Brent recently spent seven months in the cardiovascular care unit (CVICU) at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital alongside his 7-year-old daughter, Maya, while they patiently waited for a heart. Her first heart transplant took place when she was just 7 months old, but last year, she became sick with life-threatening pneumocystis pneumonia and needed a second one to survive.
“222 days in the hospital is the official count,” Brent reflects.
Brent is a father of six, both biological and adopted children, whose ages range from 7 to 25 years old. He also gets the title of first-time grandparent soon with his son’s baby due this fall.
“There’s not a difference in adoption,” Brent says. “Your kids are your kids. They’re still gifts from the Lord. Your kids are your crown.”
He is also a pastor at a nearby church in Pinellas Park, Florida, and runs an orphanage in Haiti with his wife, Valerie. While he stays busy serving others, he says fatherhood is his greatest gift of all.
“You’re blessed to be a father in the first place. Not everybody gets to be a dad,” Brent says. “It’s such a privilege.”
Brent and Valerie became medical foster parents right after Maya’s first heart transplant when she was an infant, and they were able to officially adopt her when she was 3 years old. Maya’s biological parents were drug users, so Maya never received prenatal or postnatal care, and was born with opiates in her system.
“But she was born relatively healthy, and she is so strong. She's a fighter,” Brent says.
Despite her medical heart complexities, Brent and Valerie felt this was their calling and prepared to bring their baby girl home.
Maya did well over the years, until she became sick with pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) last year. The lung fungus is more likely to affect kids like Maya who have had a transplant or cancer and are immunocompromised. She was hospitalized for 34 days, fighting for her life.
“During that time is when she almost died,” Brent says. “Her kidneys, lungs and other organs were affected. That hospital stay was the most difficult.”
Maya survived, but remained lethargic and unlike herself. She ended up back in the hospital where the heart team determined she would need another transplant, and Maya and her family began their seven-month stay while waiting for her new heart.
“I was in the hospital six to eight hours a day, but I was able to use my laptop to study and have virtual meetings with staff,” Brent says. “There were hundreds of hours of study and hundreds of messages for church that were prepared in those rooms on the fifth floor.”
Brent says what got their family through the long hospitalization was the help of others, especially their church family.
“This was a hard lesson for me to let people help,” says Brent, but he encourages others to do the same. “Let people help you! Accept help in your time of weakness.”
Brent is one of many dedicated dads at Johns Hopkins All Children’s who support their child while clinical teams work around the clock to heal and improve their health. Maya finally did get her heart, and it was a successful transplant followed by a discharge day celebration.
“She is like night and day. This is a different kid. She’s eating everything in sight. She is up at 7:30 every morning and going 100 miles an hour, and the doctor said her heart is beating like crazy,” says a proud Brent.
Maya was able to go home in April, which turned out to be perfect timing for a summer filled with pool days and a Father’s Day celebration in their very own home sweet home.