Author’s Note: I selected this excerpt from Goodnight, Brian because it is the first step in the family’s amazing journey. Within this scene, the reader learns that the food that was meant to nourish our protagonist, Brian, was poisoning him instead, and the doctors said the damage was devastating and absolute. But Brian’s grandmother, Angela DiMartino—who everyone knew as Mama—had other plans in mind. With faith, unconditional love, and perseverance, she and Brian set off to prove the doctors wrong.
Brian was eleven months old when Doctor Alexander summoned the Mauretti family into his office to deliver the final verdict. Mama insisted that she be there. No one objected.
It was a late winter afternoon, a howling wind knocking on blocks of ice that were once windows. Doctor Alexander sat behind his tidy desk, looking distressed. Joan nearly cried when she saw his demeanor and immediately leaned on Frank for support. Avoiding initial eye contact, the young doctor was clearly having trouble offering his prognosis. He cleared his throat and finally reported, “We’ve discovered that Brian has metabolic alkalosis.”
“He has what?” Frank asked.
“Metabolic alkalosis is a blood disorder that affects an infant’s ability to digest properly and gain weight. It’s caused by a lack of chloride, or sodium, in the diet.”
“So what does that mean for Brian?” Joan asked.
“Several of Brian’s tests have shown some abnormality in the frontal area of his brain.”
Joan, Frank and Mama’s silence begged for the man to embellish. The doctor took another long pause, making Joan feel like her heart was going to explode. She tried to slow down the hyperventilating. It was no use.
“Your son’s development has been severely damaged,” he finally told Joan and Frank directly. “And at this point, I believe it’s irreversible.”
“Irreversible? I don’t understand?” Joan screeched, frightened for her baby boy’s future. She felt so lightheaded that the room began to spin.
Doctor Alexander shook his head. “It means that Brian will never walk.”
“Never walk?” Frank repeated, his face instantly bleached to white.
“I’m sorry, but we don’t believe he will.” He scanned the reports in front of him and took another deep breath. “It’s also doubtful that Brian will ever talk or communicate effectively.”
Joan looked toward her mother again, her terrified eyes begging for help. Mama got to her feet and took a defensive posture.
Without acknowledging the old woman, the doctor went on, “Brian may never be able to do what normal children—or adults—are able to do.” He paused again. “We believe it may have been caused by the Neo Mulsoy formula. The low chloride concentration in his urine is substantial proof that the sodium deficiency within the soy formula has been the primary cause of Brian’s medical problems.”
While the doctor tried to explain further, Joan wailed, “Oh God, what did I do to my boy?”
“You didn’t do anything,” Doctor Alexander and Mama vowed in unison.
The doctor backed off, allowing the old lady to take over. She grabbed her daughter’s panicked face. “This wasn’t you,” Mama promised. “You did nothing wrong!” She shook her head. “And this is only one opinion. There are other doctors…more tests.”
While Joan wept sorrowfully, Frank rested his hand on his wife’s leg and stared helplessly at the doctor. “But Doctor Carvalho prescribed the formula to Brian,” he muttered in a wounded voice, as if it would make some difference.
“There’s no way he could have known at that time that it would have caused your son harm,” the man replied.
“You say he’ll never walk?” Joan cried.
“Sorry, but I really don’t believe he will,” the doctor answered, sadly.
“Or talk?” Joan gasped, trying to breathe.
The man slowly shook his head. “I have to believe that the damage to your son’s frontal lobe will prohibit any real speech.”
As Joan struggled to continue her panicked line of questioning, Mama shook her gray, curly head. “That’s crap!” she said, loud enough for everyone to hear.
The young doctor turned his attention to her. “I realize that this is…”
“You’re wrong!” Mama insisted, taking a step toward him.
“Excuse me?” he asked. “I know this isn’t easy to hear, but…” The man shot her a kind smile, but Mama wasn’t swayed. “I’m so sorry, but Brian is now mentally disabled,” he concluded.
“No. I don’t think you understand,” Mama replied, staring straight into his sapphire eyes. “Our boy is going to walk. He’s going to talk. He’s going to ride a bike, swim, and learn to do everything that any other kid can do. It might take a little more doing, but I guarantee it!”
Although it was the slightest movement, the doctor shook his head at her foolish hope. “Believe me, I wish that were true, but…”
“Wishing won’t have anything to do with it. No, this’ll take faith and determination, and the love and support of our entire family.”
Unable to do more, Doctor Alexander turned back to Joan and Frank. “I’m here for whatever you need.”
“For what?” Frank barked, his shock turning to rage. “It was a doctor who ruined my son’s life!” By this point, Joan was nearly rolled into the fetal position, her body paralyzed from the devastating news.
Doctor Alexander nodded compassionately and, handing Frank a piece of paper, concluded, “This is a different soy-based formula that you folks can start Brian on, as well as an additional chloride supplement. We’ll talk about solid foods and other alternatives during his next visit.” Patting Joan’s shoulder, he said, “I’m so sorry” and stepped out of the room.
Mama watched the back of him disappear down the long hall and nodded herself into the slightest smirk. In that one moment, she realized her life’s mission had just begun.
While Joan sobbed and convulsed, Frank held his head in his hands, trying to process it all. Mama grabbed her dejected daughter’s face again and forced Joan to look into her eyes. She spoke sternly. “Joan, you listen to me right now. That doctor’s wrong! Brian’s going to write his own story. He’s going to sing his own song and no one’s going to sing it for him. It’s his life and it’s between him and God…not some fool doctor who’s had so much schooling that he’s forgotten the power of faith.”
Joan shook her head. “But, Ma…” she sobbed. “You heard him. Brian’s brain has been damaged.” The final word made her wail out in pain.
“Your Nana said that she had such a difficult time bringing me into the world that she nearly died. And the horse doctor who assisted in the birth told her that I just wouldn’t be right.”
Frank looked up from his spell and began to quietly weep.
Mama nodded again. “Yep,” she said, with burning determination. “Brian’s going to be as right as rain. I guarantee it. Only God knows how…but that’s enough.”
Steve Manchester is The Story Plant’s Author of the Month. This means we are offering sensational deals on all of Steve’s books, including Goodnight, Brian. Steve’s next book will be released on June 18. You can learn more at our website.