has no eyes and can’t see?

“No, not yet,” Lacey says. “He does things that make me think he understands he can’t see. But he’s not age-appropriate enough  to be told.”

His parents are laser-focused on building Christian up as a person, despite the challenges.

“We want him to know it’s never going to stop him,” she says. “We will never make him think he can’t do something because he’s blind. We don’t want it to matter to him, so we don’t want him to think it matters to us.”

Christian is certainly a role model to many around the world following his journey – but there’s one little boy who is especially close to his heart.

In 2013, Christian’s little brother, Chandler, was born. Although Lacey was concerned the abnormality would be inherited, he has no special needs.

Does Chandler realize his big brother is different?

“Not yet,” she explains. “He does things to indicate Christian can’t see. But our life doesn’t revolve around Christian being blind. It’s just one more thing we have to deal with.”

Lacey is determined to build her son’s confidence so high that when people try to knock it down, they won’t be able to.

So far, that seems to be working.

“He’s the funniest little thing,” Lacey says. “He loves to make people laugh. If he hears people laughing, he thinks it’s something he’s doing. It’s really cute to see.”

In many ways, she says, Christian is just a typical kid who loves to swim and play outside. He also loves music and has a great sense of humor.

Lacey sees the amazing potential in her son, and more than anything, she wants Christian to see himself through her eyes in that very same way.

What’s next for the Buchanan family?

“I’m taking my bar exam in July, so we’re looking to plan (for Christian's reconstructive surgery) around August,” Lacey says. “It’s definitely my calling to do disability advocacy work. I want to help families who are like mine. We are a single-income family now, so it’s hard. Of course, we can’t afford a $1,500 retainer and $150 an hour. I kind of had to figure it out on my own. I want to help bridge that gap. I always said I’ll probably never make a dime as a lawyer because I want to help everybody.

This is the world my son has to grow up in. They deserve the best.”

One of the organizations the family supports is the Special Kids Therapy & Nursing Center. They have fundraisers throughout the year and provide special-needs families with a sense of community.

“Sometimes you feel so left out when people have typical kids and you don’t,” Lacey explains.  “They also give you a ton of knowledge – how do you teach a blind kid to reach out for a toy, to crawl? Special Kids teaches him skills that I didn’t know how to, and they showed me how to follow up. They gave him something I couldn’t.”

Lacey has been through more than she ever imagined, but enduring these struggles has given her a wealth of knowledge and advice for others facing similar situations.

“Enjoy your child where they’re at,” she urges. “Don’t worry about comparing them to kids who aren’t facing challenges that you are facing. One thing I say a lot – My child is still a gift, he just came in different wrapping paper. Our society sometimes stigmatizes, ‘Oh you had a baby born with disabilities, I’m so sorry.’ No, it should be, ‘You had a baby, congratulations.’ ”

Christian is a blessing and has taught his family so much.

“I’ve learned how to trust God, that all things work together for good,” Lacey says. “In the moment, it was hard to see how I could deal with this, how it’s good. Now I look back, and I would go through that a million more times if it meant I got to have Christian. I’m so thankful I get to be his mom.”

Follow Christian’s journey on Facebook at www.facebook.com/lacey.n.buchanan.

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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