This past September, The Telegraph told the miraculous story of Emilia Grabarczyk, who is believed to be the smallest baby to ever survive at 25 weeks. At her early birth, she weighed just eight ounces. At 9 months old, she weighed 7 pounds 2 ounces. Emilia joins other “miracle babies” that inspire their medical caregivers and parents alike.
Registered Nurse Beth Pashke is a neonatal discharge coordinator at Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah, Georgia. “I was introduced to the NICU [Neonatal Intensive Care Unit] many years ago when I floated from the mother/baby unit,” Pashke, a practicing Catholic, recounted. “I found the science of caring for premature infants fascinating. It is constantly changing, thus improving the care we can provide. Babies who survive now may not have been able to survive 10-15 years ago.”
Nurturing Vulnerable Lives
“I have seen miraculous recoveries,” corroborated Dr. Matthew Harrison, hospitalist in Mount Pleasant, North Carolina, and also a practicing Catholic.
“Advances in medicine and technology allow for more attempts to resuscitate and care for these [premature] babies.”
“The babies themselves are vulnerable and are someone’s child,” noted Pashke. “I love helping parents learn how to care for their baby by empowering them with knowledge. It is very rewarding to see a family who doubted their ability go home, feeling confident that they are prepared and can provide the care their [baby] requires.”
“My water fully ruptured at 24 weeks; and when we arrived at the hospital, they [the staff] told us Luke’s chances of arriving were incredibly high and that, considering his gestational age, his chances [of surviving] were very slim,” explained Jenna Weaker, a stay-at-home mother of two in Santa Clarita, California.
“They decided to do an emergency C-section at 8am,” Weaker recalled. “After Luke was born, he was whisked off to the NICU and [not until] the evening did a nurse show up in my recovery room, in tears, saying that it was time for me to go see Luke. I found my husband, Jeff, also in tears in the NICU, and we were told that there was nothing more they could do and that Luke was not going to make it.”
The Weakers were brought into the NICU to touch and talk to Luke. They called their parish priest, who rushed to the hospital and baptized him before the Weakers requested Luke’s transfer to UCLA for further treatment, something the hospital staff deemed unlikely to help.
“Luke was airlifted from Burbank to the UCLA NICU and received their nitric treatment for hypoplastic lungs, a result of oxygen deprivation for hours while we were at the first hospital,” Weaker continued. But Luke responded very well to the treatment. “He had a few brain bleeds that thankfully cleared up on their own,” said Weaker. “Luke spent about two months in the NICU and was on oxygen for nine months. He is truly our little miracle.”
Faith in the Dark Valleys
The Weakers admit that their Catholic faith helped pull them through the dreadful experience of Luke’s premature birth and early struggles.
“We had placed a medal of St. John Paul II (then Blessed John Paul II) in his isolette (formerly known as an incubator) at the hospital and credit Luke’s amazing recovery largely to his intercession,” Weaker described. Much to the Weakers’ excitement, St. John Paul II was later canonized on Luke’s birthday. His parents also relied heavily on prayer — their own prayers and the prayers of many others — during their hospital stay with Luke. “I can’t even articulate the way we physically felt those prayers wrap us in comfort and strength,” his mother said.
It’s not only parents who turn to faith and prayer for these tiny and vulnerable infants, but their doctors and nurses, as well.
“I pray every day on the way to work, and I pray with patients, if they ask for it or if I sense they want it,” Harrison remarked. “I know this helps the doctor-patient relationship and also helps us all realize that we are just instruments to be used in the healing process. My biggest prayer is often that I do not get in God’s way of healing.”
From Surviving to Thriving
“[Premature] babies are most vulnerable to conditions such as cerebral palsy, developmental delays or lung disease,” said Pashke, but “I have seen babies as young as 23-weeks gestation (compared to the normal gestational period of 40 weeks) survive without any problems.”
As medical professionals and parents admit, miracles are happening as God blesses these small babies. “One 23-weeker was born while his parents were on vacation. He had many, many ups and downs, and there were times when he almost died,” Pashke remembered. “He spent three to four months in the hospital, and his parents stayed nearby. I saw him about a year ago. He is now 6 years old and doing great.”
Luke Weaker is also now a thriving 6-year-old. “Thankfully, Luke has had no real cognitive or academic delays,” his mother stated. “He is still on the tiny side (which we attribute to genetics) and has some residual lung, breathing and allergy and asthma issues that we control through medication, but you could never tell what he went through!
“Luke’s birth and recovery also gave us a firsthand experience of how the tiniest of lives can affect people. We sometimes wonder why God chose to give us such a wonderful miracle, allowing us to see the power of prayer and the graces you receive when you walk through dark and hard times. Our faith and appreciation of life have grown in ways we never imagined.”
Katie Warner writes from Florida. Her website is CatholicKatie.com.