The Story of Meghan Joy

My twin daughters were born in 1993. We were not expecting twins. The birth of our second daughter Meghan Joy would prove to be the most telling sign of life for both my wife and I. Through Meghan we would learn persistence, mental toughness and spiritual strength. Mostly though we would learn that life is meant to be enjoyed today – not tomorrow, not next week or next year, but right now! You see Meghan died when she was just fifteen months old. Every time we share the story of Meghan Joy we say and hear exactly the same things. Chief among these is that no other person has had such an integral effect on so many lives as did our Meghan Joy. No one person taught so much. No one person evoked such emotion. Her very existence changed our lives and many others, and because of her we will never be the same.

When Meghan was born she was what I usually describe as “Kroger Blue.” I was certain that when the surprised surgeon (who found Meghan wedged in her mother’s birth canal during an emergency caesarean) began to try to resuscitate her it would not be long until I heard the words, “I’m sorry Mr. Brochowski.” I was wrong. I learned quickly, however, that it was a long way out of the woods for my tough little girl. The doctors feared that Meghan had been so traumatized by the birth and other complications related to her mother’s condition that she might never wake up. Quickly “Brochowski baby girl B” was transferred from Grant Hospital where she was born to Children’s Hospital where the Neonatal specialist would be better able to care for her. Six days after her birth our little girl, whom we had named Meghan because Mommy liked the name in between bouts with painkillers and Joy because she was our extra little bundle of Joy, was given little if any chance of surviving. The head Neonatal specialist called us and our parents into a meeting and explained to us that Meghan would need to be taken off of the ventilator very soon. If she stopped breathing, he asked, what did we want him to do? Painfully we realized that Meghan’s life was not ours to give or take. Life for her, as it was explained to us, would be very difficult. After a brief baptismal service we went home to wait to bury our daughter. Then the ventilator was turned off … and Meghan Joy continued to breathe on her own. She grew stronger and on the following Monday Meghan Joy was transferred back to Grant Hospital to be with her twin sister. Five days later Meghan’s older sister, Kailey, came home from the hospital – a healthy, happy baby. We continued to wait for Meghan.

During the next few weeks Meghan would amaze us all. A day after rejoining her sister, Meghan Joy opened her eyes. She began to respond to our voices, and to cry. While those first “Joyful” sights and sounds were music to our eyes and ears, the doctors and nurses could not believe theirs. Meghan was slowly overcoming the odds. Still, no one in the medical profession seemed to have much hope for our little girl. As the doctors began to wean Meghan from her intravenous feeding it was becoming clear that she did not have a very good sucking reflex. She could not take a bottle. Needless to say, my wife and I were very alarmed. Meghan would have to be fed through a tube. The medical staff insisted that this was very difficult and insinuated that if Meghan did not begin to take a bottle she might have to remain hospitalized indefinitely. They said that it would require hours of training and a great deal of medical knowledge for us to learn to feed Meghan through her tube. After about a month though, one of the doctors began to encourage us to try. To our delight our efforts were successful. Once again Meghan had surprised us all.

Thirty-five days after Meghan Joy was born she was finally allowed to come home to be with her family. We were ecstatic! We were also very anxious. What was next for the four of us? What further obstacles would there be to block the way for our little girl?

Meghan was diagnosed as having cerebral palsy. She would require special schooling and extensive physical training and therapy. All of this could wait temporarily while Meghan was allowed the simple joy of being an infant. We all hoped she would progress with her feedings and continue to develop on her own as much as she possibly could.

Throughout the spring and summer we worked with Meghan. Each feeding saw twenty minutes of bottle feeding before we resorted to the tube. We have countless hours of video of us encouraging Meghan to roll over and push up on her arms. Sometimes we enjoyed success, more often we did not. Regardless of the result we always saw effort. I would never have believed that one could see effort in an infant before I saw Meghan Joy. She tried to suck with all her might. She pushed and groaned and strained and grimaced to use her little muscles. Meghan may have had the brain and body of a little child, but she had the heart of a lion. It was as though she was attacking every challenge with every ounce she had to give.

That fall our little fighter began to attend school at the Early Childhood Education program through the Franklin County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities. Every Tuesday and Thursday morning her mother would take her to class where they would work to overcome Meghan’s physical limitations and to improve her communication skills. Meghan loved school. She loved the time to be with her Mommy. She enjoyed being around the other children. She seemed to be genuinely proud of each little accomplishment she was able to show Daddy when she came home. She was especially proud to be able to show her “big” sister that she wasn’t such a pushover after all. Frequently, Kailey would allow Meghan to play with toys only to snatch them away after a few moments. Meghan learned how to hang on to one toy, a “Koosh ball.” Kailey was amazed when after having given this toy to Meghan she was unable to pry it from her sister’s grasp. Proudly Meghan hugged the ball to her body with what seemed to be a smirk on her face.

Meghan only actually smiled twice in her life. The first and most significant smile occurred as she returned to school after two consecutive snow days off. Mommy took her into the classroom and began to remove her coat whispering to her about how she would be warm soon and how it had finally warmed up at least enough for her to be back in school. As soon as she heard this Meghan smiled. We could only speculate as to her reasons, but of course we assumed that Meghan enjoyed the challenge of school and was eager to work hard to improve herself.

The second time Meghan smiled was an echo of the first. She had just undergone a full eight hours of diagnostic tests. Countless wires had been attached to her little body. A video camera had recorded the day’s events for future analysis. Not once during the entire ordeal was there a hint of complaint from our Meghan Joy. Since most of Meghan’s communications were non-verbal we thought that the camera would make it impossible for us to miss any reaction she might have had to the day’s torment. Yet, not one grimace was seen, not one cry was heard. As we settled down that night and began to get Meghan ready for bed I told her that she had been a very good girl and had worked very hard. I told her how very proud of her I was and how happy I was to just be able to be with her then and snuggle. Slowly her little head turned to face me revealing perhaps the biggest, brightest smile I have seen in my entire life.
In February of 1994 Meghan and Kailey celebrated their first birthday. Friends and family familiar with Meghan and her struggles were amazed at her progress. Eagerly they probed for details. Of course we told them that Meghan was truly an amazing little child. We related story after story about our diligent little girl and all of her successes.

There was one thing though that Meghan was unable to overcome. Because of her problems with her suck reflex Meghan was unable to cough or clear her throat. Consequently she was constantly congested and could often be heard wheezing. All of the doctors assured us that this was not cause for worry. They said that this was quite common for a child in Meghan’s condition. On May 6, 1994 during the twin’s fifteen month check-up, my wife and I once again quizzed Meghan’s doctor about her congestion. The doctor again assured us that there was nothing to worry about. The doctor was wrong. On May 14, 1994 Meghan Joy Brochowski went down for a nap and never woke up. The coroner ruled the cause of death to be pneumonia with complications caused by Meghan’s cerebral palsy.
We were crushed. Even Kailey knew that something was wrong with her sister and could be consoled only by pictures of Meghan Joy. We each in our own way had to find some consolation, some reason for this tragedy. My wife and I began to reach out to people to encourage them to talk to us about our little girl. We needed to know what they thought, how they felt, what they saw as some reason behind all that madness.

The answer repeated itself again. “I learned more in fifteen months from that little girl than I had ever learned in all my years before that combined.” The story of Meghan Joy began to take shape. Her reason for existence as we perceived it is the reason we continue to tell her story and remember her successes. It is the reason we have held an annual golf tournament in her honor each year since her death.
From Meghan and because of Meghan we learned to attack each day with enthusiasm. We learned to reach out and make things happen for us instead of waiting for them to happen to us. We learned to face each new challenge head on, with our entire being. We now know the value of living and giving a total effort.

Many years ago I lost my daughter. As I look back on her story and what effect it has had on our lives I see that I’ve tried to live my life from that point exactly as I’d promised Meghan I would. I guess it sounds like a cliché, but life is short. I suppose the real inspiration of Meghan Joy, her reason for being, is echoed in a well known commercial slogan:

LIFE IS SHORT, PLAY HARD!!!!!

I love you Meghan Joy. Thank You.