Human Dignity

There is hope

You were right, it’s a girl,” Rich said as he gently placed his hand on my shoulder. Groggy from the anesthesia, I hung on his next words, which would tell the fate of our newborn. “Her heart was not beating when she was born. They were able to do CPR and get it started after ten minutes. She is on life support, but the doctors say she won’t make it.” “At least she’s still alive,” I thought, “at least there is hope.”

Support from family, friends, church members and even some doctors and nurses flooded in. We turned to God, the author of life, for hope, as the nurses prepared to wheel my bed into the special-care nursery to see Therese. Swaddled from neck to toe, ventilator protruding out of her mouth, eyes firmly shut in a coma, the nurse laid her in my arms, for what I was told would be the only time.

The next morning, three solemn doctors laid out our daughter’s prognosis. They told us that it was a good sign that she had survived the night. However, the fact that her organs were not working probably meant intercellular degeneration was occurring, a process by which damaged cells destroy good cells until the organ becomes dysfunctional. The neurologist gave only a shred of hope by saying he had seen some babies in worse condition pull through.

The days that followed proved to be a tumultuous mix of medical improbability and faith-based hope for the impossible. They told us  that if Therese did somehow survive, the odds were that she would be severely handicapped. To our devastation, one nurse said, “It is probably better for her if she didn’t survive then to live in that condition.” Conversely, other nurses said they were praying for a miracle.

Each day we spent most of our time praying with Therese and taking visitors to see and pray with her. Likewise, each day the pediatrician would give us his report on her condition. We came to dread this report because of his pessimism. He did not dwell on the tiny signs of progress, such as the fact that even though she remained in a coma, one by one her organs began to start working. On the contrary, he spoke about her lack of response to stimulus, her having no purposeful movements and only shallow, non-life- sustaining breaths. Only the lower levels of her brain were functioning.

Most disquieting for us were his hints that she was brain dead, and that we would have to face the idea of taking her off the ventilator at some point. Although we were not doctors, we realized that if this was a misdiagnosis it could mean the unnecessary death of our little daughter, a most frightening thought. All things came to a head during the pediatrician’s rounds Monday morning.

That is not bad news, I thought, it’s wonderful! I was so happily surprised at the news that she would live, that I could not even speak.

“You, the neurologist and I will soon need to meet and decide what steps we want to take.” The stern-faced doctor continued, “It would be my suggestion not to prolong her life.” Rich and I were stunned. We spent the rest of the day on the phone consulting experts on brain death so we could fight for Therese’s life.

That afternoon, Rich went with the neurologist on his rounds. As we met with him in our room, Rich took the offensive, pointing out every sign of life. “Did you notice how her eyes opened slightly when you turned her head, and how her little finger twitched?” he asked. “Yes, I noticed,” the doctor replied. “Those are good signs. I believe she will come out of her coma within the next couple of days. Although I cannot tell you at this point exactly what her future will be, the odds are that she will have multiple, severe handicaps.” He went on to explain all that could be wrong and that she would probably have cerebral palsy. “I am sorry for the bad news,” he concluded. That is not bad news, I thought, it’s wonderful! I was so happily surprised at the news that she would live, that I could not even speak.

“Thank you doctor,” Rich said. “We are grateful for her life and believe it is valuable no matter what her condition.” Shortly after he left, his prediction came true. Therese opened her eyes for the first time in her short life. They were big, beautiful blue eyes. We were overjoyed for that moment which we had been told not to expect, and grateful that God had given us the grace to not give up hope.

Now one year old, Therese has numerous handicaps and health problems. Doctors constantly tell us that her damaged brain will not develop and thus she will never be able to do the normal things of life. However, we are not about to write her off. It is evident that God has a plan; too many people have been touched by her life for that not to be true. We don’t know whether that plan is for her to be healed, or for Him to be glorified through her weakness.   What we do know is that she has made tremendous progress already, and all that comes from God, the author of life, is good.

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About the author

Laura Scanlon

Laura Scanlon lives in Avon, Minn. and is former Crossroads participants.