Each day before dawn, Jim Denny visits his 3-year-old son, clutches his wounded hand and talks to him about baseball, his sister, and his bravery.
Brandon lies still in his hospital bed, staring intently at his father, but unable to answer. His body is battered, his brain is bruised, too, but he has survived, and that fires his father’s heart with hope.
More than three weeks have passed since Brandon, and his sister, Rebecca, 2, were pulled from the rubble of the federal building day-care center, but Denny doesn’t know how long his vigil will last - or how it will end.
“I’m still real, real worried,” Denny says, noting doctors can’t say whether his son will live. “But you can’t help but see the improvement. It would be devastating if he didn’t get better. I’m trying not to think about that.”
Instead, Denny and his wife, Claudia, focus on their good fortune. While most of the children in the day-care center died in the April 19 bombing, both Rebecca - now home after 10 days in the hospital - and Brandon were rescued.
“I go to church every Sunday and I believe in God,” Denny says, taking a break from visiting his son in intensive care. “I’ve always been skeptical about miracles. But when you see one, you believe. I saw two of them.”
He knows too well the fate of others. Edye Smith, who works with his wife and lost two sons, recently visited Brandon. Her boys played with Brandon at the day-care center.
When Brandon was first taken to Presbyterian Hospital, his body was mangled and bloodied. “I don’t know if it’s him or not,” said Denny’s son Tim, 23.
Denny studied the puffy, bandaged face. He recognized the pug nose, he looked at his feet and hands; then he saw a birthmark on his left thigh and he knew for sure.
Since then, Brandon has undergone three brain operations and is struggling with an infection and swelling in his skull. A tube drains spinal fluid and relieves the pressure inside the brain.
But in three weeks, he has improved, too: He’s recovered from pneumonia and is off a respirator. He smiles, opens his eyes - one eye is always covered with a patch to strengthen muscles and avoid double vision - watches TV, follows movement, cries, utters sounds. He even laughed while watching “The Lion King.”
When his sister visited, Denny leaned over and asked his son, “Do you want Rebecca to kiss your hand?” He said, ‘Eeehhh, No.’ “
The spunky redhead kissed him anyway. “I love you,” she said.
Doctors say he will have some degree of brain damage - a part of his brain was removed because the debris punctured his skull - and it could affect his speech and his right side.
“We’re hopeful he’ll get everyting back, but this will be a long, drawn-out process,” said Dr. Mark Camp. “I doubt he’s going to be completely normal.”
Denny is braced for that.
“My main concern is survival,” says Denny, 50. “After that, everything else is going to be easy.”
The Dennys have received hundreds of letters, stuffed animals, a St. Christopher’s medal (now pinned to Brandon’s blanket), and many calls.
“People say it must be hard for you,” Denny says. “But he’s the tough one. He’s got the hard part.”
And his parents are encouraging him all the way.
From dawn to dusk, they take turns at his bedside. Denny caresses his son’s bandaged head, rubs his left hand - his right hand is in a splint to keep his fingers straight - kisses him and speaks gently.
“Three years old and already a man,” he says softly. When Brandon turns slightly, Denny says, “Is that a half smile?”
Brandon’s room is packed with Spiderman balloons, a wall of cards with childish scrawls and enough stuffed animals to fill a toy shop. His favorite tiger, Sasha, is perched at his feet.
Denny says Brandon may have to be transferred to a rehabilitation hospital, perhaps out of state, and he will accompany him there, even though the family may have to separate temporarily.
People, he says, constantly tell him true-life tales of amazing recoveries from head injuries. “I really love the stories,” he says, his blue eyes crinkling in a smile. “I will never give up hope.”
Jim Denny, the man who has witnessed two miracles, is hoping for a third.