Emerson suffered from a severe heart defect that was discovered 23 weeks into her mother's pregnancy. Her parents, Jason and Susan Smith, traveled from their home in Clemson, S.C., to Charleston for Emerson's birth. She was born at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, where she underwent surgery at four days old.
"She did fantastic," her dad said. "She started thriving."
During the two and a half months Emerson lived in the hospital, Jason and Susan fell in love with their little girl. Time and time again, they saw God open doors and provide exactly what they needed.
Jason said one of the many heaven-sent gifts came in the form of a $10,000 piece of medical equipment. His daughter wasn't doing well on formula but couldn't drink breast milk because of the fat in it. There was a machine that could remove the fat, but the hospital didn't have one.
"We posted a request for funding and had $10,000 in less than 24 hours, simply because of how God used Emerson," Jason said. With the new equipment, Emerson thrived.
A local ministry provided them with moral support and provided for their practical needs, including helping them find a place to live while in Charleston.
"During the time we were there, we were given so much," Jason said.
Though Emerson had been doing well, on June 26, 2011, she aspirated and died.
"There are no words ... how devastated we were," Susan said.
Despite their grief, the Smiths were able to look past their own needs. "God put so many people in our path," Susan said. "I think, through our mourning, we felt better able to help others. This whole experience completely changed us.
"It's not about us -- it's not about buying a new car or a new outfit -- it's about helping people in need, and it sort of became addictive."
Just six weeks after Emerson Rose's death, a foundation was established in her name to provide support for families of babies with heart defects, to fund research and purchase life-saving equipment. The Smiths said they barely had the website up when an accountant friend agreed to do the paperwork, and another set up a golf tournament to raise extra support.
The Smiths, members of First Baptist Church in Salem, S.C., said when they look back over the past few years, they can see clearly how God has set them up to do exactly what they are doing. They were able to attain financial freedom as the result of a business transaction several years ago, so both were able spend a lot of time in Charleston. Also, Jason works in real estate from home, which he is able to do whether he is in Clemson or at the couple's rental home in Charleston, where they now spend a lot of time working for the foundation.
"God changed my whole perception of things," Jason said. "I said , 'She's yours, and I pray that you use her to further your kingdom.'"
The foundation's latest project is to purchase pulse oximeter machines for hospitals so newborns can be tested for heart defects before being sent home. The Smiths are also working toward legislation that would require all South Carolina hospitals to use oximeters to test newborns.
"We feel blessed that God is using Emerson to save babies," Jason said. "We still cry, but we smile more than we cry. We're just amazed at where God has taken us in a little over a year."
The Smiths said they are forever changed because of their experience, and for the most part, those changes have been positive. They still hope to have children and have applied to adopt a child from Russia.
"There's nothing anybody can do to us, because God's got us," Jason said. "Blessings have come through the deepest sorrow. The joy has far exceeded the pain."
This article was published in the Baptist Courier (baptistcourier.com), newsjournal of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. Laura Stokes is a freelance writer for the Baptist Courier. The Emerson Rose Foundation is on the Web at www.emersonroseheartfoundation.org.
Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net