1978
When Stanton Needed Help
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“When Stanton Needed Help,” Ensign, Oct. 1978, 47

When Stanton Needed Help

Members, neighbors, family—they’re always there.

Love and faith are tangible in the home of Ivan and Suzanna Briggs, of Sandy, Utah. The center of those feelings is a special bed near the kitchen where Stanton, their four-year-old son, lies in a near-comatose condition.

Once a normal, active three year old, Stanton now receives therapy to help him relearn even the most basic physical skills. Although they have endured what most families would call a catastrophe, the Briggses feel great gratitude—and hope. They expect Stanton to recover and fulfill his life’s mission. Perhaps they hope for a miracle—but then they have already seen more than one miracle since Stanton’s accident.

On 4 February 1977 Stanton, as curious and mischievous as any other youngster in his Tempe, Arizona, neighborhood, forsook a television show to join his friends outside. A short time later a neighbor burst into Suzanna’s kitchen, shouting, “Mrs. Briggs! We found Stanton in our pool!”

Despite her fear and shock, Suzanna acted quickly. Rushing to the pool, she administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Paramedics arrived within a few minutes and took over the revival attempts.

Ivan Briggs was just leaving work when he received a phone call from a neighbor.

“Mr. Briggs, I am so sorry, but your little boy. … We found him in the pool—he looks so sick—I’m afraid he is dead.”

“I raced for home feeling terribly shaky, but driving carefully,” recalls Brother Briggs. On the way he prayed for a special blessing on his son.

The paramedics were moving Stanton to an ambulance when Ivan arrived. They had worked with Stanton for thirty minutes, but there had been no response.

While treatment continued at the hospital, the Briggses and their friends waited in the corridors. The time seemed interminable before the doctors emerged with their report: the situation was very grave. After two and one-half hours of poolside and emergency-room treatment, the child had not responded. The occasional heartbeats and gasping breaths were not signs of life, the doctors explained, but reflexive motions that would probably soon subside.

Ivan and Suzanna were permitted to see their son. They found Stanton white and cold to their touch. He was on no life support systems, but they noted the irregular gasps of breath the doctors had mentioned.

A nurse told the Briggses there was no reason to stay. They could go home, she said, and notify the hospital when they decided to which mortuary the body should be sent after autopsy.

But the Briggses would not give up hope. After consulting with their bishop, Ralph Arrington, they decided to give Stanton a special blessing. With Bishop Arrington’s assistance, Brother Briggs blessed Stanton “according to the will of our Father in Heaven.”

A little later, in a subsequent prayer, Stanton’s own small hand clasped between those of his father and mother, Suzanna felt strongly that a choice was being made during that prayer, and that Stanton heard them. She noticed Stanton’s hand turn warmer and pinker. Ivan heard the gasping breaths become more frequent and immediately went for the doctor.

Again the Briggses waited in the corridor until the doctor returned with the news: Now, some three hours after the accident, Stanton was responding for the first time. His heartbeat and breathing were regular.

“I’m not one to believe in miracles,” said the doctor, a nonmember, “but if you are of a mind to, this is one.”

“A very special feeling of exhilaration went through the little group waiting there in the hospital,” Bishop Arrington remembers, “a feeling that there had been a direct answer to prayer.”

Stanton was alive, but the ordeal had only begun.

Help came from everywhere. Both sets of grandparents came to Tempe to lend aid during the first few months. Until Stanton’s condition stabilized, family members, united in fasting and prayer, called daily.

Help also came in the form of words and deeds from neighbors, ward members, and others in the community. Countless prayers, dozens of phone calls, and a stream of home-cooked meals were evidences of the widespread concern.

Others anonymously left a piggy bank containing over a hundred dollars in dimes on the Briggs’ doorstep. Two close friends took Ivan aside and pledged all they had to help Stanton.

Beehive and Mia Maid girls arrived on Saturdays to help clean house, wash windows, and mop floors. A neighbor mowed and fertilized the Briggs’ lawn.

“Everywhere I went, somebody would ask how Stanton was and what could be done to help,” the Relief Society president reported.

Two and a half weeks later Stanton, though still comatose, had improved enough for his parents and a group of volunteers to receive instructions on home care. The hospital staff were surprised when sixty members of the Tempe Ninth Ward learned the complicated care procedures, including respiratory and physical therapy, feeding, sterilizing instruments, and emergency procedures.

Stanton returned home on March 8, one month after the accident. Immediately, the “army” of ward volunteers mobilized. Thirteen sisters took daily turns helping with Stanton’s therapy and care. A corps of twenty-eight brethren organized to sit with Stanton at night and continue the therapy, allowing the Briggses some much-needed rest.

“It was a growing experience for the whole ward and stake,” says Bishop Arrington. “No one ever went to the Briggs home without feeling there was a spiritual aspect to life.”

Even Primary-age children volunteered their services, entertaining the other Briggs children while Suzanna tended to the other necessary chores.

The volunteer work was often heartrending.

“I went home afterward and hugged each of my children,” said one of the brethren. “Sometimes I went off by myself and cried.”

But the help still came. Two nonmember families—the Santiagos and the Rickses—also added their energies and deep concern. Several nonmember friends prayed for Stanton and reported that other members of their churches did the same.

One friend, wanting to provide Suzanna with rest and diversion, began coming every Tuesday evening to do tole painting with her.

One of the brethren custom-built a frame for the special bed Stanton needed at home. Another brother, a part-time barber, cut Stanton’s hair regularly. A nonmember pharmaceutical salesman heard about Stanton and donated a box of medical supplies.

If the first miracle occurred in the hospital emergency room, the second came to the Briggs home in the form of service—the loving, eager assistance offered by family and friends.

In November of 1977 the Briggses moved to Utah due to an employment change for Ivan. By this time Stanton—contrary to the doctors’ predictions—had shown considerable improvement. Toward the end of the year he began to smile and show recognition of family members.

The Briggses were no sooner settled in the Sandy Thirty-second Ward than a new group of volunteers came forward to assist them. So many Relief Society sisters offered to help with Stanton’s therapy that a schedule was set up—and filled for six months in advance. Working in pairs, eight sisters provide aid for Stanton every Tuesday and Thursday. After sixteen weeks a new corps of eight comes in.

The Briggses were overwhelmed by this willing response from an entirely new group of people—most of whom they had never met before moving into the ward.

“We can see that the spirit of the gospel prompts the same response in members everywhere,” says Sister Briggs.

Stanton—who will soon be five years old—is slowly improving. His head and arm movements have increased. He is able to drink from a cup and eat one meal a day from a spoon. He is getting used to a wheelchair for short periods of time. He cannot talk but nevertheless shows an awareness of those around him.

Three times a week Stanton attends the Jordan Valley Pre-School for the developmentally disabled, receiving whirlpool therapy, training in eating, sight, and hearing skills, and tactile and smelling stimulation.

“Because Stanton has influenced many people, even in his comatose state, we can see good in what has happened,” says Brother Briggs. “Many people have remarked on the love and unity they’ve felt from joining in a common cause. We have never considered Stanton a problem in our lives, but a blessing and a source of love.”

“Some miracles take time,” adds Sister Briggs. “We had one miracle that night in the hospital when Stanton responded to a priesthood blessing. His complete recovery is going to take more time … and patience. I think the plaque a neighbor gave Stanton sums it up, not just for Stanton, but for all of us. It says ‘Be patient. God isn’t finished with me yet.’”

  • Diana McFarland Brown, mother of four, serves as ward newspaper editor and stake public communications assistant in the Tempe Ninth Ward, Tempe Arizona Stake.

Illustrated by Howard Post