Dear Luke Bryan and Bayer …
My name is Pam Forester, although to most I am known as Elizabeth’s mom. Elizabeth’s love for music and fondness of Luke Bryan has been well documented over the last few years through social media and her blog Life With Elizabeth and I would like the opportunity to now share her story with you.
Elizabeth was born at 23 weeks into my pregnancy; 17 weeks too soon. She suffered extreme and irreversible brain damage that would leave her living her life from a purple wheelchair unable to walk, talk or care for herself. For months after Elizabeth was born I would sit beside her tiny bed in the NICU and pray that God would heal her and I would take home the daughter I had planned a life for. God had other plans for us and looking back I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The diagnosis was heartbreaking and I as sat listening to a team of specialists tell me that Elizabeth was considered a spastic quadriplegic with Cerebral Palsy I was devastated. The longer I sat and listened the harder it became to understand how I was going to give this little girl a life that she would be happy in. Well, here’s what happened … she gave me a life. Elizabeth became my hero and I her biggest fan. Elizabeth woke up every morning with a smile and faced each day with a fighting spirit that no matter what she had to endure she could and would. Her days were filled with hours of therapy, doctors appointments and the everyday challenges of having no control over her own little body but she always managed to brighten the day of all those around her.
Music has always played a major role in Elizabeth’s life. From the moment she was born I surrounded her with the sounds of my heartbeat that was combined with lullabies and as she continued to grow stronger and move her way up into the nurseries I would introduce different types of music. Admittedly I am a country music girl so it’s not surprising that Elizabeth ended up loving the sounds of Garth Brooks, Rascal Flatts, Gary Alan just to name a few.
The first time Elizabeth heard Luke Bryan it was during a summer concert series on GMA. She was having her morning feeding and as I buzzed around her preparing for the day I noticed movement in her fingers I had never seen before. As the sounds of this country song filled my living room Elizabeth began to move her lips as if she was singing along with this man in the tv on our fireplace mantle. I looked a little closer and the caption read
Luke Bryan …
Good Morning America Summer Concert Series
I grabbed my phone, searched iTunes for anything Luke and found Play It Again. I purchased the single hit and put the phone down on her lap. Her eyes lit up and her fingers began that unfamiliar movement I had seen minutes before. Her mouth began to move and she smiled and threw her hands up as if she were on the front row there in Central Park with all those girls her age who had come out to see their favorite performer. Soon every album that Luke had made was now on iPhones, iPads and blaring through wireless speakers I had purchased to have in every room of the house. Luke Bryan was now a household name in the Forester home. It didn’t end there though, soon her therapists were playing Luke as motivation for the long hours of therapy, her classroom would have dance parties with Luke and wheel Elizabeth around in her chair as if she were dancing with Luke himself.
In December of 2015 Elizabeth was scheduled for what we thought would be a simple 45 minute procedure to repair a CSF leak caused by an internal pump that administers medication to Elizabeth through her blood stream. As we made the 3.5 hour drive she was all smiles, even with the upcoming surgery and recovery she was happy.
Hospitals and surgeries are just a part of Elizabeth’s life. It is something we have all adapted to and accepted. We love our team and the staff at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. The nurses know Elizabeth well and have always been so good to our family. So the morning of the surgery I kissed my sweet girl and told her I would see her in a bit. As the nurses rolled her through the swinging doors I could hear her blowing me kisses as they disappeared around a corner.
It would take a week for Elizabeth to even open her eyes. She spent 6 nights in ICU crying out in a way I had never heard before. There were episodes of screaming for hours upon hours and nothing I did would make this go away. Doctors would come and go, nurses would do their best to help but no one had any answers. Elizabeth would eventually be diagnosed with Cortical Blindness. Her world had gone black. She was scared, confused and did not have the mentality that you and I have to understand what was happening to her.
The doctors would encourage me that this could reverse itself, just give it time. Surround her with the people and things she loves and maybe this would trigger something in her very complexed and damaged brain. We brought those in closest to her. She would recognize the voices but cried because she could no longer see them. I tried her favorite foods, her favorite stuffed animal and blanket but nothing worked. I asked the doctors if I could play music for her, they wanted to go slowly as not to overwhelm her senses. I plugged in her beats and put them over her ears, pushed play and held my breath. She began to shake her head and cry. Not even Luke could make her happy again. For months Elizabeth began to sink deeper into this sightless world. She lost her smile, her fighting spirit and I felt as helpless as I ever had. I began to wonder if I would ever have my Elizabeth back and if she would ever love music again as she once did.
The answer to this is yes. With the help of one of Elizabeths biggest fans we found ourselves at a private soundcheck for our local hometown guy who has made it big in the music world. It was one of those moments that you wonder if you had made the right decision. Elizabeth, unaware of her surroundings and somewhat anxious worried me that this was not going to work. But then as he stepped up to the microphone and the music began all was well in Elizabeth’s world again. Her fingers began to move, her eyes opened wide and music was once again a part of her life.
Several weeks ago as our day began with Elizabeth by prepping for feedings, picking up the house and trying to keep everyone entertained on a hot summer day in the distance I heard the familiar beep of a text message. Then a few minutes later another and then another and another. Curious to see who was trying to grab my attention I picked up my phone and couldn’t believe what I was looking at. There were multiple text messages, Facebook posts and missed phone calls all telling me that Luke Bryan was coming to Northwest Arkansas. This scenario played out for the next 24 hours. I was tagged in posts, every mention of Luke visiting our small town had been forwarded to me with notes of encouragement to find a way for Elizabeth to finally meet the one that brought her world alive with the sounds of his music.
I need to wear a sign that says …
“confront me if I don’t ask for help”
I am not one that will ask for help, even when I really need it; I will not call in special favors and have never expected our family to be treated any differently just because of our unique situation with Elizabeth. I made a decision almost 13 years ago that no matter how God chose to give me Elizabeth I would love her, accept her and spend my life giving her the best life she could live despite her disability. It has not been easy, life is hard at times and there have been days I have wanted to crawl back into bed, pull the covers up over my head and pray this was all just a dream. But then I hear it; that familiar sweet, southern voice from across the house and I know that if she can wake up smiling and happy determined to have the best day she can then I owe it to her to do the same.
When the 2016 Luke Bryan Farm Tour announced they would be coming to Prairie Grove I knew that I was going to have to wear my sign. And so with the encouragement and help of many fans from Life with Elizabeth I have set out on a mission to find a way to get this little girl in front of the man that helped her find her sound and graciously ask for your help in doing so. With great appreciation ….