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Resilience: One Airman’s story of faith, service

L to R: Sandra (holding the Rousseaux’s youngest son Gabriel), Jon Rousseaux, Dr. Amy Holder and Maj. (Dr.) Dax Holder. Dr. Amy Holder was one of Joshua’s doctors while he was in the PICU and she was the doctor in the room with the Rousseauxs when Joshua passed away. (Courtesy photo).

Sandra and Gabriel Rousseaux, Senior Master Sgt. Jon Rousseaux, Dr. Amy Holder and Maj. (Dr.) Dax Holder pose for a photo during a fundraising run for ‘Any Baby Can’, a San Antonio-based organization that serves families with children and youth facing serious health or developmental challenges, to raise money for sudden infant death syndrome research. The Rousseauxs lost their son, Joshua, to SIDS in 2010. (Courtesy photo)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)

Senior Master Sgt. Jon Rousseaux was like many children who grew up in a military family. The self-described man of faith and service followed his father, a retired chief, into the Air Force -- and after 19 years, he is still at it. In fact, he just re-enlisted for four more years. Rousseaux’s years of service have strengthened his faith and resiliency, helping him through the most difficult time of his life.

Co-workers describe Rousseaux as a steady, easy-going guy whose steadfastness and determination helped him rapidly ascend the ranks. Everyone agrees that, usually, not much upsets him -- but the events that happened in May 2010 shook him to his core.

Rousseaux said it was a typical day. Wake the kids, make breakfast, and drop his infant son, Joshua, off at day care and older son, Cayden, at school. It was Joshua’s first week in day care. Rousseaux said what happened next was like a surreal nightmare – but it was broad daylight and painfully real.

“I got a call from my wife Sandra that Josh had stopped breathing,” Rousseaux said. “I was on my way to the day care when I got another call telling me to meet the ambulance at the hospital. Nothing can prepare you for the scene of your tiny baby laying on a table with a flurry of doctors trying to stabilize him and not knowing what is happening because everything is happening so fast.”

As Rousseaux recounts the story, Joshua had been put down for a nap but appeared lifeless when daycare workers later attempted to rouse him. Rousseaux and Sandra sat vigil at 4-month-old Joshua’s bedside for two weeks before making the decision on May 23, 2010, to take him off life support when doctors told them Joshua would not recover from his current state.

“Our pain was indescribable, but it was absolutely the right decision,” Rousseaux said. “When the doctors told us what his future quality of life would be like, we knew the kindest thing we could do for Josh was to let him go.”

During those two weeks in the pediatric intensive care unit, doctors concluded that Joshua’s brain had atrophied. After a myriad of tests doctors could not accurately determine exactly what happened to Joshua. Rousseaux said they finally ruled the cause of death as “probable cardiac arrhythmia.” When trying to label the exact cause, they called it sudden infant death syndrome. He said that adding to their turmoil of not really knowing what took Joshua away from them was deciding what to tell his brother.

“Sandra and I went around and around trying to figure out just how to tell him so he would understand why his brother was not coming home,” Rousseaux said. “Since Cayden was only 4 years old, we had to come up with something he could understand on his level.”

Rousseaux said he always made sure that his family had a firm faith-based foundation. He said it was faith that provided a tiny light in the midst of the darkness that descended on his family after Joshua’s death.

“Sandra and I sat down to tell Cayden about Joshua,” Rousseaux said. “He looked up at us with absolutely no hesitation and told us straightaway that Josh didn’t come home with us because Jesus had some work for him to do in heaven and he needed him to come now. He told us Jesus needed Joshua to help him build his house.”

Rousseaux said the faith exhibited by his 4-year-old son gave them strength and helped them with the healing process.

“No amount of training can ever prepare you for such a traumatic event,” Rousseaux said. “However, the resiliency training we receive in the Air Force teaches us to have confidence in our ability to bounce back and to know when to ask for help. My faith teaches me when something negative occurs, while not denying the situation; you must look for something to be redeemed in the midst of the difficulty.”

He said the kindness and small acts of generosity from co-workers, friends, neighbors and their church family meant the world to him and Sandra.

Rousseaux said though the hole left in their hearts can never be filled, they felt their job going forward was to make their hearts bigger than the loss they suffered. Rousseaux explained that they began to look for a way to honor Joshua’s memory.

“We wanted to do something to help others who have gone through the same thing.”

The Rousseauxs started working with a marathon group within ‘Any Baby Can’, a San Antonio-based organization that serves families with children and youth facing serious health or developmental challenges, to raise money for SIDS research. Oddly enough, the group within the organization they collaborated with was called, ‘Jon’s Run.’

“At first, folks thought it was my group since we shared the same first name. Actually Jon’s Run was started by Melissa and David Stevenson in memory of their son Jon who died from SIDS,” Rousseaux said. “Our team is called ‘Joshua’s Warriors.’ For a great many years our team has been the top fundraiser – we’ve raised more than $15,000 for SIDS research.”

Next month, Joshua’s Warriors will participate in their seventh Jon’s Run. They are currently directing the funds toward research on a possible connection between the syndrome and failed early hearing tests, a commonality between Joshua and Jon in early infancy.

“My faith helps me to be a part of something bigger than myself and that’s one of the reasons I was drawn to the Air Force. I wanted to make a difference and to see and learn new things,” he said. “I have learned that when the expectations you set don’t come out how you would want them, don’t despair -- there is always hope and some people will always care and support you. We didn’t let the darkness consume us.”

“We may all stumble or even fall sometimes, but if you keep hope and faith in your heart you can always get up.”

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