Archive of March 7, 2009

Austin doctors help Haitian boy with heart defect

Austin, Texas, Mar 7, 2009 (CNA) - Luidgy Virgile is a beautiful 2-year-old boy from Haiti. His dark curly hair, ready smile and rambunctious, energetic spirit make people warm to him immediately.  However, just six months ago, Luidgy’s parents were terrified of losing him because he had a congenital heart defect. But, thanks to the grace of God, a local nonprofit organization, and physicians in Central Texas, Luidgy’s heart has been successfully treated, and he can look forward to a long and healthy life.

In March 2008, Luidgy was diagnosed with an atrial septal defect, a hole between the upper chambers of his heart. The oxygenated blood and non-oxygenated blood were blending inside his heart. He also had an atrial flutter –– an irregular heartbeat. His symptoms included fatigue and trouble breathing.

Luidgy needed surgical procedures to fix these problems, but this type of surgery is not done in Haiti. In addition, Luidgy’s parents could not afford to travel to another country and pay the high medical fees for their son. Elika, Luidgy’s mother, is a law student, and his father is a policeman.

“When the doctors in Haiti said Luidgy had to be operated on, we didn’t have the money to have an operation,” Elika said. “We thought we would lose him.”

And then a marvelous series of occurrences took place.

Elika’s sister, Nathalie Jacques, works at the Sacre Coeur Hospital in Milot, Haiti, where she met Sister Martha Barlai-Kovach.

Twenty years ago, Sister Barlai-Kovach was in the novitiate for the Daughters of Charity with Sister Teresa George, the vice president and chief operating officer of Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin.

Sister Barlai-Kovach e-mailed Sister George asking if there was any way she could help Luidgy.

Sister George knew about Heartgift, a nonprofit organization in Austin and San Antonio, which provides life-saving heart surgery to disadvantaged children in developing countries where this type of surgery is not available, at no cost to the children and their families. Sister George contacted Heartgift.

In January, Elika and Luidgy flew to Austin. Heartgift arranged for transportation, medical treatment and a French-speaking host family.

Initially, everyone involved expected Luidgy would need open-heart surgery, which requires about a week’s stay in the hospital and then several weeks of recovery.

But it was discovered that Luidgy’s medical condition could be treated in the cardiac catheterization lab at Dell Children’s Medical Center, with surgical instruments threaded to his heart via catheterization.

Dr. Arnold Fenrich, pediatric electrophysiologist with Children’s Cardiology Associates in Austin, was able to find the cause of Luidgy’s atrial flutter and treat it.

“I identified an area of tissue on the top chamber that would allow me to deliver energy to that tissue to cause a scar and block the path (in order to make his heartbeat normal.) I treated it with radio-frequency energy,” Dr. Fenrich said.

Lisa Rodman, the executive director of Heartgift, said Dr. Fenrich’s presence in Austin made it possible for Heartgift to bring Luidgy here. Dr. Fenrich is the only pediatric electrophysiologist in Austin and he just recently began practicing in Austin.

“Until Dr. Fenrich came here, the problem wasn’t treatable here. If we had heard about Luidgy’s problem even six months earlier, we probably couldn’t have treated it,” Rodman said.

The second part of Luidgy’s treatment was closing the hole –– the atrial septal defect –– between the upper chambers of his heart. Dr. Karen Wright, a pediatric cardiologist with Children’s Cardiology Associates, successfully closed the hole.

Amazingly, because both of these procedures were done via catheterization, Luidgy never had to undergo open-heart surgery, which would have been more extensive and would have required a longer, more complicated recovery.

Luidgy’s mother said her heart is full of gratitude for everyone who helped her son get well.

“My travel here has gone very well. I was not expecting to be able to stay with a family. I was not expecting to feel so at ease with the family. I am happy Florence is here with me. I really want to thank the hospital and the doctors because they took such good care of my baby. I also want to thank the Heartgift Foundation for everything they have done. I feel it is such a blessing,” she said.

Florence Colantonio and her family hosted Elika and Luidgy during the weeks that they were in Austin.

Many people involved with Luidgy’s treatment have remarked on how fortunate it was that so many pieces fell into place. Sister George does not doubt it was all thanks to God.
“Martha and I are distant friends, that she even thought to write me is remarkable. She didn’t know about Heartgift, she was just asking if we would be able to help. That’s how God works,” Sister George said. “If any one of those pieces were not in place Luidgy’s treatment would not have happened. That’s the providence of people coming together.”

For more information about Heartgift, visit

Printed with permission from the Catholic Spirit, newspaper from the Diocese of Austin, Texas.

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Obama still doesn’t ‘get it’ about adult stem cell research, Rep. Smith says

Washington D.C., Mar 7, 2009 (CNA) - Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) has criticized human embryo-destroying stem cell research, saying it is unethical, “unworkable and unreliable” and now “demonstrably unnecessary” in light of recent advances. He charged that President Obama and some Congressmen “still don’t get it” about the breakthroughs involving adult stem cell research.

Rep. Smith also accused the Obama administration and the Democratic leadership of being “obsessed with killing human embryos for experimentation at taxpayer expense.”

Leading a Special Order of Members of Congress who are opposed to human embryonic stem cell research (ESCR), Rep. Smith made his comments on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday.

“Recent spectacular breakthroughs in noncontroversial adult stem cell research and clinical applications to effectuate cures with the mitigation of disease or disability have been well documented,” he said, remarking on the “significant progress” achieved with adult stem cells.

According to the Congressional Record, he said that his legislation helped establish a nationwide network to collect umbilical cord blood and the placenta from childbirths, which has borne fruit in treating leukemia and sickle cell anemia.

“Adult stem cells, Madam Speaker, are truly remarkable. They work, they have no ethical baggage, and advances are made every day at a dizzying pace,” he said.

He noted scientists Shinya Yamanaka and James Thomson’s development of a process that uses viruses to transform skin cells into pluripotent, embryo-like stem cells called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.

Rep. Smith also referred to research teams from the United Kingdom and Canada who have announced they have successfully reprogrammed ordinary skin cells into iPS skin cells without the use of viruses.  He then quoted the U.K. team’s leading scientist, who told the BBC the procedure might even eliminate the need for human embryos as a source of stem cells.

“Pluripotent stem cells are those miraculous building block cells that can be coaxed into becoming any type of tissue found in the human body,” Rep. Smith explained.

“Unlike embryonic stem cells that kill the donor, are highly unstable, have a propensity to morph into tumors and are likely to be rejected by the patient unless strong anti-rejection medicines are administered, induced pluripotent cells, stem cells, have none of those deficiencies and are emerging as the future, the greatest hope of regenerative medicine.

“While some Members of Congress and President Obama still don't get it, the breakthroughs have not been lost on the mainstream press.”

He quoted several of James Thomson’s comments, in which the University of Wisconsin researcher said the embryonic stem cell debate will be a “funny historical footnote” and characterized new adult stem cell research advances as “probably the beginning of the end of the controversy over embryonic stem cells.”

Referring to the fetal tissue transplantation research promoted in the 1990s, which ended in failure, Rep. Smith suggested embryonic stem cell research advocacy is its parallel.

“There is an excessive amount of hype and hyperbole about embryonic stem cells,” he said, noting their propensity to become tumors in research trials.

Rep. Smith also rebuked comments by ESCR advocates which implied that scientific breakthroughs in adult stem cell research are only highlighted when ESCR legislation is considered.

He quoted Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), who said “I find it very interesting that every time we bring this bill up there is a scientific breakthrough.”

Rep. Smith argued that the breakthroughs are noted because “almost every day there is a scientific breakthrough in the area of adult stem cells and the induced pluripotent stem cells,” characterizing adult stem cells as the “ethical alternative.”

On Friday, CNN reported that this coming Monday President Obama will reverse President George W. Bush’s executive order restricting on embryonic stem cell research. President Bush’s policy allowed funding only on embryonic stem cell lines from embryos which had been destroyed before Aug. 9, 2001.

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Pope Benedict will not visit Israeli museum which denigrates Pius XII

Rome, Italy, Mar 7, 2009 (CNA) - The Israeli ambassador to the Holy See on Friday said that Pope Benedict XVI will not visit Israel’s Holocaust Museum which accuses Pope Pius XII of inaction on the Holocaust. The news comes as a researcher announced on Friday that he had discovered a message from Pius XII that ordered monasteries to give refuge to Jews.

During the Pope’s May 8-15 trip, the pontiff will attend a memorial ceremony at the Yad Vasdhem site but will not visit the museum itself, Ambassador Mordechai Levi told the Italian news agency ANSA. Instead, the Pope, accompanied by Israeli President Shimon Peres, will light a remembrance fire and make a speech.

A caption of a Pope Pius XII exhibit at the museum reads:

“Even when reports about the murder of Jews reached the Vatican, the pope did not protest, either verbally or in writing. In December 1942, [Pius XII] abstained from signing the Allied declaration condemning the extermination of the Jews. When Jews were deported from Rome to Auschwitz, the pope did not intervene.

"The pope maintained his neutral position throughout the war, with the exception of appeals to the rulers of Hungary and Slovakia toward its end. His silence and the absence of guidelines obliged churchmen throughout Europe to decide on their own how to react."

Despite Pope Pius XII’s wartime actions which saved many Jews from Nazi persecution, he has been persistently attacked by some critics who adopt the same line of attack as the caption in Yad Vashem.

The Holy See’s representative to Israel has objected to the caption, as have other Catholics. Ambassador Levi’s comments came after reports that the exhibit caption might be changed.

A debate at Yad Vashem will reportedly take place on Sunday and Monday. The gathering will look at Pius XII in light of the latest historical evidence.

Organizers said the conference will see “if there is something new or something which has to be completely revised” because of new research, ANSA reports.

Recently, Fr. Peter Gumpel, the promoter of Pope Pius XII’s cause of beatification, revealed a note by Pope Pius XII from the archives of a Roman monastery which directly ordered monasteries to shelter persecuted Jews.

“The Holy Father wishes to save his children, the Jews as well, and orders that the Monasteries provide hospitality to these persecuted people,” the November 1943 note reads.

Speaking to Vatican Radio, Fr. Gumpel said there are “numerous oral testimonies” from priests, nuns and others about the Pope’s actions during World War II, but Pius XII’s detractors often demand written evidence.

Fr. Gumpel argued that it would have been dangerous to commit such orders to paper in a time of war and hostility.

He said the rediscovered note could be useful in countering “those who persistently denigrate Pius XII and attack the Catholic Church.”

Yad Vashem’s controversial caption appeared in 2005 when a new museum was unveiled. In 2007, Vatican Ambassador to Israel Archbishop Antonio Franco refused to attend the annual Holocaust remembrance ceremony at Yad Vashem because of the caption.

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San Francisco parish cancels teen-targeted homosexuality play

San Francisco, Calif., Mar 7, 2009 (CNA) - Archbishop of San Francisco George Niederauer has ordered a parish to cancel the performance of a “gay-friendly” play directed at teens. The play was to be performed by students from a Catholic preparatory school.

Archdiocesan spokesman Maurice Healy told the California Catholic Daily that Most Holy Redeemer Church had canceled the play “Be Still and Know” at the request of the archbishop.

The parish bulletin said the play, based on the 2007 book “The God Box,” explores “the subject of homosexuality within a Christian, adolescent context.”

The book on which the play is based won an award from the homosexual advocacy organization the Lambda Literary Foundation. It was praised by the Episcopalian Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, who said it opens up “long-abused biblical passages often used as proof texts to denigrate homosexuality.”

The play was first performed on Jan. 30 at the Campbell Theatre for the Performing Arts on the campus of Sacred Heart Preparatory School in Atherton, California. According to a school press release about the play, it “explores the Bible’s view on homosexuality and the struggle adolescents have with their sexual identity and their identity as Christians.”

John Loschmann, drama director at the preparatory school, adapted the book for the stage.

The California Catholic Daily quoted the account of one teenage participant in the play. She said on a blog that the play “does a beautiful job of defending homosexuality with the Bible, the very thing most commonly used to condemn it.”

According to her report, the play links the condemnation of homosexual acts with the condemnation of shellfish, a common talking point used by advocates of homosexuality, which confuses the ritual purity codes with the moral condemnations conveyed in the book of Leviticus.

“The show is smart, and powerful, and will cause many people to reconsider their beliefs about homosexuality,” the teenage girl wrote.

Most Holy Redeemer, located in San Francisco’s Castro District, has repeatedly been in the news for its attendees’ homosexual advocacy. The parish once hosted the transvestite “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence” fundraising bingo games and used to send a contingent to San Francisco’s “gay pride” parade.

Despite its friendliness to homosexual causes, the church was targeted by vandals suspected to be protesting the passage of Proposition 8, California’s same-sex “marriage” ban. In January, the vandals painted on the church building black swastikas and the words “Ratzinger” and “Niederauer,” the respective last names of the Pope and the Archbishop of San Francisco.

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Fr. Fessio to speak at regional homeschooling conference

Atlanta, Ga., Mar 7, 2009 (CNA) - Father Joseph Fessio, SJ, is slated to speak at the third annual North Georgia Catholic Homeschooling Conference next month.  The conference will include daily Mass, speakers, Catholic university representatives and an extensive used book and curriculum sale.


The conference, which will take place on April 17-18 at North Metro Tech in Acworth, Ga., will follow the theme, “A Journey with St. Paul.”


Co-organizer, Annette Hew told CNA that the conference will provide an occasion for “Catholic Homeschoolers to be inspired to continue homeschooling or to begin homeschooling.”  Furthermore, she continued, parents will be able to actually see “good Catholic curriculum,” and have the opportunity to meet other homeschooling families.


Fr. Fessio will give two talks to the conference participants, the first is titled, “Walking in the Footsteps of St. Paul,” and the second is “Homeschooling and the Mass.”  Other speakers will discuss the Catholic homeschooling journey – from getting started to preparing for college.


The conference will also offer daily Mass, Catholic vendors and an extensive used book and curriculum sale.  Hew noted the importance of the book sale in light of uncertain economic times.  “The used book sale we are sponsoring is a wonderful place to acquire good Catholic materials at a discounted price, which is so important today in our difficult economy.”


On Saturday, the second day of the conference, a college fair featuring Catholic colleges and local institutions will be offered.  Each school will offer a 10-15 minute presentation on its mission; admissions process; and other topics, such as transcript and portfolio preparation, testing, and financial aid.  Parents and prospective students will also have the opportunity to speak one-on-one with college representatives.


Colleges participating include: Belmont Abbey College, Southern Catholic College, John Paul the Great Catholic University and North Metro Tech. 


To purchase tickets or obtain more information on the conference, visit:

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