Aaron and Jackie Lerro first met in 2011 when they had each been assigned jobs on a small military base in Germany. They were both active duty with the United States Air Force and they had no idea of the things that were in store for their future together. After spending more than a year getting to know each other they decided to get married, and by the summer of 2013 they found out that they were expecting a baby. Since they were living on a small military base, there was no Obstetrician readily available to monitor Jackie’s pregnancy so she would go to the German OB clinic for her routine check ups. In July of 2013, when she was around 19 weeks pregnant, Jackie went for the very important, but routine, OB appointment where they measured her unborn child’s bones and checked the internal organs, etc. This appointment was to be the beginning of Jackie and Aaron’s journey with a child with significant disabilities.
“Your baby’s femurs are measuring very short, and his rib cage is very small and bell-shaped” was what the German Doctor began telling this young couple. “These are the main characteristics of a rare form of Dwarfism called ‘Achondrogenesis’. The prognosis is that you will probably miscarry but if you don’t, there is a 100% chance that your son will NOT survive life outside the womb. His rib cage is not growing properly and because of that, there is not enough room for his lungs.”
Abortion was immediately offered as a solution to the “problem”, but this young couple, in disbelief about the news they had just received, would not consider ending the life of the baby boy who they had already named Mason David. The clinic encouraged an amniocentesis to substantiate the diagnosis that the Dr. had given, so Jackie and Aaron complied with that. There were follow up appointments scheduled with a couple of different specialists, more tests, and ultrasounds. A few weeks later, the amnio results came back and ruled out the Dr’s original diagnosis of Achondrogenesis! However, the Dr said that it didn’t matter, because he knew that Mason was not going to survive with such small lungs. With each Dr’s appointment, Jackie and Aaron found themselves defending their active baby’s very life ….there was pressure to abort him at almost every appointment. After all, according to one of the Doctors, “once born, your son will only live 5 minutes….15 if you’re lucky”. So why go through all of that? However, these young parents stood their ground each and every time, refusing to give in to the pressure to end their son’s life.
Shortly before Mason was supposed to be born, Aaron and Jackie’s time in Germany had come to an end and they were re-assigned to a base in Missouri. The nearest large hospital was in Kansas City, and they were set up with a specialist there to take over Jackie’s care. When he heard their story he had compassion on them and decided to redo ALL of the tests for himself, and he would personally conduct the needed ultrasounds himself as well. He wanted to make sure that nothing had been missed. As much as these young parents hoped that their new Dr would discover that there had been some mistake, and that their son was going to be born healthy, it was not to be. The new Dr confirmed that Mason definitely had a rare form of dwarfism that had affected the growth of his rib cage, and because of that he had extremely small lungs. Even with aggressive intervention, there was no way to know if Mason would survive. Thank God, they were now in a place where their decision to support Mason as much as possible would be respected.
So on December 16, 2013 Mason and God began writing Mason’s life story together. On that day Aaron, Jackie, and their families prepared as best they could, for the unimaginable. There was no way to know what was going to happen. Little did they know that God and Mason were not following the rules in the medical books, they were writing their own story, and they were going to prove that the experts did not have all of the answers.
Jackie was taken into surgery and Aaron went with her. A c-section was completed and Mason was born, then immediately taken to the NICU where he was intubated and placed on a ventilator. 5 minutes went by……then 15 minutes….then an hour passed. The German doctor had been wrong!! An hour turned into a day yet still no one knew if Mason would survive. He was so very critical, but he was fighting hard. A day turned into a week and then that turned into a month and Mason was still obviously fighting but no one knew even then, if he would ever leave the hospital. Thankfully, God had placed Mason in a hospital where the staff believed in him and treated him with great care and respect. Mason was a full term baby that was 13.5 inches long and weighed over 6 lbs when he was born. He had extremely small lungs, a cleft palate, and lots orthopedic issues.
Fast-forwarding through the 10 months that followed…..there were extreme highs and lows, surgeries (tracheotomy, g-tube, chest enlargement, and craniosynestosis surgery were the biggies), lots of scares, several rounds of genetic testing (none of which yielded any answers as to an official, specific diagnosis), Mason’s transfer (by airplane) to a different hospital several states away that could take him further than the original hospital was going to be able to, Aaron & Jackie living in the Ronald McDonald house for months, lots of meetings with Dr’s & Nurses to advocate on behalf of Mason, and ultimately the day that Mason was able to go home for the very first time at 10 months old!
Mason won over many hearts during the four years that he was on the earth, and fascinated all who came to know him. Through the roller coaster ride of his 10 months in the ICU, the surgeries, the scary dark times when we thought we were going to lose him, and the incredibly joyous times when he would do things that most of us didn’t think he ever could, Mason touched people’s hearts.
People continued to follow Mason’s story even after he went home from the hospital. His parents’ dedication to him was inspiring. They very capably took on the overwhelming task of learning how to take care of all of Mason’s needs….the home ventilator, the trach care, the g-tube, the medications, therapies, appointments, etc. Jackie was meticulous and very skilled at providing all aspects of his care, while Aaron’s primary focus turned to providing for the family. Together they were an impressive team, making sure that Mason lived a full life. They traveled with him to all sorts of different places, from the mountains in Tennessee, to out west to Nevada, to the beach, to visit family and friends at different places in the country….Oh the places that he went! Mason’s parents made sure that he got to experience life to the fullest.
Mason’s journey affected people in many ways. It proved to people that PRAYER works, demonstrated for them how to live with COURAGE, and reminded everyone that LIFE is precious and should never be taken for granted.
Mason David Lerro completed his purpose here on Earth Saturday, March 3rd, 2018 and went on to perfection with Christ our Lord, but we know that we will see him again. He leaves with us his example of determination, courage, the love and faith of family and friends, an indomitable spirit, and the memory of a huge smile that would brighten the darkest day. We are thankful that his story and his life will continue to impact others in a positive way. To God be the glory!!
Mason’s connection to HomeLife Academy is through his parents and grandparents. His father, Aaron, is an HLA graduate. Although Mason and his baby sister were too young to enroll for school, Aaron and Jackie have also enrolled students with HLA when they were needing to homeschool family members that were in their care.
Mason’s grandparents Steve & Phyllis Lerro, were a long-time HLA family with 3 HLA graduates. Phyllis has been working at HLA since 2012 and currently serves as one of HLA’s high school Counselors. When Mason came along, the entire HLA staff followed his story and “rode the roller coaster” of ups and downs with the family. Mason soon became known around the office as “HLA’s baby” and everyone was so faithful with support, prayer and encouragement. Then when Mason finally got to come and visit the office to meet everyone after getting out of the hospital it was like a Rock Star had come to town! What a day! Mason’s physical family and his HLA family are so honored that he continues to impact the lives of others through this Memorial Scholarship.