VAN, TX (KLTV) - Brianne Cox was born in 1996, three months early and only weighing 14 ounces.
Her parents, Wade and Sharon, told us their story then, and they're sharing what's happened since. We reunited with the Cox Family, but not before a trip back to where it all began.
"You just feel you're out of control. We're three months before the baby is supposed to be born, you're not prepared for that day and you realize how much you need to lean on God," said Wade.
This was Wade Cox back in 1997. He and his wife opened up about the challenges they faced with the birth of their daughter, Brianne, just a few months earlier. Watching the story with them today, 17 years later, evoked some strong emotions.
"I can go right back there. I smelled betadine when she was in the NICU and we had to scrub in for five minutes every time we'd go and I smell betadine and it takes me right back there," says Sharon, Brianne's mother.
Wade adds, "We were told she was going to die on the third day of her life, and there have been a number of life and death circumstances since that time."
But Bri, as she's affectionately known, has thrived.
"I remember sitting at my kitchen table and having the thought, 'how am I going to take care of this child for the rest of my life?' And I just really felt like the Lord impressed on me, 'you don't have to take care of her for the rest of your life, you have to take care of her today. Can you do that?' And I was like yea, I can do that. So now here 18 years later, I'm still just taking care of her today," says Sharon.
"Our prayer when she was first born was that God would spare her life. That we would have the privilege of raising her no matter what the circumstances and God has granted that up to this day," Wade said.
Bri is developmentally delayed, non-verbal and fed through a feeding tube. She uses a walker and still has several treatments and medications for her lungs. And in spite of it all, she celebrated her 18th birthday this year.
"She's in the sweet spot of life and her creative track. She's always got joy, she's always laughing, she's contagious. And I think our hearts have been changed not only directly from her in our family but also through people we've met. The heroes out there, the parents who have special needs children that we've had the privilege of meeting," says Wade.
Now, nearly two decades later, a lot has changed for Wade and Sharon.
"Oh wow. A few more wrinkles, a few more pounds, hopefully more wisdom. And I think just more solid in our faith and in our trust of God. In the Bible, the Lord was always telling the children of Israel to look back and build monuments, take stones and build monuments as a remembrance of what He had done for them. I think we have so many of those monuments over the course of these last years to look back and say God was so faithful," Sharon says.
These days, Bri is a big sister to 15-year-old Brooke and 13-year-old Bryant. They too, have been deeply touched by their sister's life.
"I feel like they have more compassion and understanding of people who might be different. Our son just started helping a child who has very severe visual impairment. Brooke went on a mission trip last summer and worked in an orphanage with special needs children and feels like she has found her life call," says Sharon.
"Having a special needs sister is a gift. I felt like God was just like, 'I put Bri in your life... This is one of the reasons why I put her in your life is so you can relate to families and work with special needs kids because you know how to,'" says Brooke Cox, Bri's sister.
"She's given me hope and joy because she's probably the happiest person I know. She laughs at almost everything. God has a plan for everyone, so He probably has a plan for Bri and me and Brooke and our whole family," says Bryant Cox, Bri's brother.
She's inspired them all.
"God has changed our hearts. We just don't look at life the same way. We don't take life for granted, and it's like God sent us an angel really, Brianne, to teach us how to live," said Wade.
Sharon says, "My biggest fear came true in the sense that I can't fix her. But I can certainly accept where she's at and do what it is that's the next thing we do to take care of her. But she doesn't need fixing. I think maybe that's the lesson that's come from this." She adds, "There is joy on the other side of suffering. Joy doesn't mean happy, butterfly feelings all the time. Joy means a deep sense of knowing who you are, knowing who God is and knowing in the end that you're going to be okay."
The Cox Family continues to take stones from the tough times along Bri's journey to build monuments that remind them how far they've come, singing her song the whole way.
Today, Brianne Cox still holds the record for the smallest baby born at Methodist Medical Center in Dallas to survive. Wade and Sharon are now trying to prepare for her next stage of life. They still minister to others who are grieving.
The Cox Family would like to thank the following for their support and love throughout Brianne's journey:
God first and foremost
Grandparents and all family members
Mercy Ships leadership and staff
Dr. Carlos Laos
Dr. Jerry Putman
Dr. Rick Rogers
Jeana Davis and Just Kids Home Health nurses
Angels of Care Home Health nurses
Methodist Medical Center, Dallas
Children's Medical Center, Dallas
Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, Dallas
Trinity Pediatric Clinic Providers and Nurses, Tyler
ETMC and MFH ambulance services
All supporting churches in Texas, North Carolina and Wisconsin
Van ISD staff, teachers, and therapists