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Tanner Williams Part 1

Originally Published Dec. 14, 2005

Thomas Williams can't walk into his son's room and experience joy.

He did once. But not today.

For seven months, he and his wife Jennifer did the things that young married couple's do to prepare for the arrival of a newborn. In their Prattville home, they painted a room in shades of blue and brought baby clothes and toys and diapers and did everything they were supposed to do in anticipation of the big day.

Awaiting the birth of their first child, they were excited.

&#8220We were ready to be parents,” said Thomas, a Greenville native.

Tanner Williams was born on Nov. 19, 2004, two months before his actual expected birthday. Since then, Tanner has had three open-heart surgeries and spent his life under constant supervision in a hospital, either at the University of Alabama-Birmingham or under special care at the Children's Hospital in Boston. He lives through a ventilator because his lungs were not fully developed at birth. He was born with Atrioventricular Canal Defect, which means he has holes in his heart thus the number of subsequent surgeries; an attempt to repair what nature did not to finish.

Thomas was hopeful he would have his son - and Jennifer, who since has been with Tanner in Boston since November - home for Christmas. But because of the travel costs that won't be the case. Thomas said he would spend the majority of the holidays alone and think of his son fighting to live 1400 miles away.

&#8220The holidays are the worst,” he said. &#8220I've walked in my son's room. I can't walk in there very much. I don't have any decorations up. I don't have a Christmas tree up. I'll buy gifts but they'll be here waiting for Tanner and Jennifer.”

Thomas, who works as a sales representative, said it's difficult to keep his mind on work issues throughout the day because his thoughts are never far from Tanner. He has exhausted his vacation time and while 80 percent of Tanner's medical bills are covered by insurance that still leaves thousands of dollars the family is responsible for.

&#8220I know I have to provide for my family,” he said. &#8220I go to work. I come home to an empty house. I come home and do nothing. I sit here and do nothing.”

Thomas professes an undying faith in God, but sometimes he does question the reason for Tanner's struggle.

&#8220I know I'm not the only parent in the country going through this,” he said. &#8220It feels like God's picking on me or something. But I know that's not the case. If it weren't for God's strength, I wouldn't have made it. This is the hardest. It tears your soul.”

And each of Tanner's surgeries, Thomas said, takes a piece of his heart. Because of Tanner's delicate condition, Thomas said he and his wife have only been able to hold their son a few times since his birth.

&#8220He doesn't know I'm his dad,” said Thomas. &#8220We haven't been able to do the things with him that other parents do.”

Jennifer constantly updates Thomas on Tanner's condition with frequently emailed photographs and phone calls. For the holidays, she placed a red Santa Claus hat on Tanner's head and snapped a photo. Tubes snake into his tiny nostrils. His shallow chest is heavily bandaged and the ventilator is inserted at his neck, through a trachea tube.

But he's smiling in one. He's giggling in another. He looks like a little boy with his whole life in front of him.

&#8220He's a fighter,” said his father. &#8220He's got a lot of fight in him. You can tell he wants to live.”

Saturday: