Randy Parker was just three days old when his mother was told to prepare for his death.
Gwen Dixon had given birth to a 3 pound 5 ounce boy, two months early, at Robins Air Force Base Hospital.
His weight dropped to 2 pounds 15 ounces. Doctors gave up hope.
“To live, he has to learn to breathe,” they told her.
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He continually stopped drawing breath in those early days, too premature for his lungs to function instinctively.
She prayed fervently.
“I’ve always called him my miracle baby,” Dixon said Friday. “After I got off my knees, he never stopped breathing again.”
In 1992, Parker had another close call when he was hit by a vehicle while out jogging.
“He has been close to death twice before and by God’s grace, he pulled through,” she said.
Wednesday night, Parker drew his final breath while serving his community.
He led the charge into a burning house and was trapped in debris for at least 30 minutes.
“It’s just heartbreaking. It still doesn’t seem real,” Dixon said.
The family finds comfort in the outpouring of support following the devastating collapse that injured five other firefighters, who frantically tried to get Parker out of what his chief called a “catastrophic environment.”
Lights are shining all over the world in memory of the firefighter who inspired a Facebook page announcing “Lights on for Lt. Randy Parker.”
Although the page designates the event as Feb. 28, people already are posting in support of the Parker family and all Macon-Bibb County firefighters.
“Lights on at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan for Lt. Parker and the entire MBCFD family,” one post stated.
Another shows a flag at half-staff at the Washington Township fire station in New Jersey.
Parker’s widow, Sandie, posted her gratitude Friday morning on Facebook.
She called it an amazing outpouring of love for her and their two sons.
“You all have helped and blessed me more than you know,” the post read.
A family member has started a gofundme campaign for the Fireman Randy Parker Memorial Fund. Contributions can be made at www.gofundme.com.
Funds also have been established through the Macon Fireman’s Credit Union at 899 Oglethorpe St., Macon, GA, 31201, or by calling 478-741-4006.
Donations for a Parker Memorial Fund are also being collected at State Bank locations.
Although Parker faced a number of tragedies during his life, he never let it drag him down, his mother said.
“He’s had a tough life, but he has been such an inspiration,” Dixon said.
Four years after the accident that nearly took his life, Parker’s father died at age 47.
His wife was killed in a car accident four years later, leaving Parker to raise their then 7-year-old son, Andrew.
“Those tragedies make you what you are,” Dixon said. “Those tragedies bring you closer to God.”
She finds comfort in knowing her son had a strong faith.
“My strength is in where he’s at,” she said.
Thinking of her son, in the presence of God in heaven, is what keeps her going.
Parker continues to inspire her.
“He was so optimistic. He loved the Lord,” she said.
The day before he died, he sent her a text message about a T.D. Jakes sermon he wanted her to hear.
Early Friday morning, she listened as the popular evangelist explained “nothing just happens.”
As she struggles in the wake of a tragedy that forever changed her life, Dixon remembers what an inspiring mentor her son was to younger firefighters under his command.
Even his last Facebook post left a lesson for those who are grieving: “Life has many different chapters; one bad chapter doesn’t mean it’s the end of the book.”
His mother finds comfort in some of his final words to her.
“Everything has a reason,” Dixon said he told her while promoting the Jakes message a few days ago. “You know when my heart is heavy, I can hear him saying, ‘Mom, everything happens for a reason.’”
To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.