We Wanted Natalie to Live


“Where’s Natalie? Have you seen her?” asked Donetta Tayrien as she walked into the kitchen of her mother’s home where she was visiting. Donetta, her mother, and her brother, Scott, headed immediately for the backyard swimming pool.

“That’s where we found Natalie,” recalls Donetta, “floating face down in the deep end.”

The next few minutes were frantic—Scott giving the 21-month-old toddler mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, Natalie being evacuated by medical helicopter when the paramedics couldn’t find a heartbeat, and then Donetta calling her husband, Grant, at work to tell him of the tragedy.

“After the helicopter left with Natalie,” Donetta continues, “I went into the back bedroom and prayed to my Heavenly Father. Knowing that he was there and has a hand in our lives was a great comfort. More than anything, I wanted Natalie to live—but if she died, I would be at peace knowing that she was in his hands.”

When the family met at the hospital, Natalie was still alive. Grant wanted to give his daughter a blessing, but the doctors were still fighting to keep her alive, so he and Donetta went into a small room and knelt and prayed. “Please let her stay with our family,” they asked, “no matter how she is.” Even so, they closed their prayer with an appeal that “thy will be done.”

After two hours, the doctors reported that Natalie’s condition had stabilized, but that the outlook was bleak. It appeared that she had no sight, memory, awareness, emotions, or thinking ability. “Do you want us to do everything to sustain life?” the doctor asked.

“Yes, do everything you can,” was the family’s answer. The doctors told the Tayriens that it would take three or four days to determine whether or not Natalie would live.

Donetta remembers, “When Grant was finally able to give Natalie a blessing, what a comfort that was! She looked so tiny and fragile. A respirator was keeping her alive, and there were IVs and tubes running everywhere.”

For the first week after the accident, Natalie’s parents slept in one of the hospital’s lounges. They went home only to shower and change clothes.

“That week was hard on us because they had to do so many things to Natalie,” Donetta recalls. “We watched them prick her over and over again to insert the IVs. For three days she had to lie on a blanket that lowered her body temperature. We wished it were us lying there instead of our little girl.”

On the sixth day after the accident, the doctor explained to the Tayriens that during the next few days, Natalie would either start getting better and recover completely or with only small problems, or she could take the “bad road” and end up with severe multiple handicaps.

Natalie took the “bad road.” The doctors said she would worsen over the next few months and then improve a little during the next year.

“I was there by myself when the doctors gave me the news,” Donetta remembers, “and I felt as though someone had dropped a ton of bricks on me. All hope seemed to be gone. From that point, I had to rely solely on my faith.”

Natalie spent a week in intensive care, then was moved to a regular hospital room. Finally, she was moved to the Family Training Room where Donetta and Grant were trained to care for their daughter. Natalie’s limbs were stiff and unbendable, her body temperature was high, and she struggled for every breath. She was fed through a tube into her stomach because the trauma to her brain had affected her swallowing reflex. Her muscles were so taut, even in her face, that she didn’t look like herself.

When, several weeks later, the Tayriens took their daughter home, they were frightened to think that they, instead of the trained medical personnel, were now responsible for Natalie’s care. They fed her and gave her medication through her stomach tube, suctioned mucus from her throat, exercised her limbs, and gave her “clapping treatments” every few hours to keep her lungs clear and prevent pneumonia from invading her stiff, frail body.

The family learned a great deal about the principle of service during this time. They not only practiced it on behalf of Natalie, but they received much love and support from relatives and friends who constantly brought food, did the laundry, cleaned the house, shopped for groceries, and babysat while Donetta got some much-needed sleep.

Grant says, “We were taught how to serve by those who showed up on our doorstep and said, ‘We are here to clean your home,’ or ‘We have come for your laundry.’ We learned to accept service without feeling guilty.”

Six years have passed since the accident, and time and loving care have brought changes in Natalie. Today, at age eight, Natalie has emotions, memory, and personality. She is in the second grade in a special classroom for physically handicapped children. A bright, happy little girl, she is learning to read and use mathematics. She moves about in a child-size wheelchair, smiling and carrying on interesting conversations with everyone.

Donetta remembers the day Natalie’s speech therapist asked how Donetta and Grant were able to handle this situation so well. Did they have a secret—something she could pass on to others? “I let her know it was my belief in God and my understanding of why we are here on earth,” Donetta remembers. “We get discouraged and have depressing days, but these days come and go because we have our testimonies and our understanding of Heavenly Father’s plan.”

Natalie’s grandmother, Deanne Darger, says that Natalie’s wonderful sense of humor uplifts those around her. “One afternoon last year, as I was tutoring her after school,” Sister Darger remembers, “Natalie said, laughing, ‘Grandma, I’ve got a great idea.’ ‘What is it?’ I asked. Mischievously, she replied, ‘Let’s not do my homework!’ ‘Better get another idea, Natalie,’ I said, and she laughed and laughed, very pleased with herself. I thought to myself, ‘Pretty normal first-grader.’”

Grant says that they have had to take Natalie’s recovery a day at a time. “Everyone is capable of handling more problems than they would ever think possible. Six years is a long time to think about all at once, but anyone can get through one day. If you try to deal with your whole future at the same time, it can be overwhelming.

“Heavenly Father did not put Natalie in the pool. We had an accident. The blessing is having the benefit of the testimony, faith, and peace that the gospel brings as a natural result of obeying laws and commandments. Our challenges must make us better, not bitter.”

Donetta concludes, “Seeing what a special little girl Natalie is, I’m so thankful Heavenly Father allowed her to stay with us.”

[illustration] Illustrated by Jeff Martin

E. Widtsoe Shumway is president of the Utah Salt Lake City North Mission. He was formerly president of the Phoenix Arizona Camelback Stake.