Arlington, Va., Jan 7, 2012 (CNA) - The story of Baby Andrew is a special one. It’s got newborns and nuns, doctors and dreams. It has prayer and hope, sorrow and fear. But mostly, what the story of Baby Andrew has is heart — in every sense of the word.
At 8-and-a-half months old, the son of Jennifer and Andrew Johnson (names have been changed) is wide-eyed and chunky. He’s doing everything else a baby of that age is doing: scooting across the floor, sticking whatever he can into his mouth — and smiling ridiculously often.
But for Baby Andrew, each one of these simple acts is a small miracle. This is a little boy who was never supposed to scoot across the floor, eat or smile — because he was never supposed to live.
In January 2011, nearly three months from his due date, Baby Andrew was diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), a rare heart disease that occurs when a baby’s heart does not fully develop in utero. Jennifer, a third-grade teacher at St. Thomas Aquinas Regional School in Woodbridge, Va., was told by specialists near and far to prepare herself for the worst — that Baby Andrew’s heart would give out before he had a chance to develop fully in her womb. But the woman who had taught in a classroom dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for the last 10 years wouldn’t accept bad news.
The last thing she could do, said the mother of three, including a miscarried baby in 2007, was sit around and do nothing.
Via Facebook, Jennifer asked friends and family around the world to pray for Baby Andrew’s miraculous healing.
“We know the prayers started right away,” Jennifer said.
On the way to visit an out-of-town specialist, Jennifer and Andrew saw a Nashville Dominican sister visiting from Rome at the airport. Feeling a connection because of her teaching position at Aquinas, Jennifer immediately approached the sister and asked her, too, to pray.
“We felt a sense of relief knowing that our intentions for (Baby Andrew) would be taken back to Rome,” she said. “I know he was prayed for worldwide.”
With Baby Andrew suffering from complications of HLHS, Jennifer went on a special medicine that did more than the doctors had been expecting. Still, however, the medical experts expected Baby Andrew to die by the end of February at the latest.
From then on, it was just “sit and wait and pray,” Jennifer said. “And we prayed and we prayed.”
In need of a heart
Defying the odds, Baby Andrew was born March 21 weighing a healthy 9 pounds, 2 ounces.
“He cried and it was the sweetest sound,” Jennifer said.
But they were hardly out of the woods. Because he was so sick, Baby Andrew was baptized and confirmed upon birth. Surgeons were nearby in case they needed to do emergency open-heart surgery.
“It was dire,” Jennifer said.
At 8 days old, Baby Andrew had his first open-heart surgery, with the doctors trying to avoid an immediate transplant by propping his heart valves open to allow blood to flow through.
He only got worse.
After the surgery, “he was white as a sheet and just lying there,” Jennifer said. “It was horrible.”
That’s when she knew there was no stop-gap fix. Baby Andrew needed a new heart, and he needed it soon.
Around this time of extreme anxiety and fear, Jennifer’s oldest daughter, Katelyn, had a dream where she and Jennifer were at a playground. In the dream, Jennifer told Katelyn to touch her chest, and when she did a hand-drawn heart appeared. Then Jennifer was replaced by the Blessed Mother, whose eyes shone gold.
“The hand-drawn heart turned into the Sacred Heart of Jesus,” Jennifer said, tears filling her eyes as she recounted the story. Then a voice that her daughter had never heard before said: “Don’t worry, your little brother will be OK.”
“That’s amazing,” Jennifer said. “You can’t explain that. You can’t.”
At the beginning of May, Baby Andrew was added to the United Network for Organ Sharing. The weeks of waiting were filled with scary days, Jennifer said, “but at the time I just had to believe it would be OK.
“Every day I prayed for the perfect heart at the perfect time,” Jennifer said, including a day when she knelt in a church and sobbed.
“I just remember saying, ‘I lay it down Lord, whatever way this goes, I lay it at Your feet,’” she prayed. “‘You know what I want, but it’s up to You.’”
Two days later, on July 1, Jennifer and Andrew received a phone call at 4:30 a.m. Baby Andrew had a donor. It was 19 days after Pentecost Sunday and Jennifer could hardly contain her excitement. July 1 was the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The road to recovery
It seemed God indeed had provided Baby Andrew with “the perfect heart at the perfect time.” In the operating room, his new heart was a perfect fit, and Jennifer now considers the day of Baby Andrew’s transplant as his second birthday.
“After being basically re-born three months later, he has probably caught up to every developmental milestone you could expect,” she said. “We never gave up hope, never gave up prayers, and God saw him through to where he is today.”
Baby Andrew’s life will never be completely free of struggles. Right now, he visits the hospital every other month for a biopsy to look for signs of cellular rejection of his new heart. Wary of germs, Jennifer has four bottles of what her youngest daughter, Megan, calls “hanitizer” sitting on her desk, always to be used before touching the baby. And, in years to come, Baby Andrew likely will have to have another heart transplant.
But when that time comes, Jennifer will remember the lesson she has learned throughout the past 12 months.
“Try as we might, we have no control,” Jennifer said. “It’s up to God, and (we must learn) to trust in His plan.”
Every day Jennifer thanks God for the heart donor and for Baby Andrew’s health. She knows she can face the future because of her firm belief that she and her family are cradled in Jesus’ Sacred Heart.
“I prayed for the perfect heart at the perfect time and I’m confident that that’s what God gave us,” Jennifer said.
She paused, looking down at her healthy, all-smiles son.
“Because just look at him.”
Printed with permission from The Catholic Herald, newspaper for the Diocese of Arlington, Va.
Washington D.C., Jan 7, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said that only those who “don’t recognize the dignity of all human life” might think that he is “somehow weird” for how he dealt with the loss of his son in 1996.
To those who think a baby is merely “a blob of tissue that should be discarded and disposed of,” recognition of a dead baby’s humanity is something that “should be subject to ridicule,” the former Pennsylvania senator said at a campaign event in Iowa on Jan. 2.
Santorum was recently criticized by political commentators for his actions following the death of his premature son Gabriel, who died just two hours after he was born.
In a Fox News interview, Santorum explained that he and his wife, Karen, decided to take their son home “to have a funeral at home and then to bury him later that day.”
They also showed the child to his siblings, so they could get a chance to see their baby brother.
Santorum said that it was “a tremendously healing experience for all of us” and that it helped “recognize the dignity” of his son’s life and “affirm that memory” for his whole family.
On a Fox News segment on Jan. 2, political commentator Alan Colmes criticized Santorum for “some of the crazy things he’s said and done, like taking his two-hour-old baby who died right after childbirth home and played with it for a couple hours, so his other children would know the child was real.”
In a Jan. 5 interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson also ridiculed Santorum and his wife for taking their son home “to kind of sleep with it, introduce it to the rest of the family.”
“He’s not a little weird,” said Robinson, “he’s really weird.”
But Robinson and Colmes were “speaking out of a seemingly bottomless well of ignorance,” according to Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
In a Jan. 5 article in Commentary magazine, he pointed out that health experts often suggest spending time with a stillborn child as a means of grieving.
The American Pregnancy Association advises parents of stillborn children that they “can find comfort in looking at, touching, and talking to your baby,” and that they may wish to allow their other children to see the baby as well.
Making memories can also be a natural part of the grieving process, the association said on its website, explaining that this can be done by bathing and clothing the baby, or even reading or singing to the child.
Wehner decried the “particular delight and glee” with which the political commentators showed a “casual cruelty” towards Santorum.
“Robinson seems completely comfortable lampooning a man and his wife who had experienced the worst possible nightmare for parents: the death of their child,” he said.
Wehner said the incidents showed how “ideology and partisan politics” can “disfigure” some people’s minds and hearts, making them vicious in political disagreements.
Santorum said Colmes later called to apologize. Colmes tweeted that he had spoken to Santorum and his wife and that they had “graciously accepted my apology for a hurtful comment.”
For his part, Robinson stopped short of an apology when questioned by Joe Scarborough on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Jan. 6.
Although he said he wished that he “hadn’t said it that way,” Robinson also reiterated his belief that Santorum’s views are “extreme” and said he feels that he has an obligation as a columnist to voice his opinions.
Trenton, N.J., Jan 7, 2012 (CNA) - An Irish-American Catholic fraternal group has repeated its objections to 19th-century cartoonist Thomas Nast’s nomination to the New Jersey Hall of Fame.
“The Hall of Fame should be a place to honor people from New Jersey that we should all be proud of. Clearly that’s not happening here,” objected Sean Hugh, public affairs director and treasurer for the New Jersey Ancient Order of the Hibernians.
The Hall of Fame’s treatment of Nast “made him look like a hero” through his accomplishments in cartooning, Hugh told CNA on Jan. 6.
Nast, considered a pioneer in editorial cartooning, helped popularize the symbols of the Elephant and the Donkey for the Republican and Democratic parties. He helped create the modern versions of Santa Claus and Uncle Sam.
He also drew cartoons which depicted Catholics, Irish people and others in a negative light. His “The American River Ganges” shows Catholic bishops as alligators threatening schoolchildren. Another cartoon, archived at the Catholic League website, labeled the Catholic Church a “foreign reptile.”
Hugh said his organization was concerned that the Hall of Fame didn’t tell the full story about Nast. The nomination information on the cartoonist “failed to point out that he was an anti-Catholic, anti-Italian, anti-Irish, and in some cases anti-African-American bigot,” he charged.
State Hall of Fame inductees also become part of the New Jersey public school curriculum, which is another concern for Nast’s critics.
“My question is, whether it’s Thomas Nast or anyone else for that matter, are we just going to talk about the good things and not the bad things? Are we going to change history?” Hugh asked.
“That’s something the Hall of Fame should be reviewing,” he said.
Opponents of Nast’s nomination included the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Catholic League, the Irish Anti-Defamation League, and state legislators from both political parties.
The Hibernians are particularly interested in the issue because of Nast’s role in advancing the stereotype of “Irish Catholic drunks.” The organization has been fighting that stereotype for “more than 100 years,” Hugh said.
“That’s why we’re firmly against the Nast nomination,” he explained, adding that the lack of negative information about Nast also hurt the possibility to hold a fair vote on his induction.
The New Jersey Hall of Fame was created through state legislation but it is privately funded. Its latest nominees include 50 New Jersey residents, living and deceased.
The organization’s executive director Don Jay Smith told CNA on Jan. 3 that the organization’s board of commissioners had reviewed the concerns, but felt that these centered on “a very small number of cartoons” over Nast’s decades-long career. He said Nast was very critical of the Catholic Church because he believed the Church did not support the separation of church and state and because the bishops were campaigning to have children leave public schools and attend Catholic schools.
Nast was also a rival of the Democratic political machine of Tammany Hall and Boss Tweed, which received the support of Irish Catholics. Smith rejected claims that Nast was anti-black, citing his support for emancipation.
In response, Hugh cited Nast’s cartoon “The Ignorant Voter,” a portrayal of a Leprechaun-like Irishman and a stereotyped African-American on each side of a balanced scale.
“Clearly, that’s certainly not flattering.”
Hugh said it is “completely wrong” to say Nast’s objectionable cartoons only make up a small portion of his work or are not offensive.
He said Nast should not be nominated for the Hall of Fame in the future. He also criticized the hall’s lack of a policy to withdraw nominees.
While Smith said the Hibernians are part of the Hall of Fame voting academy but did not raise objections to Nast’s, Hugh said that their representative has not been notified about any meetings in “probably about two years.” The nomination process also includes over one hundred voters, making one group’s opposition unlikely to succeed.
Voting on the nomination closed on Jan. 1. Smith said it is not very likely that Nast will be on future ballots because of his failure to win induction in previous years.