By Anne Granado
Living a life filled with hope, strength, and faith for the precious miracle found in Brayden White
From the first home pregnancy test, when the little lines seem to change your world, pregnancy is a roller coaster of emotions, especially for first-time mothers. To feel such excitement and anxiety together is a unique feeling, and many mothers vacillate between the two. However, whether it is extreme morning sickness or the fear of bad news at an exam, many mothers experience pregnancies far from the fairy tale. Hollywood makes it all seem easy—pregnancy glow, good news at every appointment, beautiful baby showers. However, very little is shared about moms with vastly different experiences, even though telling the truth about a stressful pregnancy could help others feel less alone.
Brad and Brandi White’s story is precisely the kind of tale that some movies would shy away from, but this couple’s hope, strength, and faith could inspire so many. Brad and Brandi White found out on February 23rd, 2022, that they were expecting their first child. The couple had been at the horse track the weekend before, and though Brandi found herself wanting one of their famous Bloody Mary’s, something held her back. “I was talking to my best friend, Madison, about how I was a little late and feeling a little off. She told me I was pregnant, and I needed to take a test,” Brandi says. “I kind of blew her off, but I thought I would pick up a cheap test just to put my mind at ease.”
At the time, Brandi was a branch supervisor for Commercial National Bank, and work was rife with stress, which Brandi took as the reason for her irregular cycle. However, she stopped at the store and bought a test anyway. “When two lines appeared, Brad and I just smiled and were so excited,” Brandi says. “We had been trying, so it was a very positive thing, but I instantly knew my life would be completely different. It’s an exciting yet scary feeling!”
Although, Brad was instantly excited, but trying to think rationally, he recommended they take a second test in the morning. “The first test I took was the one with the two pink lines, and the second line was there but light,” Brandi says. “The second test showed a + and a -. It immediately showed a +!”
After the second test, Brandi called and made an appointment with Dr. Sudheer M. Jayaprabhu (or simply Dr. Jay to many of his patients) an obstetrics and gynecology specialist at Women’s Specialists in Texarkana. Then, on Easter of 2022, Brad and Brandi announced they were pregnant. “We just knew we were having a boy the whole time. We both just felt it,” Brandi says. “We went to Stork Vision and gave the results to my sister-in-law for our upcoming family gender reveal, where we confirmed it was a boy! It was also my birthday and the best birthday present ever!”
Immediately, Brad and Brandi began to imagine their future and the changes this little one would bring, but their dream of a perfect pregnancy changed at Brandi’s 20-week anatomy scan.
After the scan was completed, Brad and Brandi were sent to a room to wait for Dr. Jay and go over the results. When he came in, Dr. Jay told them that an issue had appeared on the scan. “Dr. Jay told us that one side of our little one’s heart was smaller than the other, and he wanted us to see a specialist,” Brandi says.
Still hopeful, Brad and Brandi went to see Dr. Christian Briery, a specialist in maternal-fetal medicine at Willis Knighton Health System in Shreveport, Louisiana. But, on their visit with him, Dr. Briery diagnosed their baby with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS). “Dr. Briery was looking at the monitor then looked at me and said, ‘Mrs. White, your son has Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome,’” Brandi says. “My face just fell, and my world stood still.”
Brandi knew all about HLHS from her best friend, Debbie. The two friends grew up together in their hometown of Nashville, Arkansas, and Debbie is the one who originally introduced Brandi to Brad in 2010. Debbie knew all about HLHS because she had a nephew with the same heart condition. Through their friendship together, Brandi had prayed for Debbie’s nephew, Kane, and had even been at the hospital to support Debbie every time Kane had heart surgery. “I knew what to expect, but it hits differently when it’s your child. Dr. Briery explained HLHS and how it would affect our son’s life. We left that doctor’s appointment in tears. We pulled into a Walgreens and sat in the parking lot just crying for about an hour afterward,” Brandi says. “We called our families and gave them the news. That was the only day I let myself break down and cry about his diagnosis.”
On the way home from Shreveport that day, Brad and Brandi decided their little one was getting ready to be put through the fight of his life, so he needed a name. “We decided on Brayden,” Brandi says. “Because our two names are so similar, we wanted his name to be close to ours as well.”
For the next 20 weeks, Brad and Brandi leaned on each other and the love of their family and friends as they navigated the ever-changing emotions that a diagnosis like this can bring. However, the two had a solid foundation that kept them steady through the storm.
Brandi grew up in Nashville, Arkansas. She said her family had little money, but her childhood was great. Her father drove a truck, and her mother worked at Walmart. Brandi was the oldest of the two children; her sister, Brittany, was six years younger than her. “My dad’s dream was to buy land in the country, so his kids could run around in nature. And man, my sister and I took full advantage of that. We rode four-wheelers, made forts in the woods, and just had the best time being outside,” Brandi says. “We stayed out all day, and we knew that when it was getting close to dark, it was time to go home.” On the weekends, Brandi’s family went camping at the various local lakes. “My dad taught me to hunt and fish, which is now something that Brad and I love to do together,” Brandi says.
Just 49 miles away, Brad grew up in Texarkana and attended Liberty-Eylau Schools. Brad’s father was originally from New York, but his family moved to Texas due to the rising crime rate in the northern state. Even though Brad embraced many things about Texas, he still kept hold of his love for the Yankees. “Brad has always been a fan, but I never really watched baseball until I started dating him. However, in our time together, I’ve fallen in love with the game and have become a Yankees fan myself,” Brandi says. “Our goal is to visit every baseball stadium in the country, and we plan our vacations around baseball season and where the Yankees will be! I’ve been to seven stadiums, but Brad has been to more! We dream of taking Brayden to all the stadiums one day.”
Brad and Brandi met through Debbie, Brandi’s before-mentioned best friend. Debbie and Brad’s sister, Ashley, were sorority sisters together. So when Debbie threw a 21st birthday bash for Ashley, Brad and Brandi were in attendance. “That night was so much fun, and I met so many of my now closest friends,” Brandi says.
After that night, Brad and Brandi began dating. They bonded over their shared love of the outdoors. Then, after 11 years of dating, Brad and Brandi married on July 17th, 2021. “He is my best friend,” Brandi says. “I couldn’t imagine doing this life with anyone else!”
Brandi knew Brad wanted kids but was not very keen on the idea. “I really didn’t want children because of the crazy world we live in,” Brandi says. “I love kids, but we live in so much uncertainty, and I just wanted my child to experience the same childhood fun that I did.”
To that end, Brandi thought that giving Brad a dog would do away with his desire to have children, and the two ended up with Winston, an English Springer Spaniel, who stood right beside the groomsmen at the wedding. “He walked us back down the aisle, and he did such a great job,” Brandi says. “However, the dog didn’t work. Brad still wanted kids.”
Surprisingly, Brandi began to change her mind when she watched Brad with their nieces. “I really knew he would be such a great dad,” Brandi says. “So, I finally gave in and told Brad that we could have a child, but we would have to get married first! I’m still a little old school when it comes to my values!”
After the wedding, the two began trying and were overjoyed at finding out they were pregnant. However, after getting Brayden’s diagnosis from the appointment with Dr. Briery, the couple was constantly bombarded with worst-case scenarios. “All throughout my pregnancy, we were hit with mortality rates, possible in-utero interventions, and the possibility of our son being rushed to the operating room the moment he was born,” Brandi says.
Because of the complexity of Brayden’s condition, Brandi needed to give birth to him at the Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, Texas. She actually had to relocate to Houston on September 26th, 2022. Brad was able to take leave for each surgery, but he was back and forth between Houston and Texarkana every weekend because of his job as a teacher at Premier High School. “Brad would get off work on Friday and drive to Houston. He would arrive about 9 p.m. and then have to leave again on Sunday around noon to get ready for his work week,” Brandi says. “Brad has made many sacrifices to ensure that Brayden and I have everything we need/want. He is the BEST dad! There is no way I can thank him enough for stepping up and doing what had to be done for me to be in Houston to care for our son.”
Two weeks before she was induced, Brandi discovered that she had cholestasis, a liver condition that can occur late in pregnancy. The diagnosis led to an earlier induction date of October 9th. “Well, that was the plan anyway, but Brayden had other plans,” Brandi says.
Brad arrived in Houston, Texas, on October 7th, and Brandi’s water broke on October 8th at 9 a.m. on the dot. “I jumped out of bed and ran to the bathroom, thinking I just had to pee really bad. Nope. I called my sister-in-law and said, ‘How do I know if my water broke?’” Brandi says. “She gave me some advice, and I figured it was time to wake up my husband.”
However, Brad and Brandi still questioned whether or not Brandi’s water would break without having contractions, and they waited a few hours to go into the hospital. When they arrived, doctors confirmed that Brandi’s water had broken, but they started her on medication because she was not progressing as she should have been. Soon after, Brandi’s blood pressure suddenly increased, and doctors diagnosed Brandi with preeclampsia. They started a magnesium drip, and after a while, Brandi was asked to push. Brayden was born at 9:51 a.m. on October 9th, 2022, in a room of at least 15 people. “Most of them were waiting to take my baby and check him out to determine if surgery was needed immediately. There is only so much the cardiologist could see when doing an echocardiogram on him in-utero,” Brandi says. “When he was born, they took him, hooked him up, and did an echo while still cleaning him up. By the grace of God, they determined that a stint wasn’t needed at the moment and that he could wait a couple of days for his first open-heart surgery. I held him for two minutes before they said, ‘Ok, Dad, are you ready to go?’ They went to the cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU) floor with my son in a different tower.”
While most couples spend the time after birth holding the baby and celebrating with family, Brad and Brandi had a different experience. Due to Brandi’s preeclampsia, she was on bed rest for the first 24 hours after giving birth. She had to wait until the next day to be wheeled to the CVICU floor to see her son. “I got to hold him for about 30 minutes before I had to go back to my room in the connecting tower to get my discharge papers,” Brandi says. “I didn’t hold him again until he was five weeks old.”
At only three days old, Brayden had his first open heart surgery, the Norwood, and did well. The surgeon closed Brayden’s chest on October 14th, but on October 16th, Brad and Brandi became very concerned with Brayden’s swelling. “We were told that swelling was to be expected and that it should go down in the next day or so. However, we received a phone call at 5:30 a.m. on October 20th from a surgeon saying that he needed to reopen Brayden’s chest to relieve some of the pressure and help the swelling,” Brandi says. “We also learned that Brayden had an E. coli infection. By this point, Brayden was so swollen that he didn’t look like himself.”
On October 21st, the surgeon called the couple while they were out for dinner. He thought that it was time to put Brayden on ECMO. “At first, this was scary, but this machine saved my son’s life! It allowed his body to rest while recirculating oxygenated blood into his system. I will never forget hearing the words, ‘Your son’s life hangs in the balance,’” Brandi says. “I sat in the hospital’s parking lot and cried while waiting to get the update that Brayden was safely on ECMO. I prayed over and over for God to let me raise my son. I pleaded because we hadn’t had enough time together yet!”
Brayden stayed on the ECMO for eight days. Determined and strong, Brayden started improving. Then, on February 23rd, 2023, Brayden had his second open heart surgery, the Glenn. Even though that went well, Brayden was still not eating by mouth, leading to his inpatient status. He had a gastronomy tube inserted on March 31st, 2023, and after tolerating feeds through the tube, he was discharged and free to go home six long months after he was born. “We left Houston at 6 p.m. and didn’t arrive home until midnight, but it was worth it to be home! Brayden slept in his bed that night for the first time, and he LOVED it! He still wants to take all of his naps in his bed,” Brandi says, “We did catch a sinus infection after being home only five days, but you would never know that our Baby B didn’t feel good! He is still a happy baby!”
At home, Brayden started thriving; he even started rolling over all by himself, and finally, Brandi, Brad, and Brayden got to experience what “normal” felt like for the first time in a long time. But even while breathing a sigh of relief, Brad and Brandi are forever changed by their experience. “Having a medically complex child has opened my eyes and my heart. I am more patient. I love a lot harder. I’m learning to speak up and to not take no for an answer,” Brandi says. “I’m learning to not take things for granted as our time with our little one is not promised.”
The family’s next steps are to continue their follow-up appointments in Houston and monitor Brayden’s heart until his next open-heart surgery. Brayden’s next surgery, the Fontan, should fall around his fourth birthday. “We are hoping that his heart will continue doing well until then,” Brandi says. “We pray that this series of surgeries will prolong Brayden’s time with this heart before he has a transplant.”
On top of the stress of Brayden’s condition, Brad and Brandi have had the added stress of medical bills, the cost of living expenses in Houston and Texarkana, and gas for Brad to drive back and forth every weekend. After seeing the couple’s stress, their friend, Emily Henderson, decided to help put together a community benefit so family, friends, coworkers, and loved ones could all help the family.
Emily’s husband and Brad have been friends since grade school, and Emily immediately took a liking to Brandi when she and Brad began dating. “We are all really close, and seeing them go through this just really hit home,” Emily says. “You can never imagine having to go through this kind of thing, and it makes you really thankful for the health of your kids.”
Emily started her mission to spread the news about Brayden’s story by sharing Brandi’s posts on social media. Emily also contacted Debbie Brower, Owner and Editor of ALT Magazine. “I have always seen all the heartfelt stories in ALT magazine, and I just thought that this could be a good way to get their story out,” Emily says. “Brandi and Brad deserve the recognition and the help for what they are going through. They are good people, they work hard, and the little man is just as cute as he can be!”
Emily also helped organize a benefit for the family on March 25th at Texarkana Golf Ranch, and Brandi was able to drive home and attend. “People from all over our community have come out to help us. People we’ve never met have reached out or prayed for our son,” Brandi says. “Also, our families and friends have been the biggest blessing! They have been right there if we needed anything! They are truly the best, from doctor appointments to the benefit golf tournament, from getting the house ready for a baby to being there for Brayden’s open heart surgeries! I have no way to say thank you enough to them!”
As Brad, Brandi and Brayden continue their family journey, they enjoy every moment together. Brandi says that the whole situation has taught her a lot about patience. “I am not normally a patient person, but I’ve learned that I have to be,” Brandi says. “We are on Brayden and God’s timing, not mine.”
The couple has also learned not to take the small things for granted. “After hearing the horrific screams of a mother trying to save her little one’s life as the machine that was supposed to keep him alive malfunctions and causes significant blood loss and brain damage, I’ll forever be grateful that Brayden is doing so well. There are so many moms and dads at Texas Children’s Hospital who put their entire lives on hold to ensure they are receiving the best care for their little ones,” Brandi says. “These parents go to sleep to the lullaby of monitors beeping, if they even get any sleep. Most are walking the halls like zombies due to lack of sleep and worry that their child will get the call that will change the rest of their lives. I’ve sat and cried while holding my baby close, praying for those families that ran out of time.”
While Brayden’s story has been anything but a fairytale, it is certainly a miracle. Brad and Brandi can see God’s hand guiding them from that first diagnosis to Brayden’s most recent open heart surgery, and instead of dwelling on questions like “Why me?” the couple’s faith has grown through the experiences they have faced. In addition, even though Brayden is home and doing well, he has a long road ahead, and the couple prays for peace and strength in the coming days. “We now live in a world of uncertainty, but it’s also full of faith,” Brandi says. “This journey has brought us so much closer to God. I know He’s watching over us.”
If you would like to donate to Brayden’s recovery, use this GoFundMe link:
You can also follow their journey through the Facebook page: Brayden’s Bandaged Heart