Beautiful Bella

BOOK PICK: Bella’s Gift


Bella’s Gift

How One Little Girl Transformed Our Family and Inspired a Nation

By Rick Santorum and Karen Santorum, with Elizabeth Santorum

Thomas Nelson, 2015

288 pages, $24.99

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Bella’s Gift is Rick and Karen Santorum’s deeply personal and unvarnished account of their seven-year journey raising Bella, their seventh child, who was diagnosed with the genetic condition Trisomy 18 shortly after birth. To call Bella a miracle child may be an understatement: About 90% of children born with the condition die before their first birthdays, and those who do survive face multiple medical challenges. In their book, the Santorums detail the many life-threatening battles Bella has waged over her short life that began on May 13, 2008, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima.

While Santorum is making a bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Bella’s Gift is not your typical, heavily sanitized candidate tome; it is a look deep into the lives of the Santorums and the many challenges they have faced in caring for their youngest daughter. These travails include multiple life-threatening bouts of illness and more than one rescue by mom Karen, who was trained as a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nurse, occasional disagreements between husband and wife on the best course of treatment for Bella, the daily tasks of keeping life “normal” for a half-dozen other children, and a national presidential campaign, during which Santorum emerged as the primary challenger to eventual Republican nominee Mitt Romney in 2012.

While the love the couple has for one another is evident throughout the book, they are quite bare in recounting past moments of frustration and disagreement. But just as any couple has disagreements, the Santorums overcome their struggles, thanks in large part to their strong Catholic faith.

Writes Karen: “At the beginning, when Rick and I contemplated our futures, we had planned our lives by ‘the rule,’” never anticipating the exception. As I said, ‘I do,’ I thought I knew perfect happiness, I thought I knew love and that I couldn’t love him more, but our love has only deepened and strengthened over time. Therein lies the beauty and the challenge of marriage: You share in both together. What could have torn us apart drew us together, thanks be to God.”

Some of the most moving text includes their reflections on the 1996 death of their son Gabriel, who was born at just over 20-weeks’ gestation. Rick juxtaposes the timing of Gabriel’s loss with his floor management on the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act: “It was no coincidence that I had led the debate on partial-birth abortion a week before this (Gabriel’s) sonogram. It was no coincidence that children with disabilities were being used to justify that procedure. And it was no coincidence that I had mentioned our soon-to-be-born baby as an example of accepting all God’s children into our human family, no matter what their condition.”

Bella’s Gift is an engaging, fast-moving and inspirational love story that would appeal to most any reader, from long-standing supporters of the Santorums to those simply seeking a hope-filled tale of strong marriages and families — and miracle children.

Nick Manetto writes from Herndon, Virginia.