Brenda Lytle was not supposed to be working on Jan. 4, 2014. She had switched shifts with someone so she could take her daughter to the airport for a return trip to her home in Alaska.
But because she was on duty as an emergency room nurse at Children’s Hospital that night, the world changed – for Brenda, her family and a very special little girl named Brooklyn.
Brooklyn, who was 20 months old at the time, was brought in with massive injuries from head to toe, including burns, bite marks, infection throughout her body, bleeding in her brain, a liver laceration, a punctured lung, and a fractured pelvis.
“It was horrific; she was on the verge of death,” Brenda said. “I was a nurse for 28 years, mostly in emergency rooms, and the last five years in Children’s ER, so I’ve seen a lot of abuse. But I had never seen anything to this extent, to see how much this child had suffered.
“It was one of those things when you cry all the way home, and it doesn’t leave you.”
Because Brooklyn was Brenda’s patient, she was able to keep up on her progress in intensive care. Then she heard that the girl’s mother had admitted to injuring her, had been arrested, and that the baby had no other family who could step in.
“I knew because she had so much injury that she would need a lot of help after she was discharged. And this was the type of case that seriously haunted me. I couldn’t get it out of my mind because of the severity of it.”
So Brenda went home and talked to her husband, Jack. She told him that this child would have a lot of needs but that, with her nursing abilities, she knew she could care for her.
She also knew this was a big step for a couple in their 50s.
“We have four other kids, three who are adults and one who was 13 at the time. We were at a stage in our lives where raising a 2-year-old was not in our plan.”
While discussing the situation, their teenage daughter, Brook, overheard them and got really excited. She told her mother to talk her dad into it.
“I told her we didn’t want him to be talked into it, that he had to decide for himself, for a lot of different reasons.”
“I thought, well, I’ll have to retire a little later,” he said with a big smile. “I knew this was a lot to take on, and I had just got a new job. But this little girl never knew what love was … so, it was kind of like, OK, we’ll see what we can do.”
It took Brenda a week to figure out who to contact and how to proceed. She completed the necessary paperwork to become foster parents on a Wednesday and got a call from SaintA on Friday.
“They were just so excited. They knew the child had a lot of needs and they also knew that I could take care of her.”
By the end of January, when Brenda got to see the child in the hospital, “she still had IVs, feeding tubes; she’d had surgeries, braces for her hips. She had tons of stuff going on with her.”
In the meantime, the couple jumped into emergency training to become licensed for treatment foster, started going to classes immediately, and Mike Joranger, SaintA’s training instructor, even came to their home to do some trainings.
Brenda took a leave of absence and was able to bond with Brooklyn in the hospital, and by Feb. 15, they were able to bring the child into their home. She was seeing eight different practitioners at the time.
“Our weeks were filled with therapy and doctors,” Brenda said.
She soon realized she had to give up her job at Children’s, where she was working nights, weekends and holidays. But she was able to keep a second one, at 20 hours a week in a child care facility at her church.
Jack fast-tracked one son’s room, painting it pink, and he baby-proofed the house.
“All of a sudden we went back in time,” he said. “But it keeps us young.”
They bought a crib, but had little else for a toddler.
“But when we told people, they came out of the woodwork!” Brenda said. Their church, the hospital and Brook’s gymnastics team all threw baby showers.
The couple’s three oldest children were somewhat skeptical of everything at first. The oldest son, Brandon, half-jokingly told them he thought the whole idea was crazy. And their oldest daughter, Ashley, a pediatric nurse in Alaska, was seriously taken aback.
“She told me, ‘Mom, you should be out on a cruise ship drinking umbrella drinks at this age, not raising a 2-year-old.’ I think this was her way of protecting me, but I said, ‘This is who I am.’ ”
Two months later, Brenda called Ashley and told her, “This is not going away. This is going to be a part of your life. She said, ‘I get it,’ there was a pause, then she said, ‘Where are all the pictures!’ ”
The family had planned a trip to Alaska in April, before Brooklyn came into their lives, and after an MRI showed she was OK to fly, they took her along. Ashley instantly fell in love with her.
Despite close ties with both sides of Jack and Brenda’s family, and fun-filled trips that also included Disney Land, Colorado and Chicago via Amtrak, it took a long time for Brooklyn to recover. It was seven to eight months before she could walk without pain in her hip.
“We’d watch her outside and she would just stop.”
Initially she was afraid of almost everything, including baths, eating, silverware, and the family’s two Yorkshire Terriers. But the dogs ended up stimulating her to move around more, which was a good thing, Brenda said.
Although Brooklyn talked hardly at all in the beginning, Brenda remembers her fist words in the hospital. Brenda had asked a psychologist what she should have the child call her. Mom, she was told, as the other children do.
“The psychologist said, ‘This is your mom,’ and she picked up a toy.”
“Owie, Mama!” Brooklyn said.
“It was like a spear went through my heart, that that was what she remembered.
“’She needs to learn that not all moms will hurt her, and that mom is a good thing,’ the psychologist told me.”
Over time, the family learned that Brooklyn loved to be read to and to cuddle. Now she knows books by heart and will read lines back. Brenda watched her closely to ensure the child displayed no aggression with her toys or dolls, and there was none.
Although at first Brooklyn only wanted to be with Brenda, Jack bonded with her in part through movie nights, watching children’s films with her over and over. She attended preschool two days a week, and now she knows her ABCs, shapes and colors and is doing very well developmentally. She has grown from 18 pounds when she entered the hospital to 30, and is in the 30th percentile for height and weight.
“Her pediatrician is thrilled with that!”
All four of the Lytle children have embraced the child wholeheartedly as their sister. Their oldest son, who works with inner-city children through a foundation he created, gives suggestions on things such as braiding the African-American girl’s hair. The youngest son, Ryan, has a Labrador retriever that Brooklyn loves to play with.
“She has progressed by leaps and bounds since we brought her home. All she needed was love and security, and that just made her blossom,” Brenda said.
Brooklyn’s biological mother signed off on her rights, and June 12 became a joyous day, when Brooklyn was adopted. Because they have a daughter named Brook, the Lytles changed her name to Alexis, and now call her Lexi.
Lexi’s biological mother is in prison, and she started sending letters to Brenda asking her for forgiveness after she heard that Lexi went home with a nurse. She told Brenda that she had had a childhood filled with abuse and that if she had had a parent like her, maybe she wouldn’t have had such a life.
“I wrote back and said that maybe I’d forgive her, but it will take a while. … There is a part of you that’s so angry seeing this little girl with so much pain, but there is another part of you that knows the cycle of abuse, and how someone can turn around and do the same things with their children.
“We broke her cycle and we changed her life,” Brenda said about Lexi.
She is keeping all of the birth mother’s letters and will give them to Lexi later on, if the girl chooses to know what happened.
The family has received much support from their community, extended family and their church. By happy coincidence, the church recently got a new pastor, who, like Lexi, is black. Brenda says she will be a great role model for her daughter, and the pastor has a daughter of her own the same age as Lexi.
With all these kinds of things falling into place, Brenda is convinced of the concept of “meant to be.”
“Everyone says to us that this little girl is so lucky,” Brenda said. “But we’re the lucky ones.
“If I wouldn’t have been at work that night, this wouldn’t have happened… People’s reaction to us is always positive; they initially were shocked, but it’s just such a divine thing; it just happened.
“We’ll be 70 and going to her graduation, but we’ve decided she’s going to do great things. I said to her recently, ‘I think you need to become a Supreme Court justice and change things.
“There is a reason why she made it and for everything that has happened. I say it’s a sad story with a happy ending. That’s just how I look at it!
Interested in learning more about our foster care and adoption services? Visit growhope.net.