Ever since Sarah Palin was picked as John McCain’s running mate, babies with “special needs” suddenly took center stage in the headlines. Much has been written about her decision not to abort a baby with Down syndrome. Some believe she shouldn’t have brought a special needs child into the world. Others believe she and husband Todd made the right choice. Regardless of your political leanings, I thought I’d add some perspective on the value of every human life.
A couple of weeks ago our niece, Cassandra, came to town for a visit. Two years ago, she and her husband Shawn experienced an incredibly difficult series of events surrounding the birth of their son Ethan. Here’s the first part of Cassandra’s dramatic story. Ethan was born a little after midnight. After Shawn cut the umbilical cord, a nurse handed Ethan to his mother. Cassandra’s heart swelled with pride as she cradled her newborn for the first time. Her joy was short lived. Almost immediately Cassandra sensed something wasn’t right; Ethan was struggling to breathe. Within moments, the nurses rushed Ethan away with no explanation.
Hours later, about 5:30 a.m., Cassandra and Shawn were told that their baby needed to be transferred to Arnold Palmer Hospital in Orlando via helicopter to be intubated–something their small town hospital in Vero, Florida didn’t do. The initial prognosis was that Ethan had a respiratory complication. When Shawn and Cassandra were finally permitted to see Ethan, they couldn’t believe the scene unfolding before their eyes. Ethan, still fighting to breathe, was strapped to a pint-sized bed in order to keep him still. His tiny wrists and legs were bruised and bloody from a series of IV’s attached to his body. After a brief visit, Ethan was again whisked away.
At 8 o’clock in the morning, less then 8 hours after giving birth, Cassandra was released and out of the hospital. She and Shawn rushed several hours north to Orlando. A social worker took them to see Ethan. Although he appeared calmer, he had more medicine lines and various things attached to his body than they thought was possible.
Numb with disbelief at the surreal scene before them, Cassandra and Shawn were pulled aside for an update. The cardiologist, the social worker, and the Chaplin huddled around them as they were told, “Your son has congenital heart disease. He needs immediate surgery. Our surgeon is on vacation. We have a flight team coming from Miami Children’s Hospital. We do not expect him to make the flight.”
The news hit Shawn and Cassandra like a flood. Waves of devastation and disbelief washed over them as they attempted to make sense out of the news. Keep in mind there was no indication during her pregnancy that anything was developmentally wrong with the baby in her womb. During her prenatal checkups the doctor would say, “his heartbeat is strong.” They had no advance warning that something this severe was going on with their son.
You can imagine the shock they had to deal with upon hearing that news. Two hours later, the flight team arrived, prepared Ethan for flight, and then took him away. Shawn and Cassandra followed the flight medics to the helicopter pad. Standing at a safe distance, recognizing the fact that Ethan might die during flight, they whispered prayers for their newborn boy as he headed to the third hospital in the first day of his life.
After Ethan was airborne, Cassandra and Shawn got into their truck and started the lonely two hour drive back home. Words escaped them, but their tears spoke volumes. Listening to worship music as they drove, they wrestled with the question, “What was going on? How could this happen? What was God doing? Would their baby live or die?”
Tomorrow I’ll share with you the rest of their story!