On Monday, January 14, 2013, I prayed for my newborn granddaughter in the chapel at Cardinal Glennon Hospital. I paused at the door to sign the guest register and write the name Eliana Noel in the prayer request space next to my name.
A couple of days earlier, my son called to tell me that their baby had been born. The call was not the call I expected.“Mom,” he said, “we have a baby girl, but it has been a terrible night. She’s 9 pounds, 9 ounces.” I gasped. My daughter-in-law is extremely petite, with a pre-pregnancy weight of about 110 pounds. Candice had just delivered a baby that was about 1/12 of her pre-pregnancy weight.
“The baby was stuck in the birth canal for a very long time. The umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck twice. The doctors finally just pulled her out by her arm. She didn’t have a heartbeat, Mom.” Tears streamed down my face as I listened to my son describe the birth of his first child. “She wasn’t breathing. They worked on her for about 12 minutes, and she didn’t breathe on her own until 13 minutes after delivery. She’s being transferred to Cardinal Glennon Hospital, and they aren’t sure if she’s going to make it.”
He listed the possible scenarios. Paralysis. Cerebral Palsy. Brain damage.
The next day, Eliana had two seizures. For three days, the neurological team said the MRI would show some brain damage.
And that is why, on Monday, January 14, I prayed in the chapel. And I specifically asked for the intercession of Blessed John Paul II. In fact, I had asked everyone I met to pray. Forget pride. I had become a beggar for prayers. I wrote Archbishop Carlson and asked for his prayers. The curia, the seminarians, countless orders of men and women religious, faithful Catholics, priests, and perfect strangers agreed to pray for Eliana. I wrote to Facebook friends and everyone on my LinkedIn list. I asked many of them to lay this petition before Blessed John Paul II.
The rest of my family is Protestant. They, in turn, begged their faith communities to pray. Thousands were storming the heavens.
Eliana means “God answers prayer.” Her parents picked out her name last summer. They prayed throughout the pregnancy that their little girl would give glory to God.
I wrote the name in the guest book that day and turned to leave the chapel. On the wall outside of the chapel, there is a sketch of John Paul II. I paused to study the picture and framed letter hanging beneath it, in which he proclaims, “I want the young boys and girls being taken care of at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital and all sick children everywhere to know that the Pope prays for each one of you.”
My eyes went to the signature at the end of his 1999 letter. I am too new to the Catholic faith to know if signatures are first-class relics, but I didn’t ponder that question for long. I took that letter as a sign that this holy man was praying for my granddaughter.
That was January 14th.
In the evening of January 15, my son called with the results of the MRI. “No brain damage, Mom. The neurologist says there is no sign that her birth caused any loss of brain function. At all. None. Her mind is perfect, and the doctor says that her brain function now depends solely on the DNA she received from us.” And then he laughed while I cried tears of joy.
I had watched these new parents for days. I had seen them pray and watch helplessly at their daughter’s crib. I had seen them cry and cling to each other. At times, the trauma left them almost catatonic.
And now, they knew that God had not only saved their little girl, He had protected her throughout the birth. We have spent the last few days talking to NICU nurses and hearing them read the account of Eliana’s birth which is captured in the pages of her medical records. Veteran nurses have said, “Ask a NICU nurse who has been here 20 years, and she will tell you the same thing. This child is miraculous. We have never seen this happen. Babies just don’t go through what she went through without suffering some brain damage.”
There are still many more hurdles to overcome. There is no presumption on our part that God will heal everything that remains broken, but there is a confidence that He can do it – if He wills it.
I have seen the power of intercessory prayer. I don’t know that this will be a Church-approved miracle that leads to the canonization of Blessed John Paul II, but I do know this: he prayed for Eliana at the Throne in Heaven, and God heard his prayer.