Report on death

DyingChildKudos to the Denver Post, a paper I used to deliver in the wee hours, for devoting the resources necessary for last Sunday's special report on the death of young Dylan Walborn. Staff Writer Kevin Simpson -- a long-time local reporter who is great at pulling out quotes from people in emotional situations -- spent months covering the boy's parents Kerri Bruning and Dave Walborn after they decided they were going to stop feeding their son through the tube he'd been implanted with shortly after birth. Dylan, who was nearing five, had suffered a stroke in utero. While he had always been severely disabled, the situation was getting worse. Never able to perform a voluntary function, the boy was experiencing painful daily siezures caused by his nightly nutrition. If the parents medicated him for them, he would become comatose.

Simpson is not the Post's religion writer -- that honor goes to the extremely talented Eric Gorski, whose work I hope to highlight soon -- but he skillfully draws out the religious and spiritual ghosts that are bound to be involved. In the 12,000+ word story, Simpson covers all the bases -- their consultation with a pastor before finalizing their decision, the national political struggles over death issues, how the hospital's ethics board came to approve the plan, the conflicted feelings of Kerri's mother:

Vicki wishes her grandson could have run around and made a mess of her house. But Dylan has left his mark on her in subtle ways. He has made her more patient, more accommodating, more appreciative of life.

"I've been praying since he was born for a miracle," Vicki says. "I never got that miracle ... but then, maybe I did. He's brought me a lot of joy."

As the two parents -- who had not intended to get pregnant and are not married -- decide on funeral and burial arrangements, Simpson takes readers through young Dylan's medical journey. At 4 months, he stopped breathing because of fluid buildup so doctors installed a tracheotomy tube. At 1, he came down with pneumonia and was put on a ventilator. At 2, surgeons removed his salivary glands. He had one operation to fix his eardrum and three more to install and adjust drainage tubes in his ears. At 3, he needed surgery to realign both hips and spent six weeks in a full body cast. His head failed to grow with the rest of his body, and it remained about the size of a 7-month-old's, and so on. Simpson tenderly records the parents efforts over five years, as well as how they met and why they did not marry. He also faithfully records the parents' doubts about their decision, exploring their religious background. By the time the funeral is covered, the reader feels they understand what the family went through:

For an hour, prayer, songs and remembrances fill the vast sanctuary. Few words are delivered without tears, and most center on a recurring theme: Dylan may have done little with his damaged body, but he touched many with his spirit.

One of the last to take the microphone is Dave Walborn Sr., a father who admits that many years ago, as his youngest son struggled with school and responsibility, he never expected much. Yet now he stands in awe of Dave's devotion to Dylan.

Dave watches his dad, a former preacher, fight emotion with an uncharacteristically wobbly voice.

"I learned in the last couple of years that there are things to be proud of," says Dave Sr. "The things I've heard about my son in the last few weeks ... they're things I never thought I'd hear. I have great pride in the character of my son."

By the time I reached this portion of the story, I was sobbing and I can't imagine anyone could get through this with dry eyes. I highly encourage reporters to read this account. It handles death respectfully. It shows that day-to-day scenarios (even in an abnormal situation) are a great way to convey life's dramas and enrich the community with new perspective. It also shows that intense resources of time and effort pay off.

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