He looked like a drugged clump of flesh hunched up behind bars as he sat in the voluminous hospital crib. Scrutinizing this anemic, two-year-old tyke set my heart into hyper-gear followed by an intense freefall. This baby was the most forlorn-looking boy ever admitted to our pediatric ward. As he slowly became aware of my presence, his doleful blue eyes exhibited fear and pain as his lower lip trembled.
During the shift-change report, Danny's history was presented to the staff. His parents stated that they brought him to the hospital because he had a sore throat. After a thorough examination by the doctors, Danny had been admitted for treatment and observation after processing through the emergency room. The E.R. doctor noted numerous scars on his little arms and legs, along with festering sores inside his mouth. The parents brushed off the physician's questioning by stating that the toddler liked to play with cigarette lighters. What about the sore mouth? He'd gotten into a little drain cleaner a few days ago and now he wasn't eating well.
The parents vanished from the hospital scene before the police arrived. We learned later that the police had located the parents and were questioning them about Danny's condition. After exhaustive interrogation his mother blurted out a confession. Her husband had burned Danny numerous times with cigarette butts for crying too much. The drain cleaner, she stated, was the last training tool used to quiet the disobedient child.
A few days of medical care under his belt, Danny's mouth and throat were well on the way to healing, and he ever so slowly began to trust us. Smiles appeared now and again as he played with toys the staff bought him. Two weeks passed with nary a visitor and Danny repeatedly asking for Mommy and Daddy. It tore our hearts asunder knowing that this beautiful little boy had suffered such abuse from them yet was pining away for the sight of them.
His father had been charged with child abuse and was awaiting arraignment in the county jail. His mother was charged with negligence and would be on probation with weekly visits from social services personnel upon Danny's return home.
His discharge day arrived, filling the ward with a melancholy spirit. Expecting his mom's arrival any moment, we spruced him up with tons of hugs and goodbye kisses and many hidden heart-braking tears. We bagged his new toys and waited and waited. Noon passed but no mommy showed. We called her contact number...no answer. It soon became evident she wasn't going to appear that day. Two days later, after repeated attempts to contact her, we asked the police department for assistance.
"Mommy" was located in a downtown bar. When asked why she hadn't picked up her son, she replied, "Oh, yeah, I forgot about the kid." Needless to say, the "kid" didn't go home with mommy. He was immediately enrolled into a foster care home. We'd only known him a short while, yet Danny had stolen the heart of every staff member on that pediatric floor. As he was carried out the door with his toy bag in hand, he waved a prompted "good-bye." We never saw him again.
We often wonder how Danny managed over the years. Did the foster care home benefit him? Did his parents ever "become" parents for him? Did his world become kinder and gentler? We'll never know. But with 30 years of anonymous prayer support, that young lad was in good hands.