Big hope for little Russell


Community members will soon have the opportunity to support the family of Russell Brafford, a sergeant with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department whose young son has a birth defect. 

On March 9, Stubborn German Brewing Company in Waterloo will be hosting a fundraising event for the Brafford family. 

Russell supervises daily jail operations and oversees jail personnel. 

Russell’s 14-month-old son, who shares his name, has a brain malformation called holoprosencephaly, abbreviated HPE, that can affect facial features and cause other birth defects. 

It is caused by the brain not sufficiently dividing into the double lobes of the cerebral hemispheres. 

Russell and his wife, Jessica, learned of their son’s condition shortly after he was born. 

“The initial reaction was, I don’t even know how to explain it, disbelief,” Jessica said. “Our baby wasn’t even 12 hours old and they’re telling us he’s not going to make it out of the (neonatal intensive care unit).”

Jessica said the prognosis for babies with HPE is poor, with fewer than 1 percent making it to full-term birth like Russell did. 

From there, only 3 percent live to be six months old, and the statistics worsen the older the child gets.

Russell, who has a mild form of HPE that impacts his development and causes feeding intolerance, has already beaten the odds.  

“When we made it to that six-month mark it was a huge accomplishment and now he’s over a year old, so we’re proud of him,” Jessica, a stay-at-home mom, said. 

The family spent the next eight months in the NICU. 

They were able to return home for a couple months after that, but have since been in and out of the hospital about six times for a number of issues. 

They are back in the hospital now for issues unrelated to Russell’s HPE. 

The Braffords, who live in Hecker, went in for another procedure, but baby Russell’s heart rate rose too high so the doctors admitted him to the pediatric intensive care unit. 

While there, Russell fell into septic shock, a widespread infection causing organ failure and dangerously low blood pressure.

That has resulted in him being unable to breathe by himself and being put on a dialysis machine. 

In the few weeks he has been in the PICU, he is moving closer to breathing by himself, but his kidneys are still not working.

“He’s improving a little bit everyday, but it’s just going to be a long process before we know what the outcome will be,” Jessica said.

As the family works toward getting little Russell’s kidneys to wake up, individuals can help by participating in the March 9 fundraiser. 

Stubborn German is donating 50 percent of beer sales to the Braffords from noon-11 p.m that day. There will also be a 50/50 raffle, silent auction and T-shirts for sale. 

From 7-10 p.m., White Stone Revival will provide live music. Snacks will be provided throughout the day. 

The Clothes Line will also be donating a portion of its proceeds that day to the family. 

The fundraiser was organized by friends of the Braffords who have children in pre-kindergarten with one of the two other Brafford children. 

“They’re amazing people,” Jennifer Nolte, one of the fundraiser organizers, said of the Braffords. “They’re just the sweetest people.” 

Nolte had help planning the event from several people, including the Braffords’ extended family and another mother with a child in pre-K, Donielle Grimsley. 

Nolte said the group has had no problems getting help to organize the event. 

“Everybody has been, ‘yes, we want to help. What can we do,’” Nolte said. 

The parents decided on Stubborn German for the venue because they know owners Chris and Tammy Rahn and knew it would be appropriate for any crowd. 

“Who doesn’t like to go out and have a good time?” Nolte asked. “And Stubborn is so family-friendly that we don’t have to worry about the kids.”

All money raised from the event will help cover Russell’s medical bills and related expenses. 

Nolte said there are a few reasons to participate in the fundraiser. 

“With Russ being a sergeant at the jail, he’s out there protecting our town,” she said. “I really just think it boils down to why would you not want to help these people who are so giving anyway? I just don’t understand why wouldn’t you want to help this sweet little boy.”

Jessica said the family appreciates any support. 

“You buy T-shirts and stuff for Elsa (Wiemerslage), Lydia (Boyer) and Camryn (Coughlin)  now, and you never think you’re going to be the recipient of any of that,” she explained.  “It’s just overwhelming that we need to be the recipient of that. I’m excited to see everybody pull together. It’s unfortunate, but it’s so good that everybody in the community is so willing to help out when needed.”

People can also support the family by buying “Little Man, Big Hope” bracelets sold at establishments around Waterloo such as Wicked Smoke. 

To stay up-to-date on Russell and learn more about the fundraiser, follow “Little Man, Big Hope” on Facebook. 

(Russell Bradford’s photo was provided by Studio 156 Photography.)

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