PHOENIX, AZ, October 4, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Midnight contraction pains signaled to Melanie Pritchard that labor was beginning. If all went well, her baby would have a birth date on July 28th, 2010. Melanie phoned her mother to say that her husband Doug was taking her to the hospital.
That phone call was the last event that Melanie remembers, the beginning of a 3-day dramatic ordeal that nearly took her life and the life of her unborn child.
Pritchard, aged 34, is a nationally renowned Catholic defender of the unborn and a speaker on modesty and chastity. Her work with Arizona’s pro-life and pro-family organizations has been described as “legendary.”
She and her husband Doug reached the hospital in the dark early hours of the morning. Labor was progressing steadily and normally. She requested an epidural to help cope with the pain. As the sun rose, contractions began to increase and the doctor broke her waters.
Then the unthinkable happened.
At the brink of death
Melanie indicated to her husband that she felt like something was wrong. She told Doug that she felt like passing out. The nurses repositioned her in an attempt to determine the cause of her lightheadedness even though her vital signs did not indicate that anything was amiss.
Suddenly, Melanie slumped to her side convulsing mildly. Her heart rate and blood pressure flatlined. To Doug’s horror he also saw his unborn child’s heart rate plummet precipitously. As Melanie’s face and skin turned blue, Doug realized that her heart had stopped beating.
A team of doctors and nurses rushed Melanie to the operating room in an attempt to save the baby’s life with a cesarean section.
Doug hastily made some anguished phone calls to family and friends beseeching them for prayers for Melanie and the baby. A friend of the Pritchard family, Mark Henry from Catholic Online, heard of Melanie’s plight and sent out the word to Catholic media groups that a young mother needed divine assistance in the battle for her life.
Immaculate Heart Radio, St. Joseph Communications, LifeSiteNews, and many other media outlets responded to the plea, immediately sending out the prayer request through internet or radio.
“Very quickly news of Melanie’s critical condition spread like a digital wildfire with ‘prayer for Melanie’ requests now going viral online. The pray-it-forward juggernaught to save Melanie had begun in earnest,” said Henry.
“People were literally coming out of the woodwork to pray for her, even if they didn’t know her,” said Kari Holt, Melanie’s sister.
People who had not entered a church for years found themselves compelled to go in and pray for the young mother in need.
“It burst forth through Catholic radio, across parishes, and into convents, rectories, seminaries, and schools; it lit up Facebook, Twitter…it found its way to people like me, those who had never heard of Melanie before then,” says Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid in the forward to Melanie’s book about her near death experience.
Within a 15-hour period, an estimated 150,000 people were praying for Melanie. Melanie was the number one Googled person in Arizona, her home state, that day. She was top 10 on Twitter worldwide.
Zero percent chance of survival
The successful cesarean operation brought into the world a healthy girl with blonde hair and blue eyes. Doug named her Gabriella, or Ella for short. Melanie had now been clinically dead for 10 minutes. She was given CPR and shocked 4 times with a defibrillator before the medical team managed to resuscitate her.
The doctors told Doug that Melanie had suffered an amniotic fluid embolism. Amniotic fluid had escaped from her womb, traveled into her bloodstream, and caused a cardiac arrest when it reached her heart. She also suffered massive internal bleeding from the cesarean operation, losing five liters of blood. The doctors also worried about possible neurologic injury because she had been without oxygen for so long.
With her catastrophic hemorrhaging, three back-to-back emergency major surgeries, heart and lung failure, and possible brain damage, the odds were overwhelmingly stacked against Melanie.
The doctors gave her a zero percent chance of survival.
Doug was told to say “goodbye” to the love of his life.
“I love you. I will always love you. Brady and Ella [son and newborn daughter] are beautiful and love you. If you have any fight left, then fight … Promise me that you will follow your guardian angel wherever he leads you. Where he leads you will be where God needs you.”
Meanwhile, from around the world believers in the power of prayer stormed heaven for a miracle.
Doctors say that what happened in the next 24 hours defies medical explanation. Melanie suddenly began to breathe on her own. She was weaned off all medications except those for pain. And then, to the astonishment of all, she began to talk.
Melanie cried when Doug helped her to hold newborn Ella for the first time, just 48 hours after the cesarean birth. And to the wonder of all, Melanie was discharged from the hospital just 6 days after the ordeal had begun.
The greatest miracle of all
Though there was still a long road of recovery before her, leaving the hospital alive was an astonishing accomplishment for the woman for whom doctors had said there was no hope.
For Melanie, however, her survival is not even the most astonishing part of the story. “When I woke up from death I thought to myself that the miracle of my survival was huge, but when I heard about the amount of people who prayed for me, I thought ‘that was the greatest miracle,’” Melanie told LifeSiteNew.com in an interview.
“It is one thing for this miracle to happen to myself, but then to hear how it affected so many people, that is the greatest miracle.”
Working in a ministry that helps to lead wandering hearts back to God, Melanie found it ironic that the time when she turned the most hearts to God—inspiring thousands to lift a prayer to heaven—she did not speak a single word; she was silent and completely unconscious.
“When I was young, I used to have this little wish with the Lord. I would say ‘Lord, can you make me like St. Peter?’ Can you give me a little of what you gave to him on Pentecost so that what I say or do might convert 3000 people a day?”
Melanie believes that God answered her “little wish” in his own way with the incredible drama of her untimely death and medically inexplicable revival.
“I honestly think that this moment wasn’t for me. I have always said, ‘use me Lord, in whatever way you want, anytime you want.’”
“That 24-hour period was for family, for friends, for people who were exposed to this story. The Lord used me to open their eyes, to help them to understand that they need to rely and trust in him, and him alone.”
“It was for God to show how mighty he is.”
Finding joy in suffering
In the days and months that followed her return home, Melanie’s body was wracked with pain. She suffered various infections. She was mentally paralyzed by a constant fear of death.
The difficult recovery process was a true test of her and Doug’s commitment to one another in marriage, she says. As an advocate for marriage as a “free, total, faithful, and fruitful kind of love,” she says that everything she and her husband knew about marriage with a “head-knowledge” suddenly made sense to them in the realm of the “heart.”
“Everything we were teaching about God’s plan for a joy-filled marriage really came true.”
“Even in the midst of this suffering, Doug and I still found joy. We discovered you can still find joy in your marriage, even in the depths of this kind of suffering.”
“The ‘sacrificial love’ and the ‘gift-of-self’ that we had been teaching about were really coming alive in our marriage.”
Melanie credits her and Doug’s premarital chastity as a school of training that prepared them to “survive” the difficult road to recovery, explaining that chastity is about becoming an “apprentice in self-mastery.” She said it takes “sacrifice, suffering, and much conditioning.”
As an example, she says that during her recovery, she never worried about Doug “running to the computer to look at pornography” or “cheating” on her because he had “already become an artist himself in self-mastery”.
She said that in the midst of the pain and suffering experienced during the recovery, they could still “live out” their marriage and see the beauty of it.
“Our God is a God of Miracles”
The experience has been a journey of self-discovery for Melanie, who says she sees how she has gone from being a strong independent woman, to a woman who now allows herself to be weak and vulnerable. She says that she has learned to let down her guard and allow others to serve her and take care of her.
She is also convinced that she has more to share with the world than ever before now that she has come to see why God allowed her to go through this experience and how she must relate it to her speaking ministry to young people.
“God has the power to make all things new, in a heart beat.”
“Our God is the God of miracles.”
“He can take their eyes that have seen pornography, their sexuality that has been broken and given away in pieces, their broken and abused hearts and make all these things new.”
“He can make people whole and complete in an instant because that is how powerful he is.”
Melanie believes that young people are compelled by her story because it gives them “insight” into the “power of God” and what he is capable of doing in someone’s life in a 24-hour period.
“If he can wake me from the dead, he can make your eyes brand new, he can make your heart complete, he can change lives in a heartbeat if we are just a little open to walk under his direction.”
Melanie has describe her physical and emotional journey in detail in her book, “The Day I Died: Finding Hope in Suffering.” It is available from Vitae Press and through her website.