Stranger rallies support for baby boy in comaBy Emily Weaver
Times-News Staff Writer
Published: Wednesday, August 7, 2013 at 4:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 6, 2013 at 9:32 p.m.
A mother of four in Arden is rallying prayer and community support for a baby boy who remains in a “persistent coma” at Mission Hospital. The man accused of putting him in the hospital remains in jail.
Justin Andrew Pate, 23, of Old White St. in Mountain Home has been charged with felony child abuse after a 5-month-old in his care was found unresponsive at a home on Dorado Lane July 10. The infant, Clay, was “in full cardiac arrest” when rescue personnel arrived. Clay remains in critical condition.
When Willow Arnold first saw the story, she felt compelled to help.
“I was really, deeply crushed,” she said. “You hear tragic things on the news all the time, but for some reason this was a story that God placed in my heart that made me reach out. I kept thinking, ‘is he OK? Is he OK?’”
Arnold, who is a mother to four children ranging in age from 1 to 7, felt her heart break for a family she had never met. Now she has become one of the family’s staunchest allies and its unofficial spokesperson, keeping a caring community up-to-date about Clay’s fight for survival.
“I just want to get people involved and aware and praying for this baby,” she said Tuesday. “The family and I believe in the power of prayer.”
Clay has beaten the odds so far, surviving when medical professionals have doubted his prognosis, but if he recovers, he has a long road ahead of him.
Arnold said Clay has been taken off of a ventilator and is now breathing on his own, but he remains in a “persistent coma.” Wrapped in a blanket, with socks over his feet and hands and a cap on his head to keep him warm, Clay has not been able to regulate his own body temperature.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’re praying for a miracle,” she said. “That’s all we can do.”
Investigators say that on July 10, Clay’s mother left him with her fiancé while she went to work. She never saw this coming, Arnold said.
“That particular day was tragic for Clay and his mother. Her life will never be the same and neither will that baby’s,” she said. “It’s just sad. I just can’t imagine what she’s going through… to see her baby in that state. She hasn’t left the baby’s side.”
Arnold said doctors have done just about all they can do and may soon send the baby home with caregivers, where he will remain in a coma until he wakes up or “the unthinkable happens” and he never wakes up.
Call to act
After the story was first reported, Arnold waited for updates on the baby’s condition, but nothing followed.
“For a period of about a week or two it just drove me crazy,” she said. “I decided to reach out to the family through the hospital.”
Arnold, who quilts lightweight blankets from home to create an extra income for her family, took a blanket to the hospital for baby Clay. The staff cited privacy laws and she was turned away with her gift, but she asked the nurses to let the family know that somebody cared and was praying for them.
A couple of days went by without a word. Arnold said she continued to pray and then decided to rally more prayers through Facebook. She created the page, “Prayers for Hendersonville Baby Boy,” on July 22 and built a few ads to promote the site.
Within 24 hours, nearly 200 people had liked the page. As of 6 p.m. Tuesday it had 589 followers. She said she was expecting 600 by the end of the week.
After the site was launched, Arnold said the family contacted her and she met with them two days later to give them the blanket.
With the family’s permission, she has posted photos of Clay and several updates about his condition on the site.
Arnold organized a prayer vigil, which was held at her church, The River Church in Asheville, on July 25. More than a dozen people signed up to attend. A nationwide prayer chain, she said, now reaches all the way to missionaries in Zimbabwe.
Becoming an advocate
“One baby every day dies from Shaken Baby Syndrome and thousands more are hospitalized,” Arnold said. She has researched the syndrome extensively since learning about Clay.
“The whole thing is heartbreaking, it really is,” she said. “I plan to keep pushing for advocacy in this area… I don’t think enough is being done.”
She added that there are hotlines parents can call if they get stressed out and don’t know how to quiet a baby who continues to cry. For a condition that robs so many infants of vibrant, healthy lives, she said, the syndrome can be “extremely preventable.”
With the support of sponsors, Arnold is hoping to have a float to honor Clay in the upcoming Apple Festival parade. She is seeking volunteers to help hand out fliers during the procession.
To volunteer, to help in the parade or to sponsor a float or fliers, contact Arnold through the Facebook page “Prayers for Hendersonville Baby Boy” or email Willow_arnold@aol.com.
Reach Weaver at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828-694-7867……………………………..
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