By JEAN DRISKELL, Special to the Bulletin | Published October 6, 2016
WOODSTOCK—When the Herrin family learned their unborn son had a life-threatening chromosome condition, their faith was everything.
Matthew Isaac Herrin was born on Feb. 15 this year with Trisomy 13, which means he had an extra copy of the 13th chromosome.
Erika Herrin, Matthew’s mother, said children with Trisomy 13 “have about a 50 percent survival rate when you are pregnant. If they do live beyond the pregnancy, the average is two hours.” Yet Matthew lived for 15 days.
She said that she was 13 weeks pregnant when she and her husband, Brent, found out about their unborn child’s condition.
“You can imagine when we received this news it was devastating,” she said. “We had to lean on our faith.”
Brent Herrin said, “Trisomy 13 comes with a lot of other conditions, and Matthew had a lot of other conditions.”
He explained that Matthew’s brain did not properly form and divide into two hemispheres and that he had severe heart conditions.
“Some of these (conditions) we knew about before he was born,” he said, “but the severity of his heart condition we really didn’t know until he was about 10 days old.”
He said they took Matthew to a pediatric cardiologist who did a full echocardiogram of his heart and the condition was worse than they expected.
“He died less than a week after the doctor’s appointment,” he said. “It’s really because his heart just stopped working.”
“The amazing thing,” Erika Herrin said, “he had lived for 15 days. He amazed us. He was just a tough little kid. The day we heard him cry, we didn’t think that would happen.”
After speaking with a genetic counselor, the Herrins had made it known that abortion was not an option.
“As soon as we told them (their doctors) that was not an option,” she said, “they said that they understood and gave us the best (care) they could have. They were so compassionate and caring, knowing the situation we were facing. The doctors were very supportive of our decision to continue his life.”
Their doctors did not pressure them to have an abortion once they knew that was not an option, Brent Herrin said.
“The medical professionals respected our decision,” he said. “They did the things they had to do. Through it all, the medical professionals really helped us and supported us.”
Children prayed for baby
The Herrins said they had the support of their friends, family, church community of St. Peter Chanel, Roswell, and Queen of Angels School, which their twin sons, Andrew and Mercer, 8, attend.
“It was very touching to us that the time when our boys were in second grade that it wasn’t just the teachers and the adults that were supporting our family,” Erika Herrin said. “The students, our boys’ friends, were supporting Matthew.”
“It was just amazing,” she said. “The 7- and 8-year-old children constantly putting our son, Matthew, on their prayer chain, prayer list, prayer intentions every day. That was just amazing to us that children at such a young age were reaching out like that. Such faith. In everything that we were facing, our children had a support system connected to them as well.”
When the Herrins found out Erika was carrying a boy, they said they wanted to name him.
“We spent a lot of time figuring out a name for him,” she said. “First Matthew, meaning ‘gift from God,’ and Isaac, meaning ‘he will laugh.’”
She continued, “He was such a blessing, and to live 15 days, which was pretty much 15 days longer then we expected, he is still a gift to us, and it’s important to let his life help someone else in the future.”
In writing of his passing, the family said, “While Matthew was only with his family for 15 days, he was a gift from God and he taught his family to enjoy every moment you have on earth. Matthew was not expected to leave the hospital, but through the prayers of so many people, God graced his family with a miracle to bring little Matthew Isaac home. Matthew was a fighter and so strong, but the strain on his heart and lungs was too much for his little body to bear. Matthew and his story taught so many to love life and trust in God’s plan. God’s plan for Matthew was perfect and he touched many people his family never even knew.”
The funeral Mass was celebrated March 9 at St. Peter Chanel Church.
The Herrins set up an endowment fund in Matthew Isaac’s name with the Catholic Foundation of North Georgia, whose earnings will help a family receive tuition assistance so their children can attend Queen of Angels School.
Brent Herrin said if Matthew had lived, they would have spent monies on tuition for Matthew to receive a Catholic education. He said he wanted this money to go and help other students. They donated $5,000 to start the fund. The response of their community of family and friends, parish and school has now raised the fund to over $19,000. It will be eligible for a distribution for a small scholarship when the fund reaches $25,000.