From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2

The Miracle Baby

Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1

He was born six and a half weeks prematurely on a hot, August day in 1967 and was quickly whisked away to a waiting incubator. At a mere four pounds, eleven ounces, and looking like a partially inflated doll, he was still the most beautiful baby she had ever seen.

The baby’s father, Dr. Carter,* tried to tell his wife, Donna, not to expect too much—their baby was severely jaundiced. More than anything in the world, he had wanted to tell her their little baby was just fine, especially after three miscarriages, and all the sadness they’d felt and tears they shed. But their baby wasn’t fine.

In spite of all his medical training and experience, Dr. Carter choked on the words. But he knew he’d have to tell her that the baby they had wanted so badly for years was probably not going to live—maybe forty-eight hours at the most. He had to prepare her for what was to come.

She immediately named the baby Jeffrey, after her husband. As the baby’s jaundice grew worse, fellow physicians came by to console them. They shook their heads and tried their best to offer some encouragement. But they knew the odds were not good. Even if he lived, unless little Jeffrey’s liver began functioning soon, the jaundice would produce permanent brain damage.

Donna told everyone he was going to be all right. She knew her baby was going to live. The nurses felt sorry for her since her baby was probably going to die anyway, and so they let her hold him. When she touched his tiny, fragile body and whispered that he was going to grow up to be a strong, healthy man, little Jeffrey smiled. She told the nurses what had happened, and they looked at her sadly and said that babies have involuntary smiles and she needed rest. They did not have the heart to tell her more.

The extended family discussed burial arrangements with her husband and the parish priest. They finally came in to speak with Donna. She started crying and asked everyone to leave the hospital room. Her baby was not going to be buried. He was going to go home, jaundiced or not. She would not even think of burial!

At sixty-two hours, the baby’s blood count was checked again. The jaundice was considerably better! Little Jeffrey began eating every two hours. Donna asked to hold him as much as possible, and she talked to him. Since he didn’t need oxygen, the nurses humored her. At the next check, the count had dropped another two points. Donna began planning his homecoming party.

Jeffrey did go home almost three weeks after birth. That, however, was not the end of the story.

Six weeks later, at his first checkup, the pediatrician told Donna he thought the baby was possibly blind or had eye damage. She said this was nonsense since he followed her with his eyes. After a few tests, it proved to be a false scare. Yet, the first year, the baby did not do much. He had routine checkups, but Donna knew he seemed far behind in his development. Had he suffered severe brain damage from the jaundice?

At thirteen months Jeffrey suddenly had a small seizure. They rushed him to the hospital, and he was diagnosed with a possible brain tumor. After several tests and X rays the neurologist said Jeffrey was hydrocephalic (water on the brain), and they would have to operate immediately to put a permanent shunt inside his head. At this time, a shunt operation was still rather experimental. It was the only procedure known to keep these children alive.

Once again, Donna did not fully accept the diagnosis. If he was hydrocephalic, why did it just now develop? Her friends told her she was in denial. She’d better listen to the doctors.

Of course, she would do whatever was necessary to help her son, but she also made her own plan of action. Three days before the operation, she called everyone she knew in several states and asked them to pray at 7:00 P.M. each night before the operation. She asked them to ask others to join them if they could.

When the operation day arrived, she felt calm. Friends in seven states had been praying for their son. Later, to her astonishment she learned that her friends had called people, who then called other people, and that ultimately hundreds of people had been gathered to pray at 7:00 P.M. on three successive nights. Even a group of people in Israel were among those praying! And all for a tiny child none of them even knew!

The operation started very early. Donna and her husband paced the floors of the hospital. After what seemed only a short time, the neurosurgeon came running out, wildly waving X rays. He was grinning from ear to ear. “It’s a miracle! We didn’t have to do anything. We did the last test through the baby’s soft spot, and there was nothing there. He is not hydrocephalic!”

They all started to cry and laugh at the same time. The neurosurgeon said he did not know what to think. He had no explanation for it.

So Jeffrey came home once again to a jubilant crowd of friends and family. All the people who prayed for him were notified of the results and thanked for their prayers. He never had another seizure again.

Still, according to everyone else’s timetable, his development was very slow. At Jeffrey’s three-year pediatric checkup, the doctor looked sternly at Donna and asked if she and her husband had given thought to institutionalizing him. Donna was stunned. Institutionalize him? How could anyone do that? She refused, and it was never discussed again.

Instead, Donna set up the family basement playroom like a Montessori school. Jeffrey wasn’t really learning language so she worked with him by engaging learning techniques that involved all his senses—sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing. Donna believed Jeffrey was normal and just didn’t follow other people’s timetables.

She taught him colors using M&Ms. He quickly learned the names of colors and of other things, too. And, while not speaking much more than a few words here and there until he was three and a half years old, his first full sentence was “Pass the ketchup!” He progressed quickly when he learned anything new—not little by little as his sister did, but in giant spurts, all-at-once kind of steps. This became a pattern in his life.

When Jeffrey was four, Donna wanted him to go to real preschool just like his sister. The first year he played with the water fountain—all year. He turned the water off and on, endlessly. The teachers said it was a waste of money to send him to school. He would be better off in “special school.” They said he was “slow,” and one teacher in exasperation said that Jeffrey was retarded and she ought to know—she’d been teaching for twenty-five years!

Donna remained firm. Would they mind as long as she was paying for it, to keep him another year? They reluctantly agreed but only if he was not allowed to play with the water fountain. She agreed to the terms.

The next fall he began preschool again. This time he began building intricate architectural structures. He also began examining all the plastic dinosaurs and knew their names, classifying them by types. He found new interests in doing the math blocks, talking and asking question after question after question. He was more social and didn’t play with the water fountain. The teachers couldn’t believe it. He actually seemed bright!

However, at his pediatric checkup, his new doctor said he thought Jeffrey needed testing. He felt he had developmental delays. After testing, the pediatrician, who is now distinguished nationally in his field, said Jeffrey was autistic. Donna decided she’d had enough! Since birth, Jeffrey had been “diagnosed” as possibly (1) blind, (2) hydrocephalic, (3) epileptic, (4) retarded and now finally (5) autistic. If she and her husband had listened to experts, well-meaning friends and even some family members, Jeffrey would be in an institution. Donna was polite but said that she did not think Jeffrey was autistic at all. He was in preschool and was going to start first grade on time.

Other than being very uncoordinated and not having well-developed motor skills, Jeffrey’s elementary years were not unusual. His learning ability was completely on track. He became an Eagle Scout, an honor student, a presidential scholar in his senior year, won two academic scholarships for college and was in all gifted classes. His SAT scores shocked everyone.

But even this is not the end of the story.

After graduating from college with honors, Jeffrey was encouraged to go to medical school. Donna always told him she had faith that his life had a special purpose and that he was here to help people. After graduating medical school, Jeffrey was accepted at a prestigious clinic for his residency program.

One day, while he was doing a rotation in the emergency room, an older man burst in. He was suicidal and, as a last-ditch effort, one of his friends had brought him in to talk to someone. Jeffrey saw him and asked about his life. The man told him about how sad he was about his recent divorce and being downsized out of a job he had held for years. He felt hopeless, that his life was over and nothing he had done had mattered. Jeffrey talked to him a while and, after giving him some tests, gave him a prescription that would help him for the next few days. Jeffrey also got him approved for a caseworker to follow him up for the next month.

Suddenly the patient looked at the doctor’s badge and said, “Jeffrey Carter? Is your mom’s name Donna?”

Jeffrey answered, “Why, yes. How did you know?”

“You’re the miracle baby! You’re the miracle baby!” the man cried excitedly. “I prayed for you when you were in the hospital, and now you’re a doctor!”

Jeffrey confirmed that he had been born in Minnesota and now he’d returned “home” to complete his medical training.

The old man smiled and just gazed at his new doctor as if examining every inch. Then he told Jeffrey the story.

“Were you really one of the people who prayed for me?” Jeffrey asked him.

“Oh yes, three nights a week at 7:00 P.M. for years. We were only supposed to do it until the operation, but some of us just kept going for a while.”

“You prayed for me all that time?”

As the man nodded, tears began to form in his eyes. Jeffrey reached out to embrace his patient—a man who only hours before had thought of taking his own life because he had lost all faith.

“Thank you, for praying for me . . . for caring about me. You see, I’m here because of you.”

Faith had come full circle for both men.

Ronna Rowlette

*Names have been changed throughout the story to protect privacy.

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