By Marilyn Stewart, Regional Reporter
NEW ORLEANS – Four weeks after falling head first into a bucket of soapy water, ten-month-old Graham Deris, grandson of David Crosby, pastor of First New Orleans, was carried into the pulpit in his grandfather’s arms to the joy of the congregation who had stood vigilant in prayer.
The near-drowning that brought thousands to their knees is a story the baby is too young to remember, but one he’ll soon never forget.
As news of the Oct. 9 accident exploded on social media, friends from Papua New Guinea to Murfreesboro, Tenn. and coast-to-coast began to pray, first in desperation, then with amazement as a full recovery grew certain. One Minnesota friend posted: “I am captivated by your miracle.”
Today, as “Baby Graham” continues to improve and life returns to “normal” – crawling once again and saying “mama” – other lives will never be the same.
“You cannot face losing a baby without some permanent change to your perspective,” Crosby said.
Crosby said God sent an “unbroken succession of angels,” from the 17-year-old teen and senior adult couple that stopped to administer CPR to the dozens of emergency and medical team personnel, who worked to save his grandson’s life.
Rebekah Crosby Deris, Graham’s mother, said many were impacted as they felt compelled to pray “non-stop,” at odd hours and around the clock, adding, “It has strengthened a lot of people”
The timing of the incident did not go unnoticed.
Crosby was in Washington D.C. with representatives of Crossroads Nola, a partnership ministry of First New Orleans that is connecting loving parents with Louisiana’s foster care children in need, when he received word of the accident.
Crossroads Nola was at the nation’s capital to be recognized by U. S. Senator Mary Landrieu and the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. Crossroads Nola was highlighted during the service on Nov. 3, Crosby’s first Sunday back in the pulpit.
In his sermon that day from Proverbs 31:8-9, Crosby called his congregation to “speak for the defenseless” and continue standing up for every life.
“Enormous resources were marshaled on behalf of my grandson. Graham’s life was worth that much to God,” Crosby said. “But Graham is no less and no more important than any other child on the planet.”
IN THE ‘CRUCIBLE OF PRAYER’
Crosby sat in a Washington D. C. coffee shop after meeting with congressional leaders on adoption and foster care policy when the phone call came. Daughter Rebekah Crosby Deris had been washing the car when she discovered Graham’s limp, blue body. He had been in the water no more than thirty seconds. The baby had no pulse.
“It shook me to the core,” Crosby said. “It was an emotional and spiritual jolt.”
By 10:30 p.m. that evening, Crosby walked into the ICU where his closest friends were waiting. For 72 hours, Graham’s life hung in the balance.
Later, Crosby described his daughter’s anguish as “the deepest agony I’ve ever seen.” The eight pounds his daughter lost during the two-week ordeal probably equaled the weight of a “gallon of tears,” Crosby blogged later.
Crosby described on his blog his grandson’s “silent cries” as tears ran down the baby’s face, in pain, but unable to even whimper due to the respiratory tube that incapacitated his vocal cords.
The roller coaster ride of recovery dipped on day six when seizures began. On day eight, the respiratory tube was removed but Graham’s tongue that had been trapped for days was unable to suck a bottle or verbalize sounds.
On day nine, Rebekah Deris held her child in her arms for the first time since the accident.
Visitors to ICU included the high school senior who had learned infant CPR just prior to the incident, and one of the EMTs who kept emergency treatment going all the way to the hospital.
Fifteen days later, Graham’s move from ICU to Children’s Hospital for continued therapy was joyful, yet tearful, as medical personnel said goodbye to the child they had dubbed “our baby.”
The weight of the near loss of his grandson prompted Crosby to blog: “Pray for me as I seek to understand and articulate the activity and character of God … through the lens of this personal crisis. I want to know God more fully and follow him more closely for having spent these last days in the crucible of prayer.”
While Graham lay in the hospital tied to tubes, his older brother Brady Deris, 3, learned to repeat a promise from scripture: “nothing shall separate us from the love of God.”
Rhonda Kelley, church member and wife of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary president Charles S. Kelley, Jr., said the church rejoiced at seeing Graham in his grandfather’s arms and noted “the impact of God’s miraculous work of healing in this child, his family, and the many thousands who prayed for him.”
One ICU nurse, wearied by the daily suffering and loss she witnesses, wrote Crosby a note after Graham’s recovery. Crosby said, “She wrote, ‘I showed up to work today with new purpose. God is in this place, even though there’s pain in this place. I know God wants me here.’”
Throughout the experience, Crosby said his family was mindful of others whose stories ended differently. Two of Rebekah Crosby Deris’ friends have lost babies.
Rebekah Crosby Deris said her child’s recovery was “not because we’re better than others and not because we prayed more.”
Crosby said God continues to weave the experience into his life and spiritual walk and with it, a fresh perspective.
“Graham’s recovery is an act of God’s grace and mercy,” Crosby said. “It is not the quality of prayer or the number of prayers offered that heals. God alone brings healing. Why we are the recipients of grace, our family only marvels. It’s just God’s mercy. It’s nothing we deserve.”