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The littlest spaceman: a story of family

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Isaac James Cooper, born in February, opens his eyes inside a neonatal care unit.

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Memorial contributions for Isaac and Lucas Cooper may sent to the Nooga Diversity Center, P.O. Box 4072, Chattanooga, TN 37405, and will be used to build a brick and mortar Nooga Diversity Center to further its mission of equality, diversity and love.

How can someone so perilously small also be so radiantly huge?

When Isaac James Cooper was born eight months ago, the scales barely moved: 1 pound, 8 ounces, 11 inches long.

Swaddled inside the neonatal intensive care unit at Children's Hospital at Erlanger, Isaac weighed about as much as two adult-sized human hearts. Staring down at him — their two hearts shaking in awe, fear and maternal love — were his parents, Krista and Kat Cooper.

"He's beautiful," Kat whispered.

It was just after Valentine's Day. Kat, 34, and Krista, 29, had tried for years to get pregnant. Back in the fall, the doctors had good news: the fertility treatments worked. Really worked. Krista was carrying twins!

Yet a few months into the pregnancy, complications led to an emergency C-section. Isaac and twin brother Lucas were born three-and-a-half months early.

Lucas, 13 inches long, weighed 1 pound, 9 ounces. His five fingers, less than an inch wide. His unformed intestines leaked toxins; his brain bled.

Five days after being born, Lucas Hunt Cooper, named after his grandfather, died.

Yet Isaac?

He lived. At night, Krista and Kat would dream of holding their sons. Of rocking them, mother skin against child, as the stars climbed high into the night. They called Isaac, barely 2 pounds, their little spaceman, their little warrior.

Isaac grew. He opened his baby blues. Wisps of dirty blonde hair appeared. Grew to 3 pounds, then 5. He'd ball up his little fist, shaking it like some NICU protester. Scrunch his five fingers around Krista's pinky. The little spaceman never gave up.

Along the way, Isaac became more than just Krista and Kat's premature baby.

He became the adopted son of a community.

Kat's widely known as the Collegedale detective who fought for domestic partner benefits before gay marriage was legal, and as founder of the Nooga Diversity Center. Most days, as she'd post pictures and updates to Facebook, hundreds, if not thousands, of people were watching.

Other gay parents. Lesbians. Trans kids kicked out of their homes.

Fellow police officers.

Pediatricians. Nurses. Churchgoers.

Atheists. Activists. Trump-voters. Liberals.

It became a 21st century nativity. Little Isaac quilted together all different sorts of people, peering virtually from near and far into his neonatal bedside, bringing him gifts of love and hope.

Sending love, light and prayers, one reader posted.

And another: So proud of the little man for hanging tough.

And another: Although we never met, Isaac and his story saved my life. 3 months ago, I was at the suicide point. I had logged into Facebook literally to say goodbye. And I saw an update on your little warrior and how strong both of you remarkable women are with him. It made me hold on.

Two Sundays ago, little Isaac couldn't anymore.

After eight months of fighting, four different NICUs and 12 total surgeries, his precious and small body stopped breathing.

As Kat and Krista rocked him for the final time, Isaac died.

The next day, they posted the news on Facebook.

"The hurt of losing a child is suffocating, unbearable, maddening, and beyond heart crushing," Kat wrote. "We have now lost two sons in a matter of 8 months."

In a way, the community did, too.

I have taken his death I believe as hard as if he were my own, someone posted.

And another: I never met Isaac but I loved him as one of my own.

And another: I watched everyday for updates on little spaceman. He became a nephew that I couldn't wait to meet. Isaac has left a mark on so many of our hearts.

And another: I dreamed about little Isaac last night. It felt like an honor, a small state of grace.

As America drowns in the repulsive, three-ring enormity of this election and its candidates, we have in Isaac and Lucas the great reminder that life is often most powerful when it's small. That love and community often conspire in the most unlikeliest of places and people.

That homophobia, bigotry and fear are often defeated by the sweet luminosity glowing inside a swaddled, infant heart.

"Kat would post almost every day, sometimes multiple times," said the Rev. Matt Nevels. "Usually, 600 or 700 people would 'like' the post. The whole community is wrapped in love around that family. It has changed a lot of people's minds from skepticism and homophobic ideas to acceptance, love and support."

Saturday night, Nevels, whose own son died of AIDS and whose daughter recently lost a premature twin, presided over a memorial service for baby Isaac and Lucas. The service, fittingly, was open to the public.

"Isaac taught us to never give up," said Kat. "He exuded the meaning of community, unity, determination, bravery, and, mostly, the power of love."

If you are out there surrounded by a dark night that won't end, and your heart is crushed by the cruelty of the world do not give up. Remember Kat. And Krista. And Lucas.

And Isaac, the littlest spaceman.

The scales barely moved when he was born.

But the world did.

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook at DavidCookTFP.

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