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Lacey Buchanan, 26, lay behind a screen on a stiff delivery bed waiting for that first glimpse. To her relief, she heard her son’s initial cry after his C-section birth. But then her husband, Chris, disappeared with their baby and a host of medical staff. Nine hours later, a doctor finally asked Lacey, “Do you want to see your baby?”
During Lacey’s pregnancy, ultrasounds revealed the Woodbury, Tenn., couple’s son had a severe cleft lip and palate. Doctors gave Lacey an 85 percent chance of miscarrying and predicted other problems. But no one knew until the day of his birth in February 2011 that he was blinded by cleft eyes which had never formed in utero. It’s a rare condition that doctors told the Buchanans has affected only 50 babies worldwide in documented medical history. The cleft also left part of his skull exposed.
“Bloody, swollen, and screaming, but he was alive,” Lacey said of her reaction when she cradled her son. She named him Christian.
One nurse expected the Buchanans to utilize a state law that allows parents to leave their baby, up to 3 days old, with a hospital employee—no questions asked. When Lacey posted a picture of Christian on her Facebook account, an acquaintance told her she was a horrible person for not aborting, calling him a “drain on society.”
Lacey and Chris never considered abortion or abandonment as options. At 4 days old, Christian had surgery to close up the skin around his skull and insert a gastrostomy tube that would allow him to eat. He spent his first month in the hospital, often inconsolable with pain.
With a mixture of relief and nervousness, the Buchanans brought him home and settled into a new normal. Chris worked during the day, and Lacey drove each week an hour away to take Christian to multiple doctor appointments. They mastered Christian’s feeding tube, calculated his forthcoming surgeries, and prepared to raise a blind child.
“We were still numb,” Lacey said. “Just going through the motions.”
Venturing out in public proved challenging. People within earshot at the grocery store, pharmacy, or bank pointed and whispered about Christian’s face. “You could see this look of disgust,” Chris said. They began covering Christian’s stroller, but some begged for a peek. When Lacey relented, the response was always a gasp, followed by, “Oh, I’m so sorry.”
For Chris, these excursions became “heart-wrenching.” After a few months, Lacey realized how discouraged she had become: “I was complaining. I was mad at God. All of the sudden it hit me that I should be thankful that Christian is even alive.” Circumstances began to change too: Christian grew past the difficult newborn stage. He started playing and laughing. When Lacey ran errands, his giggles won over town critics: “He has a charm about him that draws people.”
Realizing one day she had a story to tell, Lacey spontaneously recorded a seven-minute video with her phone. A blanketed Christian hides in her arms and worship songs play as she narrates their experiences with pictures and hand-written note cards. With smiles and tears, she recounts marrying her high-school sweetheart and her and Chris’ elation when she became pregnant. She describes their dismay as strangers balked at Christian’s appearance.
Near the end, Lacey turns Christian to face viewers and kisses his cheek as papers read: “The judgmental glances and whispers don’t really bother me anymore. Because I know he is beautiful. Inside and out. I also know I did the right thing by not aborting Christian. He is the love of my life!”
Lacey’s video received more than 60,000 hits on YouTube overnight. Two months later, in May 2012, it went viral after a friend reposted it to GodVine. Since then, it has more than 11 million views, opening up speaking opportunities nationwide for Lacey. At last year’s Walk for Life West Coast in San Francisco, Lacey addressed more than 50,000 people.
Lacey and Christian’s Facebook page now has more than 175,000 followers. Lacey regularly posts photos of Christian, now 2, and his 4-month-old brother Chandler. “Have you ever seen such handsomeness?” she wrote of the two boys pictured in matching striped sweaters and driving caps. After seeing Lacey’s video and Facebook page, one woman emailed her that she had changed her mind about aborting her pregnancy. Instead, she gave birth to a boy and named him after Christian.
Christian’s impact also led Lacey and a friend to start a nonprofit, “Heart of Tennessee Pro-life,” in an effort to reach Middle Tennessee women. They have organized the first “Walk for Life” in Murfreesboro, Tenn., to coincide with the Jan. 22 anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. Christian will lead the charge: “He’s become a local hero,” Lacey said.
Christian is advancing beyond what doctors predicted. Lacey recently posted a video of his neatly trimmed chestnut hair hovering over piano keys as miniature fingers hit the beginning notes of Beethoven’s “Für Elise.” He relies on the feel and memory of the keys—and one month of piano lessons. Lacey calls him their “little over achiever.” He enjoys finger paints, swimming, and bedtime stories. Last fall, he began walking, long before many blind children. Chris is making him a cane out of PVC pipes that resembles a push toy to keep him from crashing into Chandler’s baby equipment. Christian still uses a feeding tube, but a successful November surgery moves him one step closer to a repaired palate that will enable him to eat normally when he is older.
The Buchanans have sometimes sparred with doctors and insurance companies over Christian’s care. They recently moved to an out-of-state provider after their doctor recommended an eight-hour neurosurgery for cosmetic reasons—to level Christian’s left eyebrow with his right. The Buchanans sought a second and third opinion, and other doctors said the surgery was not worth putting Christian’s life in jeopardy.
“After everything we’ve been through, we have a lot more compassion for families who deal with disabilities. It’s something you can’t fully understand until you’ve been through it,” Chris said. Lacey is currently taking night classes to earn her law degree, a lifelong dream with new meaning: She hopes to provide counsel and support for parents of children with disabilities.
Now, instead of shying away from strangers, the Buchanans enjoy introducing Christian. They still get critical looks and questions such as “Will he be able to go to school?” The Buchanans plan to enroll Christian in a special education program next fall. “God has a plan for Christian,” Lacey said. “His defects do not diminish the value of his life.”