Note: Michael Hichborn is the director of American Life League’s Defend the Faith project.
July 3, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - June 29th was our 10th wedding anniversary, and as my wife Alyssa and I drove home, the intense storm and downed trees that met us along the way reminded us of the intense drama of just 17 months ago.
In December of 2010, Alyssa was eight months pregnant with our fourth child. One quiet evening, as we were cleaning up after dinner, our 5-year-old daughter, Sonya, was practicing writing her letters. As we were discussing names for the new baby, Sonya would interrupt by handing Alyssa a sheet of paper filled with scribbled letters and ask, “What does this say, Mommy.” She had been doing this for weeks, and normally the letters spelled nothing more than “pbthfsa,” or some such nonsense. But on this particular evening, what she handed my wife was “Elia.” We thought it sounded like a name, and suggested that perhaps if it held some meaning, we might consider naming the baby “Elia.” Little did we know how prophetic this event would soon become.
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On January 27th, our new little girl made her grand entrance into the world. With a healthy new baby, and a wonderful home-birth experience, we could never have suspected what was about to happen. Less than 36 hours after delivery, Alyssa woke me up, screaming in agony with intense pains in her lower right back. Of course, we thought it was nothing more than post-delivery spasms, so I did everything I could to make her comfortable, and stayed up most of the night tending to her and helping her as much as I was able. That morning, I called the midwives to ask them to see her, and when they arrived, they told me that something was wrong and I needed to take her to the emergency room.
On this day, everything seemed to go from bad to worse. When we arrived at the emergency room, the triage nurse attempted to take her vitals, but couldn’t get her blood pressure. Needless to say, it was a matter of minutes before they set her up in a room, and then whisked her away for an MRI. As I nervously waited to hear from a doctor what was wrong, I called for a priest to come anoint her. When he arrived, I saw my first miracle that day.
When Alyssa came back from the MRI, her vital signs continued to crash. Her blood pressure was dropping, her temperature was falling, her heart rate was rapidly increasing, and her color was draining. The on-duty doctor, who was overly perky and lacking in answers, finally told me that they detected a lot of blood around her kidney and her bladder, but couldn’t find the cause. And while Dr. Perky was attempting to explain the possibilities to me, Fr. Bresnahan came into the room, and gave Alyssa the Church’s sacrament for the sick and dying, and then Holy Communion. From that moment on, though the situation got much worse, I never saw her vitals dip below where they were. I am thoroughly convinced that our Blessed Lord, through the ministry of His Holy Church, preserved her life though these powerful sacraments.
Shortly after her anointing, a specialist introduced himself to me, and explained that Alyssa had a ruptured aneurysm in her kidney. We discussed options, and he suggested an arthroscopic procedure that would effectively seal the artery going into her kidney. She was going to lose the kidney whether they took it out, or sealed the artery, so I agreed to go along with the less traumatic approach.
By this point, family and friends had put out the call to prayer, which had reached thousands of people across the country. E-mail prayer chains through our Christendom College alumni association, Facebook posts, and a network of family and friend e-mail chains had reached every state in the country, several convents, and countless priests.
Alyssa was scheduled for surgery at around 4:00, which meant I would have about an hour to run to the house, check on the kids, take a shower, and pick up some supplies. When I got back to the hospital, I got a call from the doctor that there were some unforeseen complications. My heart sank into the pit of my stomach and the blood drained from my face as he explained that she suffered a sudden vascular spasm, which prevented them from completing the procedure, and from removing the arthroscopic line they ran through an artery in her leg. I asked him what this meant, and he said that they hadn’t stopped the internal bleeding, and were concerned that she now might lose her leg.
All of a sudden, I was all alone in a room full of people. The doctors were doing what they could, but no amount of sympathy from family or friends could fill the massive void growing in my heart. My children were unaware that anything was wrong, and all I could think of was how I would have to go home to tell them that Mommy isn’t ever coming home again. I locked myself in a bathroom for a few minutes and wept. And then I prayed. I prayed like I had never prayed in my life. On my knees, I thought of Christ’s passion. As I remembered Jesus’ words, “I make all things new,” I begged him to make my wife new.
When I saw Alyssa again after the failed procedure, she never complained, but only apologized for how much she had inconvenienced me. She told me about the pain she was in, but also how she thought of so many people that were suffering worse than she was. She told me about someone she knew who was suffering terribly, and said that she would offer her suffering up for that woman. Selfishly, I wished I could trade places with Alyssa because the pain in my heart was unbearable.
As the day waned on, her condition continued to deteriorate. I consulted with the surgeon, and we decided that he had to go in to remove the kidney. I walked my wife to the operating room and gave her a kiss. I really didn’t have anything to say, but to tell her that I loved her, and she chastised me for “doing that thing again.” I asked her what she meant, and she said, “you know, that thing where you worry so much when you know that everything will go according to God’s plan.” I gave her another kiss, they wheeled her into the operating room, and I sank to my knees.
For what seemed like an eternity, family and friends joined me in the waiting room, where we prayed the Rosary on our knees. About half-way through the Sorrowful mysteries, a hospital chaplain came in to see me. He assured me that he had no news of the operation, but was only there to talk or pray with me. I told him that we were praying a Rosary, and though he was a protestant chaplain, he joined us on our knees, reciting the Lord’s Prayer and the end of every decade.
Fourteen units of blood, a removed kidney, and the longest two hours of my life later, and the doctor entered the waiting room to tell me that the operation was a success, and all of her vitals had returned to normal. He couldn’t account for the success of the operation because when he looked, he said her kidney had completely dissolved. Instantly, the room filled with a celebration of tears, hugs, and smiles. A second miracle had occurred.
But the most remarkable thing about this ordeal comes back to our new baby’s name. For each of our children, we chose names with strong Catholic significance. Brendan Xavier after the great navigator saint, and the powerful Jesuit missionary; Sonya Elaine, whose two names mean wisdom and light; Sebastian Alexander, after two great martyrs, one a soldier and the other a pope. We had settled on our baby’s first name, Tatiana, after the Russian patroness of students, but still wondered about her middle name. But her middle name had to be Elia, because when we looked it up that night in December, we found that it was a Hebrew word which means, “God has answered.” God had answered, indeed.