A Yuma family is welcoming a new baby girl this week after a two month journey that included a battle with cancer and the death of the child’s mother. Veronica Destiny Celis was born September 24th after her mother chose to forgo chemotherapy and offer her own life for that of the child.
According to a report in the Yuma Sun, which offered full coverage of the Celis family’s difficult story, medical personnel at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix performed emergency surgery Sept. 24 to deliver baby Veronica. The next day her 36-year-old mother, who had been declared brain dead due to complications caused by her cancer, died.
The mother, from whom the baby received her name, had been kept on life support and in a state that supported the baby's life and development since Aug. 7th.
Aaron and Veronica were married for 21 years and moved to Yuma in 1985. They already had three sons: Jaime, 19; Kevin, 13; and Andrew, 10, but were hoping to someday have a little girl as well.
In a Sept. 16 interview with the Yuma Sun, Aaron recalled when his wife was first diagnosed with cancer.
"She was upset, but she always had more trust in God than me," he said.
Veronica underwent treatment and eventually went into remission. It was during this time that Veronica became pregnant with the baby girl they had prayed for.
However, soon after learning of the pregnancy, Veronica discovered that her breast cancer had returned.
The couple was faced with considering the doctors’ suggestions of an abortion, which would allow Veronica to undergo chemotherapy, or saving the baby, which would mean taking the chance that the mother herself would die. When the baby reportedly appeared to Veronica in a dream, Veronica knew she could not have the abortion.
Aaron recalled his wife’s decision to save the baby the next morning. “God has given this to me and he knows why,” she told him.
During the months that followed Veronica’s cancer took hold of her body and the couple reached out in faith. Yuma Sun reporter, Darin Fenger, told CNA that Aaron Celis first contacted the press with the story because he wanted more prayers for the mother and baby. “She was a very faithful woman,” Fenger recalled.
Eventually, however, the cancer proved too strong and Veronica slipped into a coma and eventually succumbed to the cancer, leaving her husband with the last wish that he “take care of the baby.” Which is why, when her last chances at life had passed, Celis knew he must keep his wife on life support until the baby could be born.
According to Jennifer Pool, the spokeswoman for the medical center, during the difficult weeks in which Aaron Celis watched his wife’s body continue to shut down, he remained close to the hospital’s chaplains. And, through it all friends and family members said, Celis continued to hope for some sort of a miracle.
While his wife never recovered, the numerous prayers may have helped doctors in the extremely rare, but successful procedure of inducing labor in a woman who had been declared brain-dead.
Dr. Karrie Francois, a physician specializing in at-risk births, delivered the baby. She told the newspaper that it was "a truly rare birth” and that "there are only a handful of reported cases in the (medical) literature."
Francois said, although doctors wanted to keep the baby developing inside the mother for as long as possible, the baby had to be delivered prematurely because the mother's body had become so infected and her blood pressure had become erratic.
She also said it was one of the most emotional experiences she has had as a physician. After the birth, "Aaron just cried and prayed," Francois told the Sun. "He was just thanking his wife for giving him this daughter."
Pool told CNA that baby Veronica was baptized in the delivery room, over the body of her mother, as Aaron had insisted. Celis placed the child in the arms of its mother and asked for a picture to be taken.
The next day, life support was removed and the mother passed away.
Doctors predict Baby Veronica will likely remain hospitalized for about two months, as is normal with premature children.
Dr. Caren Lipsky, a physician who cares for high-risk babies, said Wednesday that the baby's weight, growth, and other measurements of progress are right on track. By Monday, the baby had been removed from most forms of artificial ventilation and by Tuesday, she was breathing well on her own.
Fenger said the community’s interest in the story as well as the outpouring of support has been overwhelming. A benefit fund has been established and donations are being accepted at Wells Fargo Bank locations around Arizona. Donors need only refer to the Veronica Celis Fund.