Garden at Central Baptist College serves as memorial to 11-year-old

By Tammy Keith Published September 20, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Curt Youngblood

The Brittany Parrish Memorial Garden, on the east side of the new academic building, was dedicated Friday. Brittany, 11, died Nov. 3, 1992, after accidentally ingesting a balloon. Gathered at the plaque dedicated to Brittany are, from the left, her father, Donny Parrish; sister, Samantha; and mother, Datha. Donny is CBC’s coordinator of spiritual life.

— Brittany Parrish was just 11 years old in 1992, but she and her best friend dreamed of going to Central Baptist College and rooming together.

Brittany died on Nov. 3, 1992, at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, two days after accidentally swallowing a balloon.

Her parents, Donny and Datha Parrish of Conway, said they were overwhelmed with an outpouring of love and support.

Now, they’re overwhelmed again.

The Brittany Parrish Memorial Garden is on the east side of the new David T. Watkins Academic Building at CBC, which held an open house Friday for the new building.

“We were honored and blown away,” Donny said.

The Parrishes moved to Conway in January from Texas, where Donny worked for a Dallas church. He is chief creative officer for Lifeword Media Ministries in Conway and coordinator of spiritual life at CBC.

In 1992, the family lived in Bryant. Donny worked full time at Lifeword and part time at Antioch Baptist Church in Conway.

Donny said the family, including Brittany’s 3-year-old sister, Samantha, had gone to church and were “hanging out” at Lifeword between the morning and evening services.

He was watching NFL football, and Datha said she was about to take a nap.

“[Brittany] walked by with a balloon and said, ‘Hey, Dad, I’m going to blow this up for Sam,’” Donny said.

The next thing he knew, his wife was “yelling and screaming,” he said. “Brittany was staggering down the hall. Sam was holding her hand.”

Datha said, “She was holding her throat; she mouthed ‘balloon,’ and I immediately did the Heimlich on her — I’d had two CPR training courses. Nothing I did worked. I told her, ‘Daddy will be here in a minute, just a second.’ I could tell she wasn’t getting air and was scared.”

Donny said he tried “everything in the world” to dislodge the balloon, to no avail, and Brittany passed out.

Paramedics were on the scene within five minutes, he said.

Datha said that by the time the ambulance reached Conway Regional Medical Center, the paramedics had removed the balloon.

“It was lodged in her voice box,” Donny said. Brittany had been without oxygen for 15 minutes.

She was transported to Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Doctors had to restart Brittany’s heart, and she was placed in a medically induced coma and was on life support.

Datha said a team of doctors told them there was no hope and that the machines were keeping Brittany alive.

“We had to make the hard decision,” Datha said.

On Nov. 3, Brittany’s blood pressure dropped, and the Parrishes gave permission for their firstborn to be taken off life support.

“I guess there’s tougher things you could go through as a parent, but I don’t know what,” Donny said.

“One minute she’s there — we’d had lunch together on Sunday — the next minute she’s gone,” he said. “There’s a lot of guilt. Why couldn’t I save her?

“It was just a freak accident. If you look on packages on balloons, there are huge warnings. Back then, there wasn’t.”

Because Lifeword is an international ministry, people from all over the world reached out to the Parrishes.

“I do a lot of public speaking, so I have spoken to thousands of people about what has happened to us,” he said.

He talks about the “spiritual realm,” Donny said. “I do believe we’ll see Brittany again. I led her to the Lord. She accepted him.

“It’s still the heartbreaker of our lives. She was really outgoing and just a precious kid. She never met a mirror she didn’t like. She liked to primp, very girlie.

“Our house has always been filled with music and arts. She was a good singer, a good musician.”

Brittany was “fun loving,” Datha said, “and she liked to be up in the middle of all the youth activities that were going on. She had an effervescent smile.

“She was one of those kids that she didn’t like to see anybody in trouble or down. … I know on several occasions she’d said, ‘I sat with so-and-so today because they didn’t have anyone sitting with them, and I felt sorry for them.’

“You just wonder, anytime there’s a wedding or graduation, what would my child look like, what would they have done? When your child goes off to college, you feel that ache, but when they die, you just know you can’t call them on the phone, send them a text message. For us that are saved, it’s not a final thing, but it’s hard to live with on a daily basis because you want to be with them.”

Datha said Martin Jameson, the father of Brittany’s best friend, Jessica, with whom Brittany planned to room at CBC, now teaches Bible full time at the college.

“It’s just funny how things work out and God worked things out,” Datha said.

Jameson, who was an adjunct teacher at CBC in the early ’90s, said Jessica, 31, attended CBC for several semesters before getting married to a pastor. The couple live in El Dorado.

“Brittany was so much a combination of both of her parents; she was a great blend of them,” Jameson said. “She had a super personality, very outgoing, very talkative; she was just a joy. My daughter and her were a great team, and they couldn’t wait to get to CBC and be roommates.”

Brittany’s sister, Samantha, is touring with the Dallas Children’s Theater.

A Brittany Parrish Memorial Endowed Scholarship was established at CBC a few years ago, Datha said.

CBC President Terry Kimbrow, a friend of Donny’s, came up with the idea for the garden at the new academic building.

The fundraising goal for the garden is $50,000, and $31,800 has been raised.

The seed money — $15,000 — was given by the 2011 National Senior Adult Conference, and the 2012 student conference, called SOAR, raised $7,000.

“He’s one of my best friends,” Kimbrow said of Donny. “He’s a leader in our national work and has done a lot for every department.”

Kimbrow called the Parrishes to tell them about the memorial.

“I just cried,” Datha said, “because it was such a special thing to me that Brittany would be memorialized in that way, and you want them to remember your child. We were just so honored that Brittany would be remembered in that way, and it was such a sweet and special thing, a garden.”

The garden has rose bushes, daylilies, azaleas and more, as well as seating.

The site includes a plaque with Brittany’s photo, dedicating the garden “as a tribute to Brittany and as a testament of love and appreciation to her family.”

“In a way, Brittany made it to CBC,” Donny said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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