Happy birthday to my beautiful, kind, loving, joy-filled daughter who turned three-years old today!
Although I do not share face pictures of my children online, I thought I would share this one of her yesterday as she dressed up for her birthday. She is getting to be such a big girl!!
When I think that three years ago today I went in to deliver my daughter, but ended up dead, revived, and laying in a hospital where my family and friends were uncertain and even doubtful at times that I could survive this tragic event, it is still surreal. I was sent home to three months of horrible suffering and pain and was in no shape to take care of my children, but then, I made a full recovery! And if you asked me to do it all over again, I would do it! Marriage and motherhood cost me a lot that day, but the gift in return was not only my life, but the life of my beautiful daughter Ella who makes me laugh and find joy in the littlest things. I would do it one hundred times over to see her face everyday. She is three today and although I feel like I wasn’t able to be fully present to her for the first three months of her life, I have been since.
My son Brady, Ella and my husband Doug make this life Heaven on earth! They are incredible gifts to me and I am grateful for every moment I spend hugging, kissing, playing, reading, and telling them I love them. We live simply. Our life lacks a lot of frills, vacations, and expensive things, but because we are surrounded by each other, family, great friends, and good neighbors–our lives are FULL! We keep our home centered on the Lord and we devote our lives to praying for others, helping others, and trying to be a light in the darkness.
I feel like a proud mom when I look at my children and see the things they say and do. Every time an ambulance passed our house, Brady says, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, pray for them.” If Ella is playing around and not paying attention and we begin prayer time without her, she makes her voice known and tells us to stop and start over. It’s her role in family prayer to lead and sing loudly (and out of tune) the Ave Maria hymn. And at the end of prayer time, Brady yells at the top of his lungs, “A family that prays together, stays together.” I feel proud and humbled all at the same time by their innocent joy and truth in prayer!
Is it weird to say that I feel most accomplished as a mother because my kids are learning to pray? I honestly feel sad for families that don’t pray together. To hear my kids pray is like the sweet warmth of drinking hot-chocolate on a cold day. My heart melts. To hear them think of others before themselves as they offer up a prayer for a friend or stranger makes me feel like a good mom in the midst of all the ways I fail.
As the weeks have lead up to this day, a day I remember the birth of my child and the death of my old-self—as I woke to an incredible awakening of my soul, I have been weepy, finding myself holding back tears often.
They are not tears of pain, anger, or sadness, but tears of gratefulness. I’m grateful to have a God who loves and saves—a God who woke me from dead of sleep and brought me back to this point in health and purpose. And, I weep often lately at the thought of all those who prayed for me, who rooted for me, and who supported me through the past three years. There isn’t a place that I speak where someone doesn’t breakdown in tears telling me of their prayers. It is beautifully overwhelming, humbling, and adds grace to my life.
Three years later and my children are growing up fast, and I feel grateful that we live simply, so I can stay home and raise them. I would sacrifice all the luxuries in the world to have all my minutes with them! It’s tough sometimes, lots of time, daily even, but I had to sit on a couch watching them play for three months wishing and hoping my heart would recover enough to take them for a walk someday. Someday came and now we take walks, throw balls, roll around in the grass, play board games, have dance parties in the house, and truly enjoy our quality time. Dying made me see that the only important things in life are faith and family. I still speak, blog, and do ministry, but at the end of the day, someone could replace me in those things, but no one can replace me as Brady and Ella’s mom. I try to keep my priorities in-line daily and I think the children will be surprised one day when they discover what I did while raising them, because to them I’m the face they see all day—I’m a stay-at home mom.
Some days I feel like a secret super-hero. Mom by day, Gospel proclaimer by night! Last week, I flew to California to speak to teens on the Theology of the Body. I dressed the children that morning, we played and snuggled on the couch, and then they dropped me off at the airport. My mom watched them until their dad came home. I Facetimed with them three times during the day. gave a talk that night, woke up the next morning, had breakfast with the host that brought me to California, boarded a plane, flew over two states, landed in Arizona, my mom and the children picked me up, I went grocery shopping, we had a play-date with a neighbor, and I had dinner on the table at 5:00 p.m. It’s crazy what one can do in a day!
Managing being a wife, mom, and running a ministry keeps me incredibly busy, but the Lord is leading me and giving me the time and energy to do it all, and I will rest when I’m dead. But, for now, I choose to live and to live and love well all the days of my life. First and foremost, I choose to live everyday thinking of better ways to get my family to Heaven. Secondly, I choose to live every day thinking of better ways to get other people to Heaven with us!
Living for Heaven gives our family great purpose. It keeps our lives simple, focused, and joy-filled. It keeps us from caring if we are rich or poor; it keeps us from caring about worldly things and it gives us the opportunity daily to pray together and focus our energy on serving one another and others.
I don’t know what the next year will bring and I don’t really care. I care about making this day the best day of my life and my families’ lives. I care about saving souls and trying to glorify God. My eyes are fixed on Heaven. I hope to have many years on earth with Doug, Brady, and Ella, but when the day comes for us to part ways, I want us to all be together again one day in Heaven. Eternity with us, in Heaven together, is worth more to me than anything fame or fortune can bring!
So, today on Ella’s 3rd birthday, I ask you to give her the greatest gift—the gift of your prayers! I pray that my sweet girl would always know of the Lord’s love for her, would walk in faith, and trust in a God that mightier than this world could ever be. I pray her heart would be kind and generous. And, I pray that an impenetrable hedge of protection would surround her against all evil!
It has been a while! I’m sorry I haven’t blogged lately; I have been very busy! I have 90 girls registered for my Vera Bella Arizona Program along with a Virtual Program starting in August and am knee deep in details and organization! My children and Vera Bella are keeping me very active in wonderful way so I can’t complain! This past Tuesday I flew to California to join two youth groups who have been coming together to participate in summer talks on the Theology of the Body. They invited me in to speak on one of the topics. Actually, it is one of MY FAVORITE TOPICS to speak on! Below, I share much of what I spoke about at this event.
In The Theology of the Body, Blessed Pope John Paul II says, “The body speaks a language of love.” In 1984, he wrote“…the most profound words of the spirit—words of love, of giving, of fidelity—demand an adequate language of the body. Without that they cannot be expressed.” This means that unless our words match our actions, love cannot be expressed. We must say what we mean and mean what we say.
We know that the body speaks a language! Before I was dating my husband, I saw him at an event and grabbed his arm while I was animated in conversation. He said it was electric! His body spoke a language of attraction based on a simple gesture I made. Most of the day our bodies are speaking stronger words than our mouths can express. When we smile, laugh, get angry, get sad, or hug someone our bodies speak a language.
The question to ponder is, what language is your body speaking? Is it speaking a language of love? If God is love, and we are made in his image, then this divine language that the body speaks of love is actually our native language. But, why then when we look into the culture, do we see many people’s bodies speaking a language of use, abuse, and lies?
Love and truth is the language our bodies should be speaking, but sin, corruption, temptation and lack of knowledge sometimes leads people to live a language of lies.
Blessed John Paul II shares that the most profound language of love the body can speak is through the marital sexual union. It’s the total gift of self. It’s a language that says I will love freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully. It’s a language that frees love from selfishness, use, aggression, and lust.
So many young people desire to be loved, to know love, and to show love. They desire this so much that they end up rushing into and engaging in relationships or encounters with people (often through pre-marital sexual relationships) and in turn the opposite happens, their bodies speak a language of lies instead of their heart’s intent. They believe they are speaking a language of love, but without the commitment of marriage, it will never be an authentic expression of the divine love that our hearts crave.
Sexual union speaks a language of love by insisting that the two people entering into the act will be bonded for life, will be open to children, and will love the other exclusively.
So what do young people do during a time when they desire so deeply to love and be loved? Pope Benedict wrote in Caritas In Veritate, “Charity always manifests God’s love in human relationships.” Therefore, acting charitably with our bodies is how we can express God’s love to the world! If you want to know how to express a language of love with your bodies, start with becoming charitable! Smile. Sit with the person that nobody will sit with at school. Help someone in need.
Blessed John Paul II, also said, “Man cannot fully find himself, except through a sincere gift of himself.” When our bodies speak this language of charity, sincerity and honesty, we become a gift to another, and in turn, we find out who we are! In addition, I believe it is when we see other peoples’ bodies speak a language of charity, it is an indication that they are capable of truly loving rightly.
It is the language that Christ spoke on the cross with his own body as he suffered pain and agony for us, for our souls, and for our freedom. He didn’t just wear a sign around his neck that said, “Hi, I’m Christ and I love you.” It was the language of his body that revealed his love, and his love was rooted in charity. It was rooted in complete self-donation for another.
It was acts of charity that brought me to the Lord. It was acts of charity that made me fall in love with my husband. It is acts of charity that helped me survive my darkest moments.
In high school, I started going to a Catholic youth group by the forced actions of my mother. She signed me up for a youth group trip without my knowledge or permission and then drove me to the site and dropped me off despite my attempts to get her to let me out of going. The truth is, at the time, I liked my friends at school just fine. I had started at a new school and was making friends with a lot of the popular crowd. I was getting invited to parties, and I was getting into trouble. To me, all was fine. My mom saw things differently. She saw the girl she raised becoming swayed to say and do things that were contrary to my character. My mom worried. She then decided that maybe sending me to Church camp would solve all these problems.
I remember getting on the bus at midnight to go to California with a group of strangers. I didn’t want to be there and quite frankly, I didn’t care who knew it. I was just going to get through this trip and get back to life as normal. But it was this trip that made me see that maybe “my idea of normal” was missing the one thing that the depths of my heart longed for—joy.
I was sitting slumped down in the scratchy cloth seat, with my headphones on to drown out the talking and laughter I was surrounded with as others conversed. My eyes were closed when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I unhooked my headphones from my ears and turned around to see this beautiful blond girl introducing herself. She said, “Hi, I’m Melanie.” I said, “Hi, I’m Melanie, too.” We shared the same name, but we did not share the same joy. Hers beamed as she spoke. I could see it in her eyes. I could feel it in the way she acted. Her body spoke a language of love. She seemed fearless of rejection and was comfortable in her own skin. She is who I wished I was. It was her charity in reaching out to talk to me where I saw a kind of joy I did not see in my friends back at school. I began meeting others on the bus and they, too, had this joy. As I followed them, I saw them pray, I saw them invite, I saw them serve, and I saw them reach out to people they didn’t know. Their charitable acts were done with joy. And the closer I came to their joy the more I realized the source. It was God.
St. Francis once said, “Preach the Gospel and sometimes use words.” My peers at this church by their actions lead me to seek out a relationship with God when I was a sophomore in high school. Their charity towards me is responsible for my transformation of heart. Their bodies spoke a language of love and it was so pure that it lead me right to the Lord.
I came back a changed girl. I wore a cross, went to Mass weekly with a smile, started going to prayer group, stopped going to parties, broke friendships with bad friends, and began to serve regularly at the Missionaries of Charity and with a community in Mexico. My heart was full. I was comfortable in my own skin and the love I so desired to give another was given to the poor person I served in my mission work. I was becoming fully alive as I offered myself as a gift.
I thought my faith was unshakable. I was strong! Then, I went off to college and lived in a co-ed dorm with a bunch of new strangers. Without even realizing it, I began to make small decisions that soon left me looking in a mirror unable to recognize myself.
It all came to a head, one Sunday morning as I walked out to go to Mass and saw one of my new guy-friends who had known me for four months by this time. He said, “Where are you going?” I said, “To Church.” This was actually the first time I had told one of my new friends that I went to Mass on Sundays. I was nervous about what he would think. He laughed and said, “No, where are you really going?” Confused, I said again, “Church.” His pitch got higher, “What! No way, not you.” I felt the need to defend myself, so I began to tell him how I had been going to church and prayer groups for years, and how I served the poor. He said, “Well, I would have never guessed.” I said with a frown,” Why?” Then he said the words that I will never forget. He shared, “With the way that you dress, the way that you flirt, and dance around here, I would have never guessed you to be a Catholic girl.”
My heart broke. I sold-out! That was the moment I realized my body was speaking a language about me that I did not intend. It was speaking a language of lies against the person I knew myself to be. I had to change. I had to take an inventory of my new choices and actions and decide if they spoke a language of love or a language of lies. It was hard, but not impossible and eventually, I found myself back to experiencing the same joy I had craved in high school, but had slowly fading with my bad choices.
Later in my 20’s, I was traveling and speaking so much that I wasn’t giving a whole lot of thought to dating, until Doug caught my eye. We met and became friends, but it wasn’t until his body spoke a language of charity that I began to fall in love. First, what caught my eye was that he got up early every morning and went to daily Mass. Secondly, my car broke down near his house full of guys, so I called the house and he came to help me. He was in nice clothes, but he lifted the hood of my car, and actually laid on the dirty ground and inched himself under my car to discover a leak. I felt stressed that he was getting his clothes dirty and mentioned it. He didn’t care; he just wanted to help me. He gave me a ride home and I invited him into my house full of girls. He looked at my backyard and was astonished at how high our grass and weeds were. I saw his look and said, “Yeah, with a house full of girls, the backyard suffers.” He said, I will be by on Saturday to clean it up for you. Shocked and feeling like my independence was being compromised, “I said, “No, thanks.” I can’t have you do that. It’s too much; I’ll figure it out. He and I went back and forth about it because I wasn’t accustomed to guys being so ready to serve. I felt I need to be guarded. Finally, he said, “See you Saturday.” I replied laughing, “No, I won’t.”
Saturday, the doorbell rang and there was Doug standing in my doorway with yard tools. I let him in and he cleaned our back yard for four hours. Eventually, the house of girls felt so bad, that we went and helped him not knowing what to do.
Something in me began to stir as Doug silently went about cleaning my yard. It was a flood of emotion. I felt vulnerable as this man was serving me without expecting anything in return. We weren’t even dating.
His body spoke a language of love to me that day that pierced an openness in my heart. I began to think that a man that serves so selflessly is a man who may be able to love me rightly.
We did date, got married, and had children. Doug continued to serve me throughout it all, not because he had to, but because it is who he is. His body speaks the native language his Father in Heaven has inscribed on his body. It is first nature for him.
And, when I suffered an amniotic fluid embolism during childbirth that left me dead, revived, and in critical condition, Doug continued to give. He continued to love and to serve in the midst of being a witness to this tragedy, and in the midst of his own emotional pain. He committed in marriage with his words and his actions to love me freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully in sickness and in health and he honored that commitment even in the hardest of circumstances.
When I returned home to recover, I had to sit on a couch unable to really participate in life. Doug went to work all day while my mom took care of the children and me, but then he came home after a long day to feed the children, bath them, read them stories and put them to bed. Then he would wake all night to feed our new-born and rock her back to sleep. For three months he sacrificed every hour of every day, not with his words, but with his body.
He reminded me of Christ. Doug’s body spoke the ultimate language of love. This marital language of love does not leave when things get hard, it endures all things, it waits, it suffers, and it sacrifices; it is a love that speaks of permanency. It’s honest, respectful, and it allows for vulnerability. It required courage, faith, hope, and determination. The language the body speaks in marriage is that of divine love.
It was the charity of others that allowed me to see that beauty of love. It was the very thing that allowed me to be open to authentic marital love. It was the very thing that taught me to pour my heart out in charity for others to master the art of real sacrificial love, the kind of love it takes to have a joy-filled marriage.
“…the most profound words of the spirit—words of love, of giving, of fidelity—demand an adequate language of the body. Without that they cannot be expressed.” –Blessed John Paul II
Saturday, June 15, 2013 I celebrate another year of life! It’s a blessed reminder to me of how grateful to God I am for being alive and well! For my birthday this weekend, I am celebrating with my wonderful husband, my two beautiful children, some close friends, and my incredible family; that is all I need personally! Each year that passes since I suffered an AFE, I feel like I have been given a new chance at life to continue to make a difference, but I cannot do it alone!
So instead of asking for presents for me, I am asking everyone to consider donating something to help girls who have applied for scholarships for Vera Bella to be able to attend without any financial worry. I’m never one to ask people for things and never like to impose, but this is the best reason I have had in a long time to reach out to others for assistance! I have 75 girls registered for my Vera Bella program for the fall and 16 have asked for scholarship assistance. The program which meets once a month and has a retreat, costs $200. Some girls need half covered and some need the full $200. I need to raise $2000 so that these girls have the ability to be a part of this wonderful, faith-filled, life-affirming, virtue program! I really don’t want any girl to miss out for financial reasons, so I am putting this need out to those who may be able to help or who know others who can assist.
Some of these girls have a parent out of work and others come from large families who cannot afford this program in addition to their other financial obligations.
An 80 year-old woman came up to me after a talk I gave and after sharing about the program, she contributed towards the scholarship fund because she sees the need in the culture for this kind of program. Another woman contributed because she doesn’t have any children of her own, but if she did, she would want this for them. In addition, a church Pastor made a donation on behalf of one of the girls in his parish when he discovered there was a need!
Any additional money raised will go towards our virtual program which we are trying to raise $5000, for the cost of the technology supplies needed to transmit our program to girls across the country through the internet.
Please continue to keep this program and me in your prayers. My little “yes” to the Lord’s calling to create and organize Vera Bella has become a giant “YES”! But, everything has fallen into place so well that I know He is guiding me through every step and will see me through every need by placing it on the hearts of those He intends to help. If you feel that is you, please consider including us in your daily prayer, spreading the word about the program, and consider a financial contribution.
Let me know what you need prayers for in the comments or in an e-mail! I would like to serve you on my birthday and wrap all your intentions up in my own prayer and give them to the Lord on a day that reminds me of how truly grateful I am to be alive!
With my eyes wide open, I laid on the ground next to my grandma’s bed in the guest room when she came for a visit at age 93 (she is now 101 years old). During her visit to Arizona (from Minnesota) she contracted a bad cough. It progressively got worse during the night and so I decided to sleep next to her bed in case things got worse. I didn’t sleep a wink because I was so worried about her. Periodically, she would wake and I would get up, feel her head, re-fill her water, bring more tissue and rub her head to comfort her. In the morning, my anxiety was at its highest, so we took her to the hospital where she was admitted for pneumonia. She stayed for a little over a week in that hospital which meant so did I. My grandmother is my best friend, my support, and my comfort and there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for her. Grandma is a retired nurse. Quite ironically, she enjoyed her stay in the hospital because it felt like home to her. Not only did she enjoy it, she wanted to teach me the art of nursing. When she needed something, I would say, “I will get the nurse,” and she would say, “No, I will tell you how to do it and you can help me.” The thing about grandma is that you don’t argue with her. If she wants you to be her personal nurse, the only answer she will accept is “yes.” For that week, I did things I never imagined myself doing for a person. It’s a good thing I love her beyond measure because it was hard and often gross work! It gave me a new appreciation for nurses and made me fully understand it is a special calling, not one given to me!
This past Wednesday, I had the incredible privilege of speaking to 200 nurses at St. Joseph’s Hospital Neurological Nursing Symposium where I was asked to share my survival story. I arrived early to hear Dr. David Levy, a neurosurgeon, speak about his new book Gray Matter. I was intrigued the night before when I had a conversation with him at a dinner I attended. His book entails stories about how he began to pray with his patients and staff and the way it affected how he practiced medicine. I came in quietly as he took the stage when someone whispered my name. I looked over at this woman and she said, “I saw you were speaking here today, and wanted to let you know I was your nurse during your amniotic fluid embolism.” In shock, I said, “What?” and I pulled her outside so she could tell me more. Then another nurse followed us out. Both of these nurses shared how they assisted in my survival. I was truly blown away and was holding back tears since I was about to give my talk in 20 minutes. What they shared was amazing! They told me how bad things really were and how they did not think I would be able to survive all that happened. They repeated what others have told me before, that I was “deader than dead.” And that everything that could go wrong went wrong, and I interjected, “Well everything that had to go right, went right.” They shared how this experience changed them and strengthened them in the trials they were having in their own lives. I shared about the impact it has had on me and how grateful I am that God used me in this way even though it caused me so much suffering.
It was a truly incredible and unexpected encounter! I wish I could have recorded the entire thing. The story they tell is far more captivating than the story I tell since they were first hand witnesses. I felt so unprepared! How do you thank someone who saved your life? I did give them each a book as a small token and wished I could give them something huge that could truly show them my gratitude. I know it is their job, but no matter, how do you thank someone who helped save your life? I was overwhelmed at the thought!
I missed Dr. Levy’s entire talk but was grateful for the encounter I had with these nurses. So, I bought his book and am equally captivated by it and the courage he has displayed in asking his patients to pray with him before surgeries regardless of how others may perceive him in the medical field. I was excited to take the stage after him knowing as a patient, I would be backing up his theory of how praying with patients can often give greater outcomes.
I began my talk and shared my story to this group of medical professionals. I heard gasps throughout as they know more than any how the things I went through were incredibly traumatic and unpredictable.
I ended my talk speaking about the incredible care I received from my doctors and nurses and how their support and prayers sustained my family during some dark hours. And, how when I woke up to find out about how they cared for not just me, but my family as well, it made me want to survive and work hard to get better so they knew their efforts were not in vain.
To conclude my talk, I read a portion from my book, The Day I Died, Finding Hope in Suffering where I speak about meeting those doctors and nurses that saved my life. I was able to meet each person, look them in the eyes, shake their hands and say, “Thank you.” I looked out at this audience and said, “On behalf of patients you have had who may have never returned to thank you, I thank you for your service. What you do matters! Nursing isn’t just a job; it is something I know you all pour your heart and souls into as well. Thank you!”
Afterward many nurses came up and said that it is having patients return to say “thank you” and seeing patients return happy and well that makes their jobs worth it. I could tell that those times aren’t as often as they should be. I am sure many look at what doctors and nurses to as a job, and that they shouldn’t need to be thanked, but the medical profession is not just a job. Every night those people go home and their minds are still reeling about their patients and the patients’ families. They are always wondering if they did everything right or if they could have done something better. Every day, many people’s lives are in their hands. That is more than a job! It is a calling and a huge responsibility, one as I mentioned I learned in caring for my grandmother, is more than I could handle.
Let’s take a moment to write a note of thanks to a special nurse or doctor who has assisted in our care or the care of a family member. Let’s let our thanks be heard publicly! Share your note in the comments and I will post them. Then we will pray for the nurses who people post comments about that the Holy Spirit will work through them and that they will feel joy and appreciation for doing the amazing work they do each day. Feel free to send your nurse a note to look on the blog when your comment is posted! If you do not know their name or names, just write a note letting us know why you appreciate them.
I can’t wait to hear your stories of gratitude!
PS: If you know someone in need of encouragement or hope, please recommend my book, The Day I Died: Finding Hope in Suffering. Check this link for where to purchase it.
I will share a prayer for the nurses who assisted in my care.
I want to thank all the nurses who took part in my survival and the survival of my beautiful daughter two and a half years ago. I especially pray for the nurse who revealed to me once that she felt shame that she was giving me care when she kept saying in her mind, “There is no chance for this woman to live; she is too dead.” I thank her for continuing to do what doctors asked her to do even with those feelings. I pray she no longer feels shame or sadness because she did her job regardless of her feelings and that saved my life! I am eternally grateful that no one gave up even when they thought there was a slim chance for my survival! Thank you all from the bottom of my heart!
Here is link to my AFE survival story segment airing on CBN’s 700 Club stations today.
So happy my story is getting out even more! Hopefully it will reveal the great power of prayer! Please share it with others!
Seeing it makes me remember how amazing so many were in coming to Ella’s and my rescue in prayer!
You would think since I wrote a book entitled The Day I Died that I would have finally solved the mystery of what happened the one day in 34 years that I do not remember. Although the book helped me piece the event together, there are still so many things I want to know. As I mentioned in my last blog, when I visited the staff at the hospital where I died and also delivered my daughter, I heard more unknown stories and now I am intrigued to hear more of the exact medical experience. My book is made up of my family member’s amazing accounts of what they witnessed and experienced intermixed with my own thoughts. That alone has helped me discover so much, but hearing stories from behind the doors of the OR and ICU is equally intriguing.
When I visited with the staff, they told me that when I stopped breathing and died, they wheeled me to the OR and needed to transfer me to another bed and didn’t have time to wait for the “thing” (not sure of the technical term) that slides a patient from one bed to the other, so a female surgeon whose adrenaline must have been that of three body-builders lifted me by herself (mind you—I still had Ella in my belly-see picture of me below the night before I delivered–I must have been heavy! ) and placed me on the other bed and began the c-section.
As I listened to these stories I wanted to know more about the specific time when Ella was born. That is still a little bit of a mystery to me. Of course God delivers! Just a few days ago, one of the bookstores sold out of the first batch of my books, so the owner called and asked for more. I hand-delivered them since it was close by and she informed me that a woman came in looking for the book and told the owner of the store that her daughter-in-law delivered Ella. Of course I was stunned and asked, “What are you talking about? Who is she? What’s her name? How can I get in touch with her?” The owner gave me all the information I was asking for and I was shocked to discover the woman who delivered my daughter happens to be a family member of a Catholic family in town who I know well. What are the odds, and I am more amazed that I am just discovering this now! I called the doctor as soon as I got her phone number and asked if we could meet!
We met at a Red Robin nearby. One of the strangest things for me in all of this is that since I don’t remember anything, I have no personal connection to delivering my own child. When Ella was born, I was dead and not even there, really, and no one in the O.R. knew either of us since my own OBGYN wasn’t there for the immediate response. Two other OBGYN’s delivered Ella while two other staff gave me CPR. My daughter was greeted into this world by strangers. As I contemplate on this more, I have realized that maybe this is what has been unsettling to me—not knowing the people who first laid hands on my child.
As I sat down with this “stranger” who delivered my daughter, I think I realized why I longed to meet her so much. It is not that she told me anything new, really, but rather it is what I learned about her. We spoke for two and a half hours and I would say about two minutes of that was information about Ella’s birth because she helped deliver Ella but handed her off to others while she stayed with me to help stitch me up. A few minutes after delivering Ella, she heard her cry in a different part of the room, but for the most part this doctor was with me. With that said, she was still one of the first people to touch and see my daughter.
As I was sitting across from her, and she told me her story working with me and Ella, I couldn’t help but wish I had some sort of closer connection to her. I feel like the Lord already placed in my heart a connection to her through her family relations, but I wanted more but had no idea that our conversation would be more than a telling of facts which was the purpose for meeting. As we ate our dinners, we began talking about many other things and before I knew it, we were no longer strangers. We were having a fruitful, deep conversation. There was a great comfort in sitting with her. I was at ease and she and I seemed to be able to talk about things that most strangers don’t talk about on a first meet. I guess for her, this was not the first encounter she has had with me, and her encounter was definitely a huge encounter as she saved my baby’s life.
I left with a warm heart feeling confident that God chose her— the daughter-in law and sister-in-law of people I know well—people who were simultaneously praying for me as their relative was right there with us—God chose this specific person to be there for Ella in my darkest moment. The doctor revealed how she has a daughter, and we both commented how motherhood is a great privilege. Her eyes got watery as she shared as her sorrow at seeing me dead and blue and thinking of my own children being motherless. This I am assured made her work quickly to retrieve Ella so that I could be shocked back to life. Maybe God chose her to be the first loving gaze and warm hands my daughter would experience knowing that she has the heart of a mother. I feel joyful and at peace knowing that the woman who helped deliver my daughter is no longer a stranger but rather a wonderful woman who I am positive was hand-picked to be there in that moment. If you read my book, you will see that God left no detail in my survival to chance. He set each person in motion to be there in the right time and the right place. It is a comfort to my motherly heart to have met this beautiful woman!
I kept thanking her for saving Ella’s life and mine as well in the fact the she foresaw that I would go into DIC and already got the ball rolling for me to have blood available sooner than later. When I thanked her, she said humbly, “I was doing my job that day.” What a great job she has—to bring life into this world! I will be eternally grateful to this doctor for saying yes to her calling and for working feverishly to save my daughter’s life! I hope Ella will have the privilege to meet her one day! She mentioned how nice it was to hear thanks because people rarely send a note to thank their OBGYN. I am surprised by that but hoping my situation may make others realize that even though most pregnancies go smoothly and the job of someone who delivers babies may “seem” easy, behind the scenes they are working hard to make sure every delivery is safe, monitoring the baby’s every heartbeat from another room and running into action to be a life-saver when things don’t turn out as planned. I know I will never take another doctor for granted again!
When I arrived home, Ella was sleeping but woke to be fed. I rocked her and gazed upon her telling her about the doctor who delivered her–who is no longer a stranger. Ella and I ended the night with this prayer for the doctor: “May the Lord keep her close to Him and lead her in all her ways!”
On another note: I will be writing blogs every two weeks now since my son will be participating in preschool. My time is going to be a bit more limited. Thanks to those who read this blog and keep up with it!
On a second exciting note: My book is now in e-book format! Yippee! Check it out HERE!!
On July 28, 2011, I returned to the hospital where I gave birth to Ella one year ago, the same place I died and was revived back to life. I invited the doctors, nurses and staff to a party to celebrate this glorious one year birthday of Ella and anniversary of my survival.
The staff members who were involved in my care were there and emotions were running high on all our parts as we remembered back to that almost tragic day. The first person who greeted me was the person who first administered CPR to me. She looked at me and said, “I could never forget those eyes.” She said that even when I was dead, lifeless, and blue, there was something about my eyes. Then she went on to tell me that when she was in the room with me giving me CPR, she could feel she was not alone–that a great presence–a mighty presence was in there too. I knew she was speaking about God. I told her I wanted to hear more and to contact me later so we could speak one on one about what she experienced. I can’t wait to find out more from her!
I heard so many stories that I feel like I could write another book detailing the staff’s account of my time with them! In my book, I told a story of how the housecleaning staff came and prayed for me after I was transferred to another room; they prayed not knowing if I had lived or died. Two of them were there and I was able to hug and thank them. See picture to the left. I wish I could share every story these staff members told me. They all warmed my heart. Each person did so much to assist in saving my life. I didn’t want to leave this little party and strongly feel Mercy Gilbert is a special hospital with beautiful people working there!
That evening, we celebrated Mass with friends, family and my church community. It was amazing to see so many who have been lifting us up in prayer all year. My heart was warmed as I was able to pray in thanksgiving for Ella’s and my life. I definitely got choked up throughout the whole Mass.
After Mass, we went back to my house to celebrate Ella’s and my dad’s birthday. The “oohs” and “awes” were loudly heard as Ella made her entrance in a princess outfit with her crown.
She wore it proudly and loved the attention. Since Ella was a princess, I thought it was only fitting to make my father the king of the co-birthday party!
The house was jammed packed full of family and a few of Ella’s friends; it was hot, and getting late, but truly wonderful and joy filled! When everyone left, there was an incredible mess to clean up, tired children to put to bed, and a little packing I needed to do before I left for Minnesota the next morning. As I was getting ready for bed, I noticed I was smiling…for no reason other than from the joy of such a well spent day. It was everything I wanted it to be and more! I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this day!
I have always believed that when you follow Christ, He will bless your life more than you could ever imagine, and I am experiencing the truth in that now as I feel rich in all the things that really matter, like family, friends, ministry, etc. Then Lord is true to His promises.
I spent the weekend giving talks to 2000 teens at a Steubenville Conference in Minnesota where I was able to share about the power of prayer and the might of God! It was an incredible weekend as I witnessed many young hearts be drawn closer to the Lord.
Before the conference began in Minnesota, I was able to visit with my 99 year-old grandmother. I gave her a book (see picture). I returned to see grandma on Sunday before I caught my plane, and found that she had informed most of the nursing home that her granddaughter wrote a book. I heard whisperings as I walked through, “There’s the miracle-girl.” She was so proud and I was glad I brought a few extra books because she had a list of orders from her friends! I thought that was cute!
A year ago, I wondered what life would be like in a year. There was great uncertainty in each day as I did my best to survive, but here I am—a year later— and life is well…back to normal…a simple, wonderful, blessed normal!!
A year has gone by right before my eyes. Thursday, July 28, 2011, marks the one year anniversary since the birth of my little Ella where I died for 10 minutes and came back to life a changed person. I’m not sure how to feel this week. It’s bitter-sweet. On one hand, I am almost relieved to have the past year come to an end, but at the same time it means Ella is one; she is growing up too fast.
Some may think that I might consider the day I died as worst day of my life, but it wasn’t; for me it was not the worst because it is the day I survived to spend one more day with my family and friends. And even though the time of recovery was rough and tough— it still beats death. I may even have to say that this was the best year of my life for a few reasons. The first is Ella. She made our family more complete and watching her grow and Brady, Doug and I grow with her as a family has brought me a joy that is indescribable. Ella is so wonderful that I would endure all that I did again to ensure her existence in this world. I am convinced she will make her mark someday. There is truly something special about her.
My next reason for saying this was the best year of my life is because of all that I have learned and how I have grown—for the better— as a person. I praise the Lord for all that He has allowed me to endure and see this year.
This past year was focused on the day I died—one really impactful day. It seemed like each holiday was the first and needed to be treated with extreme care and needed to be special because it was the first Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, or birthday since death. And, each time harbored emotions revealing my gratitude for seeing those special days again with the people I love. Now that all the first are here and gone, life can go back to normal, and of course my new normal will include a sense of gratitude to living to see another day and living them to the fullest!
Thursday will bring a much needed closure to this year. I feel as though writing the book and blogging allowed me to put a stop to the confusion I had from the lost memory of the most traumatic event of my life and has given me an opportunity to piece it together and process what happened so as to be able to move forward. I really feel as though I have fully dealt with it all and am ready to make this next year a new year. I want to embrace life fully and be ever more rooted in the Lord so that when I die again one day (hopefully when I am 99 this time), I will go to heaven and I will bring my husband, children, mother, father, friends, you, etc. with me!
I am truly happy with how we are celebrating Ella’s birthday and the one year mark. First, Doug took off and I think that will be the norm for all our birthdays from now on as a way to truly celebrate each others’ lives on the day we were born. On Thursday, we will return to the hospital where I delivered Ella and where I died, to offer our gratitude to all the nurses, doctors and staff who endured that horrific day. We are bringing cake and celebrating this glorious anniversary day of Ella’s birth and my survival with those wonderful people who cared so much! The hospital has put the word out to all the staff involved in our care. I can’t wait for them to see Ella walking!! Yes, she is walking all over the place now!! I hope this will give them closure and make their last memory of us one of celebration!
Then we will spend the day as a family until 5:15 p.m. when we will have a special Mass of celebration at Our Lady of Mount Carmel church where we have invited any and everyone who wants to join us. Then, my family and Doug’s family will come back to our house for a private celebration of Ella and my dad’s birthday. (My dad and Ella pictured left).
Then, the next day, I will travel to Minnesota to speak at another Steubenville conference as well as see my 99 year-old grandmother and extended family.
What a week! It makes me overwhelmed with joy just thinking about it! I’ll let you know in next week’s blog how it all turned out!
The picture to the left was me this time one year ago, happy as can be with my son and with my sweet Ella on her way, just one and a half months before my life was turned upside-down.
Each holiday or special occasion that has come and gone since the day I died is special. There may not be anything new about these special days, but I see things with fresh eyes. It is as if these days are landmarks—landmarks of another day lived!
The day this will post, June 15th, is my birthday. Since I am the youngest of four, my older siblings used to exclude me from hanging out with them when their friends were over, wearing their clothes, and sometimes using their older advantage to pick on me. But, that was never allowed on my birthday! So, I got wise to this realization that my siblings would be nice to me and dote on me if it was my special day, so I monopolized that, and began claiming my ” birthday week.” I am not sure how I ever got away with it, but since I was in junior high, I have had a birthday week and all my family and friends know about it and have even enabled it, so even in my thirties, I claim the week. Why ruin a good thing!
This year, I have a lot to be thankful for! I could only dream, 10 and a half months ago when I was unable to breathe well and hardly able to move, that I would feel this good on my birthday. There is nothing that I can wish for my own self this year because I have it all, my life, my family and my health. There are no greater gifts.
I said in my blog last week that I do have a birthday wish. Well, I actually have three and it requires others to get involved.
My first wish is for everyone I know to donate blood. One of the things that saved my life almost a year ago was that others gave of themselves in such a way to donate their own blood to another unnamed, unknown person. They faced the discomfort and gave of their time for another human being, and that human being was me! I had two transfusions and was given 30 units of blood products. All of that to save one life! When I was recovering, I decided that on my birthday instead of giving me gifts that my friends, family and all those I can ask, would find a way to donate blood for another who may need it—I am living proof that donating blood saves lives!
Now on to my second wish! Amniotic fluid embolism is a mystery that could easily be solved by a little prayer and a lot of funding to the AFE Foundation. Since my untimely death and survival from AFE, I have offered myself to help this organization lead in the discovery of the cause and cure of one of the world’s leading causes of maternal death. As the new Communications Director for the AFE Foundation, I am committed to helping raise awareness and funding for a new and necessary study. As I have become more involved in the organization, I have met other survivors all with their own miraculous stories! I have also met others who lost their wife, mother, sister, daughter, and friend to this tragic condition. As a survivor, I owe it to those families who lost a loved one to help uncover the truth about this deadly embolism. In addition, it is imperative that we dedicate prayer, time, energy and research towards AFE so that women in the future, who you may know, never have to face this life threatening pregnancy complication. If you have it in your means to financially support, please consider partnering with the AFE Foundation by making a donation to www.afesupport.org.
My third wish is for people to spread the word about my book when it comes out in the next month. (The picture is the bottom of my book–I can’t show you the whole thing yet!! Oh the suspense!!) This story is so special and one handed down to me by my family and friends since I have no memory of it. To hear the whole story of this miracle and what God has done in my life this past year could bring the most wandering of souls back to the Lord! The story is truly inspiring! I knew the moment I woke from sedation that this was a story I had to share, and soon it will be available! When it is ready, I pray you will help me spread the word about it. Also, if you want to read the quotes on the back of the book click on the “Books” tab at the top of this webpage!! Another tidbit of information for you is that Patrick Madrid, amazing author and speaker, wrote the foreword!)
Even though I no longer need a whole birthday week to celebrate “me” as I did when I was a kid, I will still claim my birthday week, but it will be my week to focus on ways to give to others in some way. Pope John Paul II said that “Man cannot fully find himself , until he makes a sincere gift of self.” I believe serving and giving to others is truly the ultimate joy in life and the unsought, ultimate reward is–finding one’s self. This week I will make my birthday about others and try to make myself a sincere gift–not sure what exactly I will do each day, but one thing I will do for sure will be to pray for all of you! Even if I don’t know your name or have never met you, God knows who you are and will lead me in prayer! If you have any specific prayers that you feel open enough to share, please leave them in the comments for this blog and allow all of us to unite in prayer for you!
Thanks for allowing me to share my birthday wishes with you! I hope my birthday will always be a reminder that life is a gift–the day you and I were born was a gift from God and everyday that follows is one too! Let’s honor this great gift by giving others the gift of ourselves, by serving as Christ did!
I am moving my blogs to this new site. On my last site, I included blogs about my recent survival from an amniotic fluid embolism. I realize people are still reading these, so I have included them all here in this blog for anyone to reference. They go from the latest one written down to the oldest. Currently, I am doing well! Here is a recent family photo taken just 7 months after the incident!
Blog from October 18, 2010
The Last Three Months
This week marks three months since my Amniotic Fluid Embolism. On Friday, I will go into Mayo for an Echo of my heart. This will be the moment I find out if I can take off the defibrillator. If my heart hasn’t recovered, they will place a defibrillator in my chest. I am feeling good these days and am feeling confident that my heart has recovered. We’ll soon see!
It has been a while since I have blogged, and part of that has to do with being busy raising my two children, but the other part is that I didn’t even know where to begin to talk about all that has happened and all that I have gone through. This will hopefully shed some light on the past three months since returning home from the hospital.
About a week after I returned home from the hospital, a Mercy Gilbert Hospital nurse called to check up on me. She explained that even though I do not remember the nurses that attended to me, they really remember me and that it would mean the world to them if I ever had the chance to stop by. Hearing that, I grabbed my husband, my father-in-law (who was staying with us at the time) and the kids and jumped in the car to surprise the nurses. When I arrived, there were a few nurses there who ran to gather all the other nurses. Some of them were weeping and hugging me and asking me all kinds of questions I didn’t remember. From the looks on their faces, this had impacted their lives. The hardest thing for me was not remembering something I was involved in that made these total strangers break down and cry. A representative from the hospital asked me if I would be willing to come back to speak to their hospital leadership team about my experiences. I agreed and returned about a week later to what I thought would be a small meeting with hospital Board members. A staff member escorted me to the meeting and as I approached a woman was walking along side us heading towards the meeting as well. When she heard the other woman call me Melanie, she stopped, fell against the wall, gasped for air and looked intently at my face and began to cry as she realized that it was me. It didn’t take long for me to realize that my showing up would be a healing experience for those who cared for me. They needed to see me alive. The last time they had seen me, I was being wheeled off in an ambulance to Mayo Clinic and the certainty of my survival was slim. They never received the closure they deserved after all they had been through.
When I walked into the room, there were over 100 doctors, nurses and staff crammed into this small Board room. Some, I heard later were turned away because there was no more room. As I entered, again I heard people weeping and tissues being taken out. My husband, mother, sister Kym and baby Ella joined me, and we were all introduced. A staff member recapped my story for the audience and then allowed me and my family to tell our perspective. After we shared, the hospital representative told me to look behind me where there were about 30-40 people standing. She proceeded to tell me that all of these people helped in my care. I was amazed at the army it took to save my life. Each person then went on to tell me how they helped in my care. As they spoke, I turned to each one and looked them in the eyes, shook their hand and said, “thank you.” It was a moment I will never forget. The anesthesiologist, doctors and staff that performed CPR on me, the nurse who was at my side, the doctor who delivered Ella, the intensive care doctor, and the doctor who performed my surgeries all grabbed and hugged me tight with tears in their eyes. I had never felt so much love from strangers before. But, to them I was no stranger. They were invested. They weren’t just doing their jobs that day, they invested in me as a person instead of a mere patient; I could tell by the looks on their faces. It was a beautiful moment for me to take in. The Intensive Care physician asked me if I remembered him, and for some reason he looked familiar. Then he explained that he came and sat with me when I was recovering at Mayo Clinic. I did remember him coming to visit at Mayo, and I remembered thinking, who is this guy hanging out in my room. It was this new encounter with him that made me realize that he cared so much for me that he came to visit me on his time off to see how I was recovering. I never knew doctors to be like this.
As we were leaving, another staff member told me that when I was at Mercy, the cleaning staff member came in to clean the room I had been in during the trauma, and as she entered, she saw an incredible amount of empty bags of blood on the floor. She immediately ran and got the rest of her crew to come in and pray for the woman who lost all this blood. That woman was me. They thought that there was no way I could have survived, but they came in and prayed for me…a total stranger. It’s these kinds of stories that have made such an imprint in my life.
The day I came back from revisiting the hospital staff, I began experiencing symptoms from an infection I had contracted while being in the hospital on antibiotics. My road to recovery was becoming a struggle to recover. The infection was so bad that I was losing a great deal of weight daily. I couldn’t eat or drink and was becoming dehydrated which is not good for anyone…let alone someone with heart problems. I was so weak and so tired; I could not even hold my daughter or play with my son. After about a week of not knowing that I even had this infection, I finally went to Urgent Care. The doctor didn’t give me any answers, and I went home and told Doug that if I die again, to know that I have lived a good life and to go on without me. That should reveal to you the state I was in. I did not think I would make it through. I was so distraught and weeping uncontrollably for hours wondering how I could possibly get through this illness. I didn’t have the strength. Then the next day a friend came to see me and took one look at me and said, “We are getting you to a doctor.” She made a phone call to a friend of hers who is a doctor. He said he could get me in right away. I knew I had to go, but I didn’t even know if I could muster up the strength for the car ride, but I pushed through the pain and got into her car.
She drove me there and I was seen by this Catholic doctor who immediately put me on an IV of fluids to help with my dehydration. He diagnosed me with the same infection that my brother suspected that I had. It was also the infection that my grandfather had died of just a few days prior. This was even more concerning because I had just witnessed my grandfather suffer through this terrible illness which ultimately led to his death. He had died soon after I had returned home from the hospital. I was scared that I too would die – that the other shoe would drop, that what happened at the hospital was just the beginning. I thought, maybe I was not intended to live. Keep in mind, I was on a lot of medication, pain killers, and had hormonal imbalance from just having a baby. My thoughts were not clear, and I was becoming depressed. This doctor and my brother finally put me on the right track to healing. It took several weeks to cure, and I suffered a lot during that time, but it drew me ever so close to the Lord. Every time I suffered, I offered it up for others, and I prayed constantly. All I could do was pray. All I could do was ask others to pray. Once again, I was able to make it through and I did recover.
My mother has come to take care of me every day, all day, for the past three months. She has literally given her life up to take care of me and the children to make sure I don’t overexert my heart. My emotional heart bursts every day I see her. It is as if an angel walks through my door every morning. Motherhood is a sacrifice and I know that, but when you are on the other end of that sacrifice, it is hard to comprehend this kind of selfless love. There has not been a day that has gone by that she doesn’t well up with tears recalling what had happened to me. I hate that her heart hurts from the pain of watching me go through all I did in the hospital. I know she relates to the pain of Mary, watching her child die and being totally unable to control it. I can only imagine how I would feel in her shoes. I cherish every moment with her. She catches me gazing at her sometimes and can’t figure out why I am always looking at her, and I guess it’s that I love her so much and am so grateful for her that I am etching in my memory her sitting there with me loving me beyond measure. I never want these memories to go away. I want them to stay with me forever. Her very presence comforts me. She need not say a word and I know I am loved. She is training me through her example on how to love your children so completely in a way that completely forsakes yourself. I am a better mother because she has mothered me so well. My mom has endured too much these past three months. She witnessed my trauma, and when I returned home, a few days went by and her father died in addition to her mother being diagnosed with cancer. In addition, my brother had his baby five days prior to Ella being born and my mother has not been able to spend the kind of time with him that she does with Ella which I know breaks her heart. I am starting the canonization process for her!
Speaking of saints, my husband is another I am signing up for canonization. Before we were married, people asked what made me fall in love with Doug, and one of my responses was that if ever I was on my death-bed he would be the guy standing next to me holding my hand and looking at me with a kind of love that never faded. Who knew that that day would come only three years into our marriage. Doug has endured too much as well. His strength is one only a true man of God could have. At the beginning of my recovery, I was unable to care for the children, so not only did he have to go to work, but he had to come home to take on all the responsibilities of taking care of the kids along with taking care of me and the bills and the chores and etc. At our wedding, the Priest said, “Today should be the day you love each other the least. Every year your love should grow more than the year before.” Wow! He said it best. I love my husband a thousand times more today than the day we were married. He is my superhero!
Not only have my mother and husband sacrificed for me, but all my friends and family have too. They have taken turns to come a few hours a day to give my mom breaks. They have brought so much joy to my life. Since I was homebound for most of my recovery, knowing they were coming over would liven me up and Brady too! I am especially grateful to my neighbor Tifni Shroll who when I was at my sickest, would take Brady to her house to play with her children to give him a sense of normalcy and to give my mother and me a break. She is another saint in the making! My father has helped us too by taking over for my mom at times, helping my husband with things around the house, and helping my brother and his wife with their new baby while my mom has been with us. He has such a giving heart! I am so blessed to have the most wonderful family and friends who have stepped in during my time of need to be there for me in whatever ways I needed. I have a grateful heart!
On another note, I told Doug today that when all of this is behind us, and as people forget, I will miss the look in people’s eyes when they see me. Today, someone I haven’t seen in years came up to me and did the same thing that so many others have been doing. He ran up to me, took in a deep breath, looked into my eyes with the most loving gaze and said, “It is so good to see you” and then gave me the biggest bear hug. This is an everyday occurrence in my life since the trauma, and it is something I wish every person could experience. All I can say is that I feel the love of so many people that I am overwhelmed. I don’t know what to do with it all. Many times I feel so blessed but at the same time undeserving. I wish everyone could experience these kinds of gazes that reach into the heart of you and reveal and remind you of your worth and how much you mean to them.
I used to have such a hard shell and tough exterior, but this has changed me. It has softened me. The Lord has pierced my heart in ways that I cannot hide from. The cares I used to have disappeared and all I want to do is live even more for the Lord and to be a witness for His Truth. I have become a total mush-ball! I feel like in dying and coming back to life, that the parts of me that were walled or calloused have died, and God has peeled back the layers of me as if peeling an onion and the core of me is being exposed. It’s a bit weird and a lot to take in at times. The Lord has given me an invitation to start anew and to regain sight of what is most important. For me it took dying and being a part of this traumatic event to awaken me to being more open to God’s plan for my life instead of trying to be so in control of everything.
I have always been a strong and independent woman, but this whole thing has left me weak and vulnerable in ways that I have had to let down my guard and allow others to serve me and take care of me. It’s been extremely humbling. I have had to die to so many things in order to get through these past three months, and in doing that I have been set free from restrictions I have placed on myself. God has done to me what he has done to the Eucharist. He has taken me, broken me, and blessed me, so that I may share what I know with the world.
Today, I am meeting with one of the doctors who cared for me. I am hoping he can fill in the many blanks I have from the details of my ordeal. I will blog about that soon!
Blog from August 26
The happenings of July 28, 2010-by Doug Pritchard
“Why did this happen to me?” That question seems selfish on the outset; presuming that being the victim of a situation, circumstance, or suffering is a bad thing or something unconscionable. This is a fallacy uprooted by the Christian faith through belief in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. It is only in retrospect that I have begun to understand, through grace, how mysterious and awesome the Divine Plan is in the furtherance of the Kingdom of God. I will present a timeline of events interweaved with my feelings and inclinations throughout this terrible and amazing experience.
Around 4:30 AM my wife, Melanie, began to feel stronger contractions that were a prelude to full-blown labor pains. The culmination of months of appointments had finally come. We began the long trip from our home in Tempe to Mercy Gilbert Medical Center. Once we arrived, we were taken to the triage room of the labor and delivery department where the nurses determined that Melanie was far enough along that she would be admitted and given a room. Melanie and I hit the phones, contacting everyone that we wanted present as well as those close friends and family that could not be at the hospital, asking all to pray for us. For every contraction that occurred, Melanie would offer her suffering and pain for the reparation and graces for many of our infirm or struggling loved ones and friends. It was beautiful and a marvel to see. I recommend this for all expectant mothers and fathers.
The early morning hours at the hospital were strikingly similar to the way things transpired for the birth of our son nearly three years ago. There was no cause for concern as the labor was progressing easily. Once we received a room, Melanie requested the epidural. Twenty minutes later, the anesthesiologist entered and relieved Melanie of the pain that had been growing significantly over the past couple hours. Melanie then updated many friends praising the invention of localized anesthesia through text message.
Right around 6:00 AM, Melanie’s parents arrived at the hospital with news of who else was en route to arrive at the hospital. As we waited patiently for the labor to continue to progress, at 7:00 AM, Melanie’s OG/GYN arrived and informed us that she was progressing rapidly and thus ruptured her bag of waters. When the attending nurse was reviewing some information with us and checking on my wife, Melanie indicated that she was feeling that something was wrong, was light-headed, and felt somewhat nauseous. At that point, my father-in-law took our son out of the room to prevent him from witnessing his mother vomit. At approximately 7:30 AM, Melanie stated that she felt as though she was going to pass out. At that point, the nurse attempted to reposition Melanie and try to determine the cause of her light-headedness as there was no indication from her vitals that something was amiss. Melanie then slumped to her side, having what seemed like mild convulsions to a layman’s eyes. I was standing at the end of her bed as I witnessed her heart rate and blood pressure flash zero on her monitors, as well as our unborn child’s heart rate begin to plummet precipitously. As I looked back at Melanie’s face, her skin had turned a deep blue. I knew then that she was not breathing and had no heart rate. I had seen enough movies to know that this was not good.
I watched as a team of staff, five or six, wheeled my wife out of the room and two doors down to the operating room in attempts to save her life as well as my daughter. I remember saying a simple prayer through my tears stating, “God, I know that this is more than I can handle, which means you have a plan and a purpose in this, and I trust you; but please, if it is your will, allow me to hold my wife again.” I have never felt more helpless and afraid in all my life.
I had finished my prayer and assessed the room of family and friends in shock and tears as the next two people stepped into the room; the hospital social worker and a priest. I am almost ashamed to say that my first thought was, “I am a widower. They have come to tell me that my wife had died and that they did everything they could.” The only news that they had was that Melanie was still in the OR, but the baby was delivered and in the nursery receiving attention. We all began to pray, holding hands and crying to God and all the saints in an appeal to save my wife’s life.
The next person to come in was the general surgeon who indicated that she was simply walking by the nurses’ station right outside our door at the time of the initial incident which made the response to the trauma immediate, which most likely is what saved her life. The right people in the right place, at the right time. She informed us that Melanie had entered the operating room with no pulse and not breathing. She was clinically dead. The team shocked her with a defibrillator with no effect, began CPR, and then shocked her again, which resulted in a faint heartbeat. She had been without oxygen or a pulse for around 10 minutes. They then spent over an hour and a half trying to resuscitate her.
Immediately after the prayer I went to the nursery to see my daughter. As I wiped the tears from my face to see her, the first thing I noticed was that she had blonde hair and light eyes; just like her mother. At this time, I did not know if Melanie was alive or dead and the first thing I thought of when the nurses asked me the baby’s name was, “what would Melanie want me to name her?” Without hesitation I replied, “Gabriella”, the “heroine of God”. It was in the nursery that an OR nurse entered and informed me that they had stabilized Melanie and were going to move her to ICU shortly.
The head of the ICU came to our room shortly after and informed us that they thought Melanie had experienced an amniotic fluid embolism, which led to a cardiac arrest. I came to find out later from various other doctors that often in an emergency c-section a uterine artery is cut, but it is caught and remedied quickly as it will bleed instantly. Apparently, due to the vascular inflammatory response of having amniotic fluid in her vessels, very little blood appeared during the c-section so no remedial action was taken as there was no call for alarm.
We also found out that Melanie was experiencing a condition called DIC, which in her case meant that her blood wasn’t clotting. At the same time, the surgical team transfused her blood to remove the amniotic fluid-tainted blood. As a result of this removal, the vascular inflammatory response ceased and a severed uterine artery began to bleed freely into her now closed abdomen.
In the ICU, we were told to prepare our goodbyes as there was little likelihood that Melanie would survive. The rest of Melanie’s family and myself consoled one another and took our time to share what we thought were last moments with her, waiting for her heart to fail again. As noon rolled around, Melanie had received vast quantities of blood thickening products to assist in clotting. Another surgeon was called to perform a sonograms of her belly and noticed that her belly was full of blood. They needed to operate again immediately. Again, the nurses and doctors indicated that there was very little chance she would survive this surgery so again, we said our goodbyes.
My mind was racing as I never dreamed I would ever have to think of what to tell my spouse on her deathbed, let alone actually say it, more than once. By now everyone was overcome with emotion and was distraught. As I was the last to have time with her prior to the surgery, I said simply this, “I love you, I will always love you. Brady and Ella are beautiful and love you. If you have any fight left, then fight. Despite my hopes, promise me that you will follow your guardian angel wherever he leads you. Where he leads you will be where God needs you.”
Miraculously, Melanie survived this surgery as well. The doctors removed 5 Liters of blood from her abdomen alone and were able to identify the bleeding and had to pack down her belly (simply put, they stuffed her belly full of towels to compress the bleeding). They indicated that due to the amount of fluids that they had given, she was very swollen and as result, they could not close her abdomen, thus she was still open on her bed with increased risk of infection.
Though I was elated that Melanie was still alive, her brother (a cardio-thoracic surgeon himself) informed me that now that they stopped the bleeding, pressure was regained in her circulatory system. The issue now was that the multiple blood products that she was given for most of the morning had thickened her blood to a consistency like molasses which meant that her heart had to work three times as hard to try to pump blood through her system. My brother-in-law said that she would experience heart and lung failure. I waited and watched as what he said came true over the course of an hour. She had been put on a ventilator since the initial operation early that morning, but now it was assisting at 100%, which meant that she was no longer assisting in her own breathing. Scans of her heart revealed that her ejection fraction was only 5% (normal is between 55% and 65%). I prayed that her muse, the man who supplied the material for her work, John Paul II, would intercede for another morsel of grace in this day already filled with miraculously beaten odds.
It was then that I found a quiet place, as my wife was slipping away, and wept. I wept for my children, my family, and myself. As I wept, one of my best friends from my small home town in Missouri walked into view. I gave him a hug and wept some more. I made another heart-wrenching phone call to my father and my friend and I went back into the ICU. My closest companions in the ICU were my in-laws, my friend, and the priests that had been close friends with Melanie since their high school days.
I noticed that my brother-in-law was on his phone frequently and pulled him aside to ask what was happening. He stated that he was organizing a transport for Melanie to the Mayo Clinic Hospital Critical Care Unit. I told him I trusted his opinion and asked him to make it happen. He had organized a “hospital on wheels” to come from Mayo to Mercy Gilbert (an hour drive) to assess and transport her that night. They arrived and agreed that Melanie would not have to be put on a special type of heart and lung machine as medications were stabilizing her enough for transport. Knowing that it was an hour-long drive and her heart and lungs were hanging on by threads, we said our goodbyes for a third time.
My friend drove me to the Mayo Clinic and we arrived a few minutes before Melanie arrived. We found in the waiting room more friends, one of which handed me a pouch and told me to hold on to it as long as I needed it. I opened it to find a medium-sized crucifix with first class relics of five different saints (Saints Paul of the Cross, Gemma, and Maria Goretti to name a few). Shortly after this gift, a team of doctors slowly entered the waiting room to discuss Melanie’s case. By now it was around 9:00 PM as every one of the doctors and surgeons listed their plans for helping Melanie recover as best they could. They advised that it may be too little, too late and that even if she survives, there may be severe brain damage from the period of time her brain was without oxygen earlier in the day.
We dispersed after the doctors’ report resigned to the fact that she was stable and that nothing could be done until morning. We attempted to sleep wherever we could for the night. I arose after about two hours of sleep to news that Melanie would be going into another surgery, her third, to remove the packing from her still open abdomen, assess the damage and potential bleeding, as well as attempt to close the wound. The nurses from this surgery informed Melanie a few days later that they had never seen anyone live through the surgery they participated in, let alone heard of anyone live through each of the surgeries she underwent over the initial 24 hours of her ordeal.
Just prior to this last surgery, the ICU staff informed us that they would be trying to withhold some of the sedation to more accurately assess Melanie’s neurological state. I was told by staff prior that if Melanie had in fact experienced an amniotic embolism, the fact that she survived the initial cardiac arrests was a miracle, but the very few who do survive are likely to be permanently and severely neurologically impaired and perhaps brain-dead. So needless to say, I was again prepared for the worst, but prayed for another miracle.
As I entered Melanie’s room with her sister, I saw that her eyes were open and looking around. I simply said, “Hey babe.” Without hesitation, she turned and looked at me and her eyes began to well up with tears. I was elated, but I knew I wouldn’t have much time as she would have to be sedated again for another surgery she may not make it through. I went immediately to her side and saw that her arms had been restrained to prevent her from taking out her ventilator tube or any other IVs or monitors. I simply told her that I loved her and that I was so proud of her. I tried to calm her down and asked her simple questions to which she nodded or shook her head. It was clear to me at that point that my wife was not brain-dead or even neurologically impaired.
Melanie’s sister saw this exchange and ran to the waiting room to get a picture of Ella for Melanie to see before she was taken to surgery. It may have been the only opportunity for her to see her daughter if she didn’t make it through the risky operation. Melanie’s sister came rushing back into the room with her Blackberry and a picture of Ella. We showed it to Melanie and she began to cry. She was trying to twist and turn to get out of her bed and had to be sedated again to calm her down so that she didn’t cause any more problems as her abdomen was still open all this time. They wheeled her off to surgery and, for the first time through all this, I felt some optimism and hope, despite the low probability of her survival through the surgery.
Melanie’s sister and I returned to the waiting room with smiles and tears streaming down our faces. We shared the experience with loved ones and friends and the mood was joyful and prayerful. Looking through the waiting room I saw almost every person, at one point or another, whisper a quiet prayer of thanksgiving to God for further evidence of his mercy and grace through this situation. It was beautiful.
After about an hour, one of the operating nurses came to see us to inform us that the surgery was going well, but the doctor still anticipated another hour or so to complete it. Prior to the surgery I was asked to sign a consent form in which, in the case of dire necessity, would allow for a full hysterectomy. That thought dwelled in my mind though the surgeon stated to me that the chances of that were remote. I was not sure how Melanie or I would react if this great defender of the womb would have to have hers removed after birth. A little over an hour later, the surgeon was going to consult us in a private room to discuss the surgery. He met with my in-laws and myself and stated that everything went very well; there was no additional bleeding, no hysterectomy needed, and no obvious infection despite being open for almost 24 hours. I felt like Job in the face of doubtful friends holding on to his faith and trust that God would not forsake a faithful servant. Melanie is truly a good and faithful servant.
With this surgery complete, her wounds closed and her heart and lungs recovering, a miraculous recovery began to unfold. Within the next 24 hours, Melanie was weaned off of all medications except for pain medication. She was breathing on her own and had her ventilator removed. She was talking and was allowed to move from her bed to a recliner. I got word that her ventilator was being removed while I was on the road between Mayo Clinic, Mercy Gilbert, and our close friends who were watching our son, Brady, while this was all going on. I opted to let my sister-in-law continue to care for Ella at Mercy Gilbert because I wanted to be at Melanie’s side to speak to her.
When I arrived, I immediately went back to her room to see her father, a man I had never seen cry until this ordeal, smiling from ear to ear, eyes welling up. I entered and sat next to my wife. She touched my face and said, “Hey babe, how are you?” I laughed and kissed her hand and cried. I cried for joy and thanked God for this grace and all the petitions offered from the whole Communion of Saints. Melanie’s next words were profound, though she did not know it. She had seen another picture of Ella and told me, “It’s okay honey, you can take care of the kids by yourself.” I knew she simply meant that she would need time to recover and wouldn’t be able to help as much as she would like, but my immediate response spoke to the severity of the situation she had just been through. I quickly responded, “I’m glad I don’t have to.”
With that, I left to let her rest, but of course with my wife that didn’t happen. She allowed the parade of family and close friends come to see her and continuously stated that she was going to “get out of here” soon. She was also not quite clear as to what she had been through and her short-term memory was barely intact, which was all normal for trauma patients and was back to 100% within a couple of days. That night, I woke up very early and went to Mercy Gilbert to bring Ella home. As we were getting discharged, many of the nurses that assisted us came to say hello and shared beautiful stories of prayer and how this situation had touched their lives deeply and permanently. It was amazing and caused my oft-repeated response to the overwhelming support and prayers; all glory to God and His great mercy!
Ella and I made the trek to Mayo Clinic so that Melanie could hold Ella for the first time. We arrived and walked through columns of friends and family in the waiting room eagerly anticipating the joy that would be felt in this reunion. I brought Ella back to Melanie and Melanie began to cry and though I knew that at this point that she would most likely not remember the event, I permanently etched that image in my memory and asked a friend to take a picture. If any of you know my wife, you know that she rarely remembers small events unless there is a photograph to prove it. I wanted her to see that moment and know that she was as happy and joyful as I had ever seen her.
From that day on, Melanie’s recovery was progressing rapidly. Aside from sleeping, Ella was with us at Mayo throughout the rest of Melanie’s stay. Brady and Ella were now both staying at our house under the watchful eyes of my mother, who had flown in from Missouri, and Melanie’s mother and sister. On the morning of August 3, 2010, Melanie was discharged from Mayo Clinic to continue recovery at home. Our world and the world of many others had changed significantly over the past six days. I thought to myself, how appropriate that Melanie would be allowed to rest at home beginning on the seventh day after this, her own resurrection of sorts. God is good!
The doctors indicated that Melanie would recover completely from the surgeries, but her heart function would take more time to recover. They prescribed one medication to help her heart recover. In recent follow-up appointments many of the doctors we spoke to used the term miraculous more than once in our conversations. That took me by surprise, but I knew that what they could not explain, we could, thanks to faith. The doctors did provide Melanie with a monitoring device with a defibrillator for the remote chance that her heart would have another cardiac arrest episode in the next three months. They do not think that will happen, and expect her heart to make a full recovery in that time.
Whether this event means that Melanie will have to take a pill for the rest of her life to regulate or assist her heart does not in any way cast a shadow or doubt on the series of miracles and graces poured out upon her, our family, and the thousands of people who have been praying and supporting us! God has allowed Melanie to be the lighthouse in this storm of life to bring many stranded souls back home to the Heart of Jesus. I have been blessed in the sense that my wife and children are alive and well by His grace. I have written this account to assist in my own healing, the healing of others that may relate in some way, and for documentation should any be requested of me.
All glory to God! Please continue to pray for us and especially pray for those families that have had similar experiences in which the outcome was different. Pray for all families and mothers. Never stop praying!
Blog from August 22
The Greatest Miracle
When I was in high school church youth group, the question was posed “If you were on your death-bed, who would you need to call or what would you feel like you would need to take care of.” Hands raised as people responded with an assortment of things, however, one wise person answered “I wouldn’t need to call anyone or do anything because I live everyday as if it is the last.” That always stuck in my brain.
On July 28. 2010, my father’s birthday and on the day my daughter was born, I died. It was during my unforeseen death that the delivery of my second child occurred via c-section. I will never have the experience of seeing my second child being born, hear her first scream, or hold her in my arms for the first time because I had disappeared from this life. Minutes later, through the intense and dedicated work of a doctor performing chest compressions on me, I was revived. Although alive again, I was still unconscious to what was going on in my surroundings. Matter of fact, I wouldn’t have a full conscious memory for days to follow. And, even then, my memory was limited to days before my delivery. I had been absent from conscious memory of life for at least three days.
Now that I have seen the face of death, I have to ask myself the same question posed in high school. Matter of fact, I have been asking myself many questions. Did I love my husband enough? Did he know it? Did my children know their worth and how much they meant to me? Did my family feel my love and respect for them? Did my friends know how much I cared about them? Was I a good friend? Was I a good citizen? Was I true to myself and my word? Did I make a difference in this world? Was I faithful to God and to living my life in a way that was pleasing to Him?
These questions and more are ones I have come face to face with during my days of recovery. The answers to all of these questions are that I tried my best to be a good wife, a good mother, a good family member, a good friend, a good citizen, one who is true to her word and faithful to God.
Had I died, I could have died in peace knowing that nothing went unsaid and that I lived an exciting life for the Lord with the ability to make a difference in this world. Why God chose to keep me alive is one thing that only the future will tell me as I feel a renewed purpose. Maybe my death was an awakening for me to simplify my life, or an awakening that God has more plans to use me, or maybe it was an awakening for me to not just be a good wife, a good mother and etc., but a great wife, a great mother and etc. Maybe I was just a pawn in a bigger plan that God had to bring others to their knees in prayer, to rely solely on him, to realize their limitations and inability to control. Maybe it was a reality check that God is in control, that He is in charge and He wants his children to come home to Him by hitting their knees to the floor, pounding their fists in the air, praying to Him with unceasing devotion. Maybe this wasn’t about me, but about all of us.
To hear that I was the number one Googled persons in AZ for a day, or the top 100 Twittered persons,, or that churches held prayer services around the world for me, that I was prayed for on radio stations, or that hundreds of people who I don’t know requested to be my friend on Facebook and wrote to tell me how hard they prayed, will forever astonish me. Total strangers who forwarded e-mails about my condition to others requesting prayers. People I know and don’t know donated money generously. Ones I know who don’t have extra money, gave to me to ensure my medical expenses would be taken care of.
This to me is the extraordinary, the unexplainable, the miracle! What I have witnessed while being back in this life is truly this most beautiful! And the greatest miracle was not that God brought me back to life, but that He brought so many back to Him through this situation. A community of people around the world who had come together even if for a moment in time to pray, to hold their families a little closer, to believe in the impossible, to believe that miracles can happen. If this is all that ever comes from all that I have had to endure through this, it will be enough to know that the human condition is good, is wonderful, is beautiful, and that we have the ability to love a stranger in ways maybe we never knew were possible. That we are truly God’s children connected by our inheritance given to us by the greatest lover and maker of all time…our Father in heaven.
Blog from August 08
Eleven Days Ago the Lord Spared My Life
Eleven days ago, I went to Mercy Gilbert Hospital to deliver my baby girl. It was an exciting day, and it was also my dad’s birthday! Soon after getting there, I complained of feeling sick and that is when the trauma began. My husband has written an account of what really happened to me because I have no memory of it at all. Soon I will post that for those of you who want to know what exactly transpired.
Not only did God spare my life, but he also spared my memory. When I woke up in the hospital, I had thought I had given birth and was asking physicians if I could go home that day. Eventually my family explained that I was at that Mayo Clinic and how critical my recovery was. I was astonished but not quite able to comprehend it.
A few days into my recovery at Mayo Clinic as I was trying to make sense of it all and take in what had happened to me, two nurses were hovering over me while I was asleep and Gabriella, my new-born, was asleep in my arms. I opened my eyes to these women who looked at me with the most loving and compassionate eyes. Once they saw that I was awake, they said, “We were your surgical nurses. We have been praying so hard for your recovery.” Instantly, I thanked them with incredible gratitude. They went on to tell me that in 25 years as working as surgical nurses, they had NEVER seen anyone live through what I experienced.
This was the first time being in the hospital that the seriousness of my condition set in, and I realized what a miracle had happened.
As I heard about the family and friends who flew out from different parts of the country to be with me immediately and the ones who came from all over town to sit in waiting rooms and pray for me. Then, if that wasn’t enough outpouring of love and support, I found out about all the people all over the world who had been praying for me. I found out about the prayer services and masses said in my honor and conferences that stopped to pray for me across the country, and people like one of the workers at the hospital who had heard my story and never had been to adoration in his life, but that night went to the chapel and prayed for me for 3 hours. He was a total stranger who united himself with me in prayer. I am completely overwhelmed by the outpouring of prayers, love and support. On top of that, by the time I had been discharged out of the hospital, hundreds of people had donated to my medical costs. I am so humbled. Your prayers saved my life! They saved my husband from having to be a widower with two small children. They saved my father from losing his daughter on his birthday. They saved my children, mother, brother, sisters, nephews, nieces, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends from losing me.
I firmly believe that the evil one had a plan that day to take my life, but God’s infinite mercy, the hands of incredible doctors and surgeons, my priest friend’s who brought me communion, and the faithful community with incredibly selfless love, support and prayers squashed whatever plans he had.
Now I am on the road to recovery. It will take some time, but I am dedicated to LIVE! I have a heart condition now that I am taking medication for. Because I suffered two cardiac arrests, there is a 50% chance of me having one again, so for the next three months I will be wearing a portable defibrillator, so if my heart does stop beating again, it will automatically shock me back to life. I met with a heart doctor a few days ago, who told me that he is having me wear this device as a precaution, however, my heart “miraculously” (his word choice) is already showing improvement and where they would normally put in an implanted defibrillator in my heart, they are choosing not to because they think that my heart may fully recover in three months, which is nearly unheard of. Please continue to pray for the recovery of my heart and my body.
Last night, my good friend Fr. John Muir held mass in my house for my family since I am homebound for a while during recovery. He said the most profound words in his homily. The second reading was the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham had a blind trust in God who was asking him to sacrifice his son’s life. In the end, God stopped Abraham from killing his son, and Abraham showed an incredible trust in God’s plan.
Eleven days ago, Fr. Muir with the assistance of my other great friend Fr. Parks, administered the sacrament of anointing of sick on me in the hospital, and in Fr. Muir’s homily last night, he spoke of how my mother, my father, my husband, my brother and sisters were much like Abraham when they were asked to say their goodbyes to me that night and to trust that God had a bigger plan. God gave me back to them and to all of you as a symbol of God’s trustworthiness, of His resurrection, His power and His grace.
Each one of you who have stayed by my side in prayer, who have kept up with my recovery and who have sent me letters, facebook entries, twittered about me, sent e-mails and etc., I thank you, and I will pray for you my faithful friends and community! You truly have changed my life!