When Sherry Belcher’s newborn came into the world, there were only random pieces of disconnected bone fragments where his vertebrae should be. It looked like a cobblestone street. There was nothing to be done, doctors explained. She could take him home to her little apartment in Birmingham, but they said Scott would soon die.
Sherry was only 19 at the time. She’d barely figured herself out yet, much less what to do with a dying infant. She’ll never forget how much the nurses in the Alabama hospital helped. “They taught me what I needed to know to care for an infant with a birth defect like Scott’s. They even taught me what to say to my family about what was happening. It was serious and I realized there wasn’t going to be a Mother’s Day for me that year.”
Sherry and Scott’s dad, Herman, promptly signed a do-not-resuscitate order. They steeled themselves for the worst.
But a funny thing happened.
Scott didn’t die. Sherry got her Mother’s Day … and 29 more.
Scott had issues of course, asthma, severe scoliosis and a rib cage that was malformed. The bones in his spine eventually fused together to form their own kind of normalcy as he grew. His rib cage expanded enough, at least, for sustained breathing. “By the time he was 2 years old, we figured he was going to survive,” she shrugs in her practical manner. Appearing so unflappable, so unruffled, takes some work, even for a carefree spirit like Sherry.
But it was an attitude she felt she needed to pass along. As Scott and his little sister, Jessica, grew, there was an unspoken understanding that Scott would be Scott. His way would be different and difficult, but he’d have to figure it out. Jessica automatically followed that lead. In fact, she didn’t know for the longest time that there was even anything different about Scott, but she was fiercely protective. She didn’t even like people asking questions. He’s Scott.
Neither his asthma nor his back issues held him back. Perhaps bolstered by Sherry’s can-do attitude, Scott even played high school basketball for a while until the family moved to Florida. Maybe because he knew it was up to him to make it all happen. He did. Without question. “Scott has a lot of pride, and he works hard. It’s harder for him than it might be for others, but he doesn’t make excuses. He just gets the job done. And that makes me proud,” Sherry says.
Sherry has watched Scott, now 30, come a long way, and she was never able to shake what the nurses had done not only for him, but for her. She wanted to offer other families that same help. That same hope. When the kids were young, she began working in an emergency center as a unit clerk and immediately caught what she calls the “ER bug.” She went back to school while working and raising Scott and Jessica, and when she graduated, Sherry became a registered nurse, first at the Children’s Hospital of Alabama and then moving to Florida in 2004 to join the Emergency Center at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital where she has happily worked for 15 years.
“These are families at their worst, but also at their best,” she says. “I wanted to be that nurse who has also experienced these moments as a parent. Someone who can relate and share my own experiences to help them through their moment of crisis.”
It was the right move. “There’ve been some moments,” she says, a hint of sadness, a hint of pride… “where I know I’ve made a difference.”
Sherry has just started a new position as the manager of customer service for Johns Hopkins All Children’s Ambulatory Services, the outpatient care. “It’s my job to make sure people have their calls answered and are seen in a timely manner,” she says. “It’s a little more removed from direct patient care, but I’m still right in there with those families getting it done.” And Scott?
“He works right here in the hospital! He’s been here for six years,” she says. Scott works as a supply chain technician making sure everything gets where it’s going in the hospital. It’s nice having her happy, healthy family nearby, but for this Mother’s Day, Sherry is expecting the world.“I’ll probably make them take me to Disney World,” she laughs. “And I do mean ‘make them,’” she shakes her head. “But they are always good holidays. When I think about it, there could have been a lot of bad Mother’s Days over the last few decades if things had gone differently...
“Instead I’ve had a whole lot of great ones.” And Sherry is happy to pass along a little of that happiness and good spirit to anyone who might need it.