A Life Uncommon
Michelle “Chelle” McIntyre-Brewer ’01 sits on the living room floor of her Jefferson, Md., home, playing with sock monkeys and singing Ten Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed with her three children—Cavan, 10; Lorelei, 6; and JoJo, 4. It’s a rainy January afternoon, and she’s taken a break from the day’s homeschooling to talk about her life and the journey that, two-and-a-half months earlier, transported her to the East Room of the White House and a face-to-face encounter with President Barack Obama.
It’s a journey that can be summed up in a singular interaction with Cavan, as she teases him about his “lady friend,” prompting a smile from his otherwise stoic demeanor.
“I thought dads were supposed to annoy kids about stuff like this,” says Cavan.
“Well, I’m not your typical mom,” replies Chelle.
And that she is not. Most mothers don’t get called to testify before the House Armed Services Committee or the Congressional Military Caucus. Most mothers don’t get random phone calls from around the globe about service members and ill children in need. And most mothers have not turned their own personal tragedies into worldwide outreach programs for those who have no voice.
At just 32 years old, Chelle has experienced more personal loss and challenges than most people face in a lifetime. After giving birth to a perfectly healthy Cavan, Chelle and her husband, Steve, a captain in the U.S. Army, would have never guessed that the joy of carrying twins would turn to inconsolable heartache. Their son, Rory, was stillborn and their daughter, Lorelei, was born with multiple health concerns, including hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a rare congenital heart defect in which the left ventricle is severely underdeveloped. To date, Lorelei has undergone 15 medical procedures for her “half a heart,” including three open-heart surgeries, the first of which was performed at just two days old.
As Lorelei grew, other disorders were discovered—a nervous system disorder that restricts the brain’s ability to filter blood correctly and a seizure disorder that left her suffering from as many as 100 tics per hour. But not even this stopped Chelle from wondering what she could do for others.
As founder of Soldier’s List, Chelle was already juggling management of a support organization for service members and their families, along with the care of Cavan and her critically ill Lorelei, when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. Lorelei had just undergone her second open-heart surgery, as Chelle listened to a news report about a woman whose son’s heart medicine had been washed away in the flood-ravaged waters. “I couldn’t sit by and let nothing happen,” says Chelle.