CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Pushing through their grief, a Medina couple chose to show love to the medical team who cared for a little boy in his final days after a sudden illness.
Rebecca Strother says her son Gage Gray, 11, died days after he mentioned a headache. She and loved ones gathered at UH Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital Thursday, one day after Gray's death, to present a unique military honor to the team of doctors and nurses she says worked tirelessly to save her son.
"Sometimes the battle ends in accomplishment, sometimes it ends in heartbreak," United States Army Staff Sergeant Christopher Iker told hospital staff.
Army Staff Sergeant Iker, who considered himself Gray's stepdad, presented military challenge coins to the nurse, surgeon, and doctors and they fought back tears. Strother serves at the Youngstown Air Reserve.
"I'm actually the daughter of a retired Air Force Major and finding that out, focusing entirely on Gage and not knowing we have a different connection means the world to me," Dr. Krystal Tomei, a pediatric neurosurgeon, explained through tears. "It's a different kind of honor."
According to SSG. Iker, the coins are a symbol of excellence, in this case gratitude, amid the family's sorrow.
"The amount of support we've had and the amount of fight in everybody, it's been amazing," said Strother. "I'm not alone fighting and I thought that I was and I can see that I'm not and it's just incredible."
Strother says her son suffered an Arteriovenous Malformation or AVM, where abnormal blood vessels connecting arteries and veins in the brain become twisted.
"Two veins that were either twisted together or grew together within his brain created a severe blood clot that eventually erupted and flooded the left and right side of his brain down into his spinal cord which stopped movement from his body," explained the staff sergeant.
Medical staff says they were honored with the presentation of coins and they were touched by the family's desire to say thank you.
"What an honor it is to take care of children because we also get to know their families and to see the love and the care that comes from everywhere and everyone is the driving force behind this and why we do this," said Dr. Kathryn Miller.
"He's an everlasting memory for me," said SSG. Iker, standing next to Strother. "They did accomplish something in allowing Rebecca, his father's family, and all of our families to have more time and be able to say goodbye."