By Rabbi Avremi Browd
THE SUDDEN TRAGEDY
On 13 Adar 5782, we were blessed with our third child, Sholom. Our baby was developing nicely and was a perfect picture of health and happiness, giving us, and the many who witnessed his bouncy personality, so much joy and Nachas.
At just 11 months old, Sholom was already starting to take his first steps and uttering his first words when suddenly, on the 15th of Shevat 5783, he experienced a seizure due to a high fever. It was over quickly, and he seemed fine, but we rushed him to the pediatric emergency room to get him checked out.
Initial tests showed him to be in good health, but suddenly, while sitting in the emergency room, he had another seizure. As the seizure wasn’t stopping, the doctor intubated him to help his breathing. Unfortunately, the doctor mistakenly placed the tube in his eating pipe (esophagus) instead of his breathing pipe (trachea), and by the time the anesthesiologist finally arrived and replaced the tube, Sholom’s heart rate and oxygen had dropped completely, resulting in a devastating cardiac arrest.
In front of our terrified and helpless eyes, we watched the doctors perform CPR for an excruciating 15 minutes. Throughout this prolonged ordeal, our beloved Sholom was tragically deprived of oxygen for a long time, causing him severe brain injury. After the doctors stabilized him, he was urgently transferred to the pediatric ICU.
When reliving those horrifying moments, we cannot help but remember Sholom lying on that bed, surrounded by the doctors whom we hoped would ensure he was safe to bring back home. We never imagined that such a tragic mistake like that could happen. Our precious baby Sholom certainly wasn’t aware as he lay there, as the doctors intubated him, that his happy life, as he knew it, filled with cherished moments with Mommy, Totty, his siblings, and the world, was about to change. He didn’t know that he may not be able to feel us holding him, hear us talking to him, and KNOW how much we love him.
Over the next few days, as Sholom lay in the ICU, his brain swelled internally, and we helplessly watched the monitors showing relentless deterioration, causing more and more damage to his heart and lungs. Experts from around the country echoed the same grim prognosis: from a medical perspective, there was no recourse, and we had to brace ourselves for the impending, heart-wrenching inevitability R”L.
Only a miracle could save him, and we resolved to do everything we could to merit that miracle!
BITACHON AND MIRACLES
We immediately swung into action, and amongst the many steps of spiritual protection, a Tehillim group was set up with over 500 people Davening around the clock for him. We immediately checked our Teffilin and Mezuzos, discovering that we had forgotten to place a Mezuzah on a new doorway since we finished a recent construction project at home. This was quickly resolved. Me and my wife also worked hard to strengthen our Bitachon, learning ‘Shaar Habitachon’ and the Rebbe’s Sichos on the topic to inspire us.
Me and my wife had ‘moved’ into the hospital, spending over 20 hours a day at the baby’s bedside. I only left for the other few hours a day to teach the children in Cheder, my Shlichus here in Detroit, for at least part of the time I had previously been able to.
Meanwhile, our relatives, as well as the ‘family’ of Shluchim and Anash here in the Detroit area and so many Yidden in the broader community, stepped up to the plate and offered their assistance in all that was needed, from visitation to meals to help with the other children. The love and support we received was overwhelming indeed. The Doctors and nurses would tell us the constant flow of visitors to the hospital room demonstrated how important this little baby was and strengthened their resolve to do whatever they could to help him.
A few days passed, and as we saw the situation looking increasingly dire, I wrote a letter to the Rebbe, which was immediately faxed to the Ohel. After that, we suddenly had this frantic feeling to add a name to the baby. Changing an individual’s name changes their ‘identity’ in Shomayim and has the power to change any decree hovering over them. We chose Baruch, and now the baby was called Baruch Sholom. I remember the sense of calm that I finally felt after renaming the baby, confident that we were doing everything we could spiritually. It was in Hashem’s hands. I leaned back and breathed deeply for the first time in days.
Several hours later, Baruch Sholom went into cardiac arrest for a second time. As the doctors chased us out of the room to perform life-saving CPR, I stood right outside reciting Tehillim like I had never done in my entire life, from a worn Sefer used by the Rebbe over 50 years prior, pushed into my hand by one of the fellow Shluchim that was there supporting us.
The baby was resuscitated and placed on maximum life support machines. When I reentered the room, the doctor looked me in the eye. I’ll never forget when he proclaimed that “our baby had merely a few hours to live, and suggested that we allow them not to attempt any further resuscitations so we don’t break every bone in his body.”
My wife, who up until then was trying her hardest to show some respect to the doctors, couldn’t tolerate their negativity any longer and boldly announced: “We have a Great God, the baby WILL survive, you will see I am right!!!”. The doctors were shocked and bewildered at her sharp remark. While amazed at her confidence and Bitachon, I couldn’t help but feel defeated.
Miraculously, the baby did survive the night! The doctor’s CT and MRI scans were not advanced enough to probe the heavens.
In the coming days, I was trying so hard to be strong in my Bitachon but that bitter feeling that I was in the midst of losing my child, wasn’t letting go. I would go over to his bed, tearfully singing Shema with him, wondering if this would be the last time I would do so.
THE UPLIFTING PICTURE
A few days later, on 21 Shevat, I received a picture of the Rebbe on a WhatsApp group. To be clear, I have the great pleasure of researching and selecting photos for ‘A Chassidesher Derher’ monthly magazine, and thus, I am accustomed to viewing hundreds of pictures of the Rebbe constantly, so I don’t usually get too excited from every new picture I discover. However, for some reason, this particular picture stopped me in my tracks, and I couldn’t tear myself away from it.
It was a picture of the Rebbe distributing a Kuntres with Sichos and letters on the role of the Jewish woman on 21 Shevat 5752. The expression on the Rebbe’s face brought out such powerful emotions within me: Here stands our Rebbe, approaching the age of 90 and merely a month before he suffered a debilitating stroke. For hours on end, he stood, sharing Torah and giving Brachos and encouragement to the thousands who flocked before him.
Several days before this dramatic turn of events with my son Boruch Sholom, I listened with my Talmidim in Cheder to a tape of the Rebbe reciting his first Maamer’ Bosi Legani’ in the year 5711. We heard the Rebbe relate how the Rebbe Rashab traveled himself to Moscow to work to abolish an evil decree against the Jews of Russia, even though “it cost him both in health and in precious time.”
These words rang in my ears now as I thought about how the Rebbe always gave up his health and precious time to connect and help another Yid. I realized how I, who was born just a year before Gimmel Tammuz, merited to see the Rebbe only once, at a time that he was sadly enduring so much physical suffering, yet would often come out for a few minutes on the ‘balcony,’ uplifting Chassidim with his holy gaze.
The realization struck me deeply: regardless of the physical distance we feel since Gimmel Tammuz, the Rebbe is constantly holding my hand and taking care of me, not letting anything, physical or spiritual, stand in the way of Davening for me. In the gloom of the ICU and surrounded by all the beeping machines, I suddenly felt the Rebbe’s presence strongly; I was encouraged and uplifted.
The miracles kept coming, and his situation improved over the next few days. He was removed from some intense life support machines, and his heart and lung functions slowly recovered. We held our breath and kept saying Tehillim.
On the next Erev Shabbos, a Lubavitcher woman from the Anash in Detroit came to the hospital to help my wife over Shabbos. She said that she brought with her the only Kuntres she ever received from the Rebbe. She wanted the baby to always have it on his bed so that he would merit the Rebbe’s Brachos. I couldn’t believe my eyes when she pulled out the Pink Kuntres I had seen the Rebbe distributing in the picture! I explained to the surprised woman that the Rebbe had confirmed that he was thinking about me and Davening for me.
(Many months later, after I had completely forgotten about the incredible chain of events, I was watching a video of the Rebbe from 22 Shevat 5752, taken from a unique perspective (jem.tv/video-player?clip=4377) and saw that same woman holding a little girl in her hands and receiving the Kuntres. The entire story came rushing back, and I froze at the incredible Hashgacha Protis. I decided to share the video with her, but I kept pushing it off.
A few weeks later, I suddenly felt the urgency to send her the video now, once and for all. To my disappointment, she messaged me back that it wasn’t actually her, but her TWIN sister. I thought the story ended there, but 20 minutes later, she excitedly messaged me, telling me that her twin sister told her that she had just sent a letter to the Rebbe requesting that her daughter, who was expecting a baby, have an easy delivery. Out of the blue, she receives a video of her holding the same daughter and receiving a Kuntres from the Rebbe.
Indeed, the Rebbe had ‘found a way’ to uplift two people, showing them he was with them precisely when they needed it most!)
The ensuing weeks at the baby’s bedside were very difficult. Every doctor and nurse would tell us, some in a nicer way than others, that we should pull him off life support and that they would do the same if this were their own child. When I told them how we wanted to save his life, they would sadly shake their heads and say he was already gone.
We explained to them the Torah’s view that ‘life’ isn’t defined by brain function but by the fact that the soul is clinging to the body, and we must fight to maintain that connection by every humanly possible method. We must fight and do whatever we can for him to recover. He has already beat the doctor’s predictions and will continue with Hashem’s help. Eventually, they relented and assured us they would continue treating him like any child.
For a month, the baby’s condition wasn’t stabilizing; his blood pressure kept floundering and dropping to frightening numbers, and the doctors couldn’t figure out why. They kept giving him a powerful medicine called Epinephrine to boost up his blood pressure. Still, his body was getting used to it, and they were running out of options. The doctors kept warning that it could go either way and that it is in God’s hands (at least they were talking more positively now!).
I finally mustered up the courage to leave my baby’s bedside for more than a few hours, and twice, I traveled all the way to the Rebbe’s Ohel, imploring that we see a miracle. The miracle happened soon after I returned from my second trip. After weeks of conflicting opinions, we finally got in touch with an expert nutritionist who advised us on the vitamins that were crucial for the baby and the doctor’s suddenly ‘discovered’ the right medicine to regulate his blood pressure. Within 24 hours, they were happy to proclaim that the baby’s condition had been stabilized!
A few weeks later, he underwent a tracheostomy, connecting him to a ventilator that we can take him home on. Finally, on Erev Pesach, the baby came home, precisely two months after arriving at the hospital.
In this photo, we can see baby Boruch Sholom at home on the ventilator, the Rebbe’s Kuntres always at his side.
Many months have passed, and we are immensely grateful to Hashem for all the miracles we have seen; namely, the baby has remained mostly stable throughout this time and is increasingly showing signs of brain activity, amazing the nurses who tend to his needs around the clock. But he is still unconscious and on life support. The road ahead is long and uncertain.
Meanwhile, we ache to be able to hold him once more and hear him laugh or cry, and we await the day he will wake up completely, and we will experience more Nachas from our baby as a healthy child.
Throughout this challenging period, we have come to realize that the situation as it stands is exceedingly difficult to manage. There are numerous treatments not covered by insurance that would greatly benefit the baby. Additionally, in order to provide him with the best possible care, we require significant assistance at home, particularly in caring for our other children.
Some of our dear friends have set up a campaign under the organization of “Yaldei Shluchei HaRebbe,” with the goal of raising $250,000 so we can better care for our baby.
CAN YOU HELP US DISCOVER THE MIRACLES WAITING TO HAPPEN?