Bruce Hearey is our guest this week on the SFN Dad to Dad Podcast. Bruce is an attorney who has 7 children, including 36-year-old Jill who is a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy, unable to walk or talk. Bruce talks authentically about his divorce from Jill’s mom and the hardest decision of his life, moving Jill to the Hattie Larlham Home, to ensure Jill will be well cared for and get the best services available. We’ll hear Bruce’s and Jill’s story on this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad podcast.
To find out more about Hattie Larlham go to: http://www.hattielarlham.org
Dad to Dad 121 Attorney Bruce Hearey, Father of 7 Including A Daughter Who Is A Spastic Quadriplegic With Cerebral Palsy
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is thrilled to be sponsored by Rubin Law. A multi-generational law firm dedicated, exclusively to serving families, raising children with special needs. It’s not one thing they do. It’s the only thing they do to find out more. Go to rubinlaw.com.com rubinlaw.com or call (847) 279-7999. And mention the Special Fathers Network for a free consultation.
Bruce Hearey: I think it was about eight or nine months after Joel was born. I was talking to my father on the phone. He volunteered to me that he admired how I was handling the situation with Jill and said that he wasn’t sure that he would have been capable of dealing with a situation like that as well as I appeared to be.
And I responded to him that the irony and what he was telling me was because I was only approaching it in the way I thought he would. And that he was my model.
Tom Couch: That’s Bruce hearing our guests this week on the Dad to Dad podcast. Bruce is an attorney who has seven children, including 36 year old Jill, who is unable to walk or talk.
We’ll hear Bruce’s story and we’ll hear Jill’s story on this Special Fathers Network debt to dad podcast. Here’s our host David.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the Dad to Dad podcast, fathers, mentoring, fathers of children with special needs presented by the special father’s note.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a Dad to Dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs through our.
Personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support dads, to find out more, go to 21st century dads.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook. Please go to facebook.com groups and search Dad to Dad.
Tom Couch: And now let’s listen now to the conversation between Bruce Hearey and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with Bruce Hearey of Cleveland, Ohio. Who’s a father of seven and who is an attorney? Bruce, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Bruce Hearey: You’re welcome. I look forward to it.
David Hirsch: You and your wife, Stephanie had been married for 11 years. And have a blended family with seven children ranging in age from 22 to 45, including 36 year old daughter, Jill, who from a very early age suffered brain damage and is unable to walk or talk. Let’s start with some background.
Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Bruce Hearey: Sure. I grew up in a tiny little town of about 4,700 people, a little suburb, about five miles East of downtown Philadelphia. It was a little middle-class town, primarily a demographically, a white middle-class and, uh, one of seven children. And it was a great place to grow up
David Hirsch: from what I remember, you’re the fourth of the seven children.
Bruce Hearey: I’m smack dab in the middle of seven and I never, never, frankly, it never bothered me to be there.
David Hirsch: That’s great. So I’m sort of curious to know, um, what did your dad do for a living.
Bruce Hearey: He, he did, uh, a few things. He was a college graduate. He got out of the army in 1945, within 10 years, he had six children. So he had six kids under the age of 10.
He used to sell bronze bearings and travel around the Northeast, selling these things. And he’d be gone for two or three days at a time, which really wasn’t working for my mother who was a beautician. So at some point my father decided. You needed to be more at home. And he was thinking of being a CPA, but that was too complicated.
So we decided to sell life insurance and frankly, he wasn’t, I’m not sure he worked all that hard at it. He wasn’t that good at it. I don’t think he liked it. He mostly enjoyed being a father.
David Hirsch: Okay. You’ve mentioned that there were six of you under 10.
Bruce Hearey: Yes. It was a busy household with one and a half Beth.
David Hirsch: But, uh, you mentioned you’re one of the seven, so I’m, I’m,
Bruce Hearey: I’m sorry, there were six under 10. And then after a few years, my quote unquote, baby sister was born. So five years after we thought we were only having six, we had a seventh, my little sister was born and she just had her 61st birthday last week.
David Hirsch: Okay, wonderful. So I’m sort of curious to know, how would you describe. Your relationship with your dad?
Bruce Hearey: I had a great relationship with my father. I think my father struggled with expectations of my mother. I think she thought he was going to be a wind up being a bigger deal than he was in terms of business.
It was not unusual for me to come home from school at three o’clock in the afternoon and find my father at home pretty much ended his Workday early. Uh, my mother, as I said, worked as a beautician, she worked pretty much nine to five every day, Thursday nights, you know, she was open late until about nine o’clock.
She tended to take Wednesdays off, but that was countered by her working Saturdays. So my father in many ways, uh, was a role model for me as, not necessarily as a businessman because he wasn’t in that way. But he was a role model for me in that he did a ton of cooking. It fell to him to do a lot of the laundry, food shopping.
So things that perhaps in the fifties and sixties, some people might’ve looked upon as quote unquote women’s work. Uh, my father did a lot of that and my father had a big role, I would say, overall in child rearing. One great thing about my father and my mother. They both had an ability to, with seven children to let each child know that they were unique and special and that they didn’t play favorites.
And I never sense that any of us, uh, were more of my parents’ favorite than any other. Okay,
David Hirsch: well, that is an interesting insight to have. So I’m sort of wondering if there is another takeaway or two, when you think about your dad or your relationship with them that comes to mind an important lesson that you learned?
Bruce Hearey: Well, my father was, uh, he was incredibly supportive of all of us and he was deferential to my mother. My mother grew up the daughter of two Polish immigrants. She and her two sisters, you know, had very little. They all quit school. And when they were in high school and went to work during the depression.
So my mother felt that her children deserved whatever she could give them in terms of dancing lessons and piano lessons and organ lessons and singing lessons and all that kind of stuff. And my father never said no to my mother. He was very supportive of all of that. And he was very supportive of each of us and he was a very.
Uh, sympathetic, uh, man, very empathetic with a wonderful sense of humor. And I, and I, and I should say my father was very supportive of all his kids activities. Uh, I went away to a boarding school when I was 14 years old. I didn’t want any part of it. It wasn’t part of my life plan, but my parents thought it was too good, an opportunity to pass up, but I played a lot of sports up there and it was nothing.
It was a six hour drive and it was nothing for my parents to get in the car, you know, on a Wednesday or Saturday and drive up to. Six hours to Boston to see, see me play some sport and then turn around and drive back and get home at three or four in the morning. So that’s the kind of parents they were.
David Hirsch: thanks for sharing. If I remember correctly, I think it was
Bruce Hearey: your
David Hirsch: great-grandfather was somebody that was prominent.
Bruce Hearey: The great French chef. That was my grandmother’s father. I was just reading an article about him. Yeah, he was a great French chef. His name was Louis Charles Delisle and Delilah is actually my daughter Jill’s middle name, but he was a great French chef who was hired away by a chemist in South Jersey who had an idea about condensed soup and founded Campbell soup.
And he needed a chef in the early 20th century to create recipes for soup. That would be condensed into cans. So we hired my great grandfather and my great-grandfather was the first and head chef at Campbell soup for 30 or 40 years. My family had a long-standing connection with Campbell soup because my great-grandfather was the chef there.
And my grandfather worked there and my grandmother worked there. My father unloaded trucks during the summer in the depression, tomatoes from the truck gardens of South Jersey. So if you open up a can of Campbell’s tomato soup, just be rest assured that’s my great-grandfather recipe.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well, I have not heard anybody else make that claim.
So I’m going to give you the attribution and where it’s deserved.
Bruce Hearey: Good.
David Hirsch: from my remember you went to a Wesleyan college and then you went to, um, NYU Fordham for law school. And I’m sort of curious now, when you were a younger, what was it that you were thinking about doing and how things transpired?
Bruce Hearey: Okay. Well, both my law school and my college would probably prefer to be called Westland university.
And I went to Fordham university law school, which is in New York. I was kind of mesmerized by lawyer shows. When I was a kid, I was fascinated by Perry Mason, and there was a TV lawyer in the early seventies named Owen Marshall, who was played by an actor named Arthur Hill, um, who had a big heart and was a good lawyer.
And I was kind of taken by that, but I was also very interested in teaching. So I was kind of torn between being a teacher and being a lawyer. I wrestled with that for a few years, uh, until my mother who in some ways was more paternal than my father suggested to me that anybody could teach and that I could always teach.
And, uh, if I had gotten into law school, I should take advantage of that and go. So I did. And, uh, I’m still a lawyer and I haven’t gotten around to teaching yet, but, uh, you know, someday you never know.
David Hirsch: Okay. So let’s switch gears and talk about, uh, special needs, uh, first on a personal level and then beyond.
So I’m sorta curious to know before Joel was born, did you or your first wife have any experience with special needs?
Bruce Hearey: Short answer? Uh, not really. No. Um, my wife, Diane Joel’s mother. When I’m met Diane, she had a six year old son, a life who was just a wonderful little kid Lafe and I bonded pretty quickly.
And, uh, I became a fairly strong father figure to young life. And then we were kind of eagerly anticipating. Having a child of our own. And we’re lucky that Diane got pregnant about a year after we were married. And then unfortunately, because of some, uh, misunderstandings and some miscues by hospital staff and the doctor who was, uh, happened to be in the delivery room at the time, there were some serious problems with Jill’s delivery and, um, As a result, her brain was severely damaged.
The day she was born, she wasn’t breathing. When she was born, she had to be resuscitated. She had undergone severe. Distress during the period of labor that Diane was in. And, um, that severe fetal distress caused what the doctors called in it knock sick episode. She wasn’t getting enough oxygen. And so she was essentially was born, not breathing and, um, and sustained severe brain damage.
We didn’t know all that at the time, obviously, but it soon became pretty obvious that. Joe was going to have a lot of needs. And this was my first child. Uh, Diane’s second laughs uh, younger, uh, his first, uh, younger sibling. Uh, so, uh, pretty quickly it presented immense challenges, uh, for all. Yeah. Well
David Hirsch: thank you for sharing.
Um, From what I remember in a prior conversation, she spent a couple of weeks in the NICU, um, before she was able to be released from the hospital.
Bruce Hearey: Yeah. It’s kind of a remarkable thing because if you’ve ever been in a NICU, most babies that are in a NICU or preemies, they look like little birds. Jill was, uh, Joel looked like she was about three months old.
Despite everything I had told the doctors when Diane was 10 days past her due date, about big babies running in my family. Uh, they poo-pooed our concerns and reassured us that Jill was, uh, you know, in most eight, eight and a half pounds, she was 11 pounds, seven ounces when she was born. She was about 40% over eight pounds and a half.
Uh, literally the birth charts didn’t go up high enough. Uh, for little girls, it was extremely unusual for any infant to be 11 pounds, seven ounces, let alone a baby girl. So she really didn’t look like she was a three month old. And so in the NICU, they have these a little plastic. I wouldn’t call them beds.
They’re like warming trays, and, um, Jill flopped her extremities, flopped over the edges of these things because they weren’t big enough to handle her. Uh, so she was in the NICU for about three weeks. In those early days, she had a lot of seizures. Um, they were trying to get her to stop seizing and then ultimately they, they sent us home and, um, you know, wished us luck.
You know, nobody really sharing with us what the future would hold. Um, because at the time, no one really knew.
David Hirsch: So how did the diagnosis come about and what was the diagnosis?
Bruce Hearey: Well, Diana and I were doing the best we could. I think Diane, because she had had a child earlier and had seen a lot of, you know, developmental milestones with respect to her son life.
She was more attuned to. Seeing what Jill was doing or not doing than I was. And, um, I was probably spending more time just trying to take care of Jill’s needs, but about, I’d say about a year after Jill was born, we were taking her to get a therapy at the local United cerebral palsy chapter. And there was a physical therapist associated with that.
Who was doing physical therapy with Jill and she was the first person to suggest to us that Jill had cerebral palsy, which is really just kind of a catch all phrase for brain damage. And there’s varying degrees of cerebral palsy. Some children, uh, have very mild forms of cerebral palsy that may affect their speech.
It may affect the way they walk, but they’re pretty high functioning. Uh, other kids are more severely involved and, um, don’t ever really develop in the way you would hope. Early on. We were optimistic that Jill would be in a slightly affected category. Helpful relatives would send you books about comedians who were on TV, who were slightly affected by cerebral palsy.
So we were optimistic, but as each week months went by, it was pretty clear to us that develop milestones were being missed. At some point, we were struggling to make a decision about what to do about Jill, because her needs were immense. She couldn’t walk, she couldn’t talk, she couldn’t move. And, um, I took her on an airplane to New Jersey to get a second diagnosis at a place called this children’s specialized hospital in mountainside, New Jersey.
And the doctor told me to put Jill down on the floor. Which I did. And Jill immediately assumed a position with her hand up behind her head and her arm out like this right arm, behind her head or left arm extended. And he said, that’s a classic Archer pose is what he called it. Pose of an Archer. And that’s a.
Apparently a telltale sign that, uh, your child’s got severe developmental issues. So that was sobering. Uh, I remember talking to a pediatric neurologist at the, uh, uh, hospital where Jill was born, who showed us some scans of Jill’s brain. This is when she was about a year and a half old. And this poor doctor, I kind of felt sorry for him because in med school, I don’t think he’d been taught how to give bad news.
All he could focus on was the quality of the photography. He kept saying to me, aren’t these great images, isn’t it amazing how clear they are. And I go, yeah, you know, I’m really not interested in clarity. I’m interested in what it shows and the phrase he used, which always stuck with me. And if, and when I write my book about Jill, it might be the subtitle.
But the phrase he used was general cortical atrophy, which essentially meant your, your brain was damaged tissue in your brain had atrophied. And it wasn’t localized in one particular area. It was generalized diffused throughout the brain. So generally speaking, the diagnosis for Jill was, um, severe cerebral palsy.
David Hirsch: Okay, well, that sounds like a harrowing experience and it wasn’t like all at once, but a number of incidents is like you’ve described that sort of led you and Diane to the realization that the situation was a lot more complicated or more severe than what you might’ve had.
Bruce Hearey: Yes. Yes. And then, and then whatever.
Whatever hopes we had that, you know, Jill was going to walk. Jill was going to talk, you know, Jill was going to be able to be quote unquote mainstreamed in our local school. Um, you know, all those hopes, uh, over time were, uh,
David Hirsch: dashed. Was there some meaningful advice that you got? Was anybody giving you any insight that helped you put all this in perspective?
Bruce Hearey: Well, you know, we got some advice that United cerebral palsy about a place called Hattie Laura alum, uh, Hattie Harlem was a real person. She was an obstetrical nurse who had a giant heart. She had worked in the labor and delivery department of a hospital and saw too many parents have to confront what were called unexpected outcomes.
The infants that were born with various, uh, issues. And how do you, our alum took these kids into our house. Eventually she had something like that. 11 or 14 cribs in her living room with brain damaged, infants that she was taken care of. Her husband finally said to her, I mean, Patty, you know, I love you dearly, but we, you know, we can’t just keep piling kids in the warehouse.
Had he said, well, yeah, yeah, we should do something. So with the, with the aid of a labor union and the government and some religious groups, Hattie alar alum, and her husband, I believe his name was Richard. They raised enough money to, um, build a facility that ultimately housed a 120, a young children facility is one of perhaps a handful of pediatric.
Residential facilities in the country that provide round the clock care, just a tremendous caring place. And we were fortunate that it was only, uh, 35 minutes from me where we lived, you know, there, there are many families and many parents in this country who successfully take care of severely disabled children.
Uh, my hat goes off to those people when I congratulate them and I celebrate them. But unfortunately my wife and I recognized that Jill’s needs were too much for us. And we were not capable of keeping Jill at home and taking care of all her, her needs. It was extremely difficult. You literally had to be holding Jill all the time.
If you put her down, uh, she would scream and not stop screaming until somebody picked her up again. Um, and we had a, another child on the way who is going to have his own demands and needs, thankfully, a perfectly healthy child Owen. So with the. Benefit of having, having had a Harlem so close. Uh, it was our decision when Jill was about two and a half years old to place her, it had hilar alum and we could visit her all the time.
We could bring her home on weekends. We could bring her home during the week whenever we wanted. And it was a, it was wonderful to have such a caring place. So close by. Well,
David Hirsch: thank you for sharing. It sounds like a godsend to have that type of resource, literally not in your backyard per se, but it’s such a close distance, only 35 miles away.
So it was a win-win situation for the circumstances that you found yourself in.
Bruce Hearey: And I, I should add that said leaving. My daughter had had any alarm them a couple of days after Christmas when she was two and a half years old. It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.
David Hirsch: And it sounds like a very humbling experience.
I’m sort of curious to know what impact Jill’s situations had on her siblings or the rest of your family for that matter?
Bruce Hearey: Well, it’s been, it’s been very interesting and, um, for Jill’s older brother life, uh, he was nine years old when Joel was born. Uh, he was really looking forward to having a sibling. He had wanted a baby sister or baby brother for probably as long as he was conscious.
And he was devastated when Joel was born. He was thrown for a loop the way we all were. He wasn’t sure what it was about. He wasn’t sure what had happened. You know, he helped us take care of jelly, helped. Sit with her and comforter, but he was very aware and lived with the stresses that Jill created for her parents.
Owen, on the other hand, who was born 18 months after Joel was born Owen doesn’t have a conscious recollection of living with Jill the way life does. So the disappoint for Owen is different. And then it was for life. He didn’t have expectations. She’s always been Jill to him. He’s really only known her as residing at Hattie Larlane and you know, coming home on weekends and special occasions and on trips and things like that.
So it’s, it’s an entirely different experience as a result, I think. Even today ley, even though he’s 45 years old is very tied up emotionally with his youngest sister. And, um, I think it’s fair to say that although Owen loves Jill, his relationship with Jill is a little different than, than life’s.
David Hirsch: Yeah.
Well, thanks for sharing. So I’m thinking about advice now, Bruce, and I’m wondering if there’s any important takeaways up and above what we’ve discussed, that you might be able to share with a younger dad with raising a child that has different challenges.
Bruce Hearey: Well, yeah, I have a couple of, I mean, reach out for help.
Don’t think you have to do it on your own because you don’t. There are plenty of agencies and social workers and. Healthcare professionals who are willing to help, you know, with Jill we’ve benefited over the years from some really superior people who have stepped into Jill’s life and became a major part of her life.
And I think it’s also important to realize your own limitations. And don’t beat yourself up about being sad or having trouble functioning or feeling guilty. I mean, there are times when you’re going to resent your child with special needs and wish that he or she were different. I think that’s all perfectly natural.
No, I’m not suggesting you take out any of that resentment, but uh, those feelings are normal. Then I also think don’t be afraid to talk to people. I’ve talked to therapists, a good part of my adult life. I think they’re extremely helpful. And, uh, I don’t think anyone should be afraid to talk about their feelings and, and get help because there, there are going to be stresses and, uh, There’s nothing shameful in admitting that you could use some help in dealing with them.
David Hirsch: Well, thank you for sharing. I’m sort of curious to know why is it that you’ve agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network?
Bruce Hearey: I think there’s too few. There’s too few fathers around who are willing to talk about their experiences. I was very fortunate. When Joel was born, we were introduced to another family who had a similar situation, a very severely disabled child.
We were able to go talk to them and touch base with them. There was a feeling of commonality. It can be pretty lonely and you can feel pretty sorry for yourself that you’re the only person dealing with such a situation. So it’s very helpful to talk to somebody else who may be having some of the feelings and experiences that you are.
And I was fortunate to be exposed to some people like that. I mean, everybody’s situation is unique, but there are common elements to it. And if I can be of help to anybody who. Is struggling with similar issues, uh, happy to be a part of it.
David Hirsch: Well, we’re thrilled to have you thank you for being part of the team.
Let’s give a special shout out to your oldest brother, Chuck for helping connect us. Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up
Bruce Hearey: to the extent there is a silver lining and I’m not, I’m not sure there’s a lot of them, but to the extent there is one I’ve spent a good deal of my. Time since Joel was born, you know, volunteering for organizations that help disabled children.
I’ve been fortunate to be able to support them, not only with my time, but you know, with contributions and, and I’ve met some incredibly caring, loving people along the way. So I think to the extent there is a silver lining, um, I think that’s been the good, the good part or one of the good parts of what happens when you have a special needs child.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thank you for sharing. Um, there was something you mentioned, Bruce, and I don’t know if this would be a good point to try to insert it, but I think it was something your dad said to you.
Bruce Hearey: Yeah. Um, You know, as I said, I talked a lot about my father in the beginning and my father had seven kids and no, I never asked my father, if he had regrets, when he died, he died when he was 72 years old.
But his philosophy about life, you know, and it’s not unique to him, but you know, his philosophy was, you know, life deals, you lemons make lemonade out of that. He was a very optimistic make the best out of situations. Kinda guy. And, uh, I think it was about eight or nine months after Joel was born. I was talking to my father on the phone, me being in Cleveland, Ohio, him being eight hour car ride away in Southern New Jersey.
And, um, he volunteered to me that he admired how I was handling the situation with Jill and said that he wasn’t sure. That he would have been capable of dealing with a situation like that as well as I appeared to be. And I responded to him that the irony and what he was telling me was because I was only doing with respect to Jill and the way I was approaching.
Her needs her life, our new responsibilities. Uh, I was only approaching it in the way I thought he would and that he was my model, uh, for that. And, uh, I was interacting with Jill and fulfilling my responsibilities as her father in the way. Uh, I totally assume from my father’s example that he would have
David Hirsch: done.
Yeah, well, very powerful. Thank you for sharing. If somebody wants to learn about Hattie, Laurel, um, or contact you, what’s the best way to go about doing that?
Bruce Hearey: Well, they have a website. It’s H a T T I E L a R L H a M. Patty Larlane. There’s a woman there named Heather Lorenzen, L O R E N Z E N. They could contact Heather.
You know, in the 60 years that Hattie Larlane has been around as an institution, they’ve expanded their services to provide for adults and job training and constant companion, dog services and different things. Um, so they still have their, a residential facility for. Uh, young children and young adults, but they’ve expanded their, uh, services.
Um, but they’d love to hear from anybody who, uh, is curious about the wonderful work they do.
David Hirsch: Okay, well, thank you for sharing. I’ll make a special offer to include that in the show notes. So it’ll make it as easy as possible for people to follow up. Bruce, thank you for your time. And many insights as reminder, Bruce is just one of the dads.
Who’s part of the Special Fathers Network, a mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs. If you’d like to be a mentor father or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation to your own, please go to 21stcenturydads.org. Thank you for listening to the latest episode of the Special Fathers Network, Dad to Dad podcast.
I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did, as you probably know. The 21st Century Dads foundation is a 501C3 not-for-profit organization, which means we need your help to keep our content free, to all concerned. Would you please consider making a tech suckable donation? I would really appreciate your support.
Would you please share the podcast and post a review on iTunes to help us? Build our audience also remember to subscribe. So you’ll get a reminder when each new episode is produced. Bruce. Thanks again.
Bruce Hearey: Thank you.
Tom Couch: And thank you for listening to the Dad to Dad podcast presented by the Special Fathers Network.
The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs through our personalized matching process. New fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers, go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help, or we’d like to offer help, we would be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com groups and search Dad to Dad. Also, please be sure to register for the Special Fathers Network, biweekly zoom calls held on the first and third Tuesdays of every month.
Lastly, we’re always looking to share interesting stories. If you’d like to share your story or know of a compelling story, please send an email to David@21stcenturydads.org.
Tom Couch: The Dad to Dad podcast was produced by couch audio for the Special Fathers Network. Thanks again to Rubin Law for supporting the Dad to Dad podcast.
Call Rubin Law at (847) 279-7999 and mentioned the Special Fathers Network for a free consultation. Eight four seven two seven nine seven nine nine.