Explore Harvard's Nieman network Nieman Fellowships Nieman Lab Nieman Reports Nieman Storyboard

Choosing Thomas

Share Button

Our latest Notable Narrative, Lee Hancock’s “Choosing Thomas,” offers readers a spare account of parents who welcome a baby into the world despite knowing that he will not survive. The two-part serial, which ran last month in The Dallas Morning News, eschews the overwrought language of medical drama for a restrained recounting of family tragedy.

Hancock uses straight chronology for her story, beginning with the ultrasound at which parents T.K. and Deidrea Laux discover their child will have a cleft palate, enlarged kidneys, and many additional problems. They eventually learn those problems result from a genetic condition known as trisomy 13. Hancock wisely divides the piece into two parts: the parents’ prenatal struggles, followed by Thomas’ short life and its legacy.

The focus on Thomas’ death keeps the piece from devolving into the “gee-whiz” highlighting of medical technology that so often occurs at the expense of the story. But the power of this serial narrative owes as much or more to Hancock knowing when to get out of the way and when to make use of her detailed notes. She includes gallows humor from T.K., who makes a joking request for a camouflage casket at the funeral home, months before Thomas’ birth. And then she tells us that the cemetery official agrees to hold the plot until after the birth because Deidrea is not ready to give up. “What if there’s a miracle?” she asks.

Hancock’s interest in the piece began with reporting on palliative care for newborns and adults, not any statement about what choices parents who receive the trisomy diagnosis make. But an interesting moment occurs in the piece when the Lauxes are contacted by a young couple facing a similar situation whose pastor has warned them against abortion. Hancock writes, “Deidrea spent an hour reassuring the husband that people who hadn’t been there couldn’t understand the choice they faced.” Though we all hope never to understand fully, thanks to “Choosing Thomas,” we may just have an inkling.

[Also worth seeing is Sonya Hebert’s extraordinary video focusing just on Thomas’ life. She was present for nearly all of it.]




One trackback

  1. [...] Hebert’s two large-scale efforts to date include a look into adult palliative care at Baylor University and a portrait of a family whose baby lived only five days as a result of a genetic defect. Her video of the baby and his parents pairs beautifully with the print story in “Choosing Thomas,” a multimedia project selected earlier this year as a Notable Narrative. [...]