A Christmas Miracle

We have entered the month of December and Christmas is only 3 weeks away. For this month I would like to re-post stories that happened around Christmas, which I have witnessed first hand, and that I have written several years back.

I first published the following story, “Gift of Life,” on December 15, 2010.


Gift of Life

Everybody said that her pregnancy was ill-conceived and ill-advised. But who are we to judge her?

Mary (not her real name) lies in our ICU. Her 21-year-old body looks frail and debilitated, her skin is pale and sallow, and her breathing is irregular and shallow. Attached to her sick body are a number of tubes, catheters and monitors. The regular bleep and tracings in the monitor screen above her bed tells me that she is still alive, although she looks otherwise.

Mary was born with cystic fibrosis. This is an inherited disease caused by a defective gene that causes thick mucus plugging of small tubes and ducts, mostly affecting the lungs and the digestive system. Patients suffer with frequent lung infections, digestive problems, and usually succumb with respiratory failure or liver failure. The disease is fatal that many patients will die in their childhood and adolescence. However, in the past few decades, with the improvement of care, patients who made it through adulthood has an average lifespan of 35 years.

Mary’s childhood was anything but normal. She was in the hospital or doctor’s office so often more than she was in school. She was on medications constantly. She had known more doctors than childhood friends. She experienced more than her share of suffering and disease. But she had beaten the odds. Now, that she made it through 21 summers tells me that she is a fierce survivor.

But now, this pregnancy. Her family doesn’t want her to have this. Her doctors told her that her body may not be able to tolerate the additional stress of pregnancy and that it will be very high risk to continue. But she made up her mind that she will keep this child whatever the cost.

Due to developing problems and complications, she was admitted to the hospital’s maternity ward on her 32nd weeks of conception, where she was expected to stay for the rest of the pregnancy. However, after a few days in the hospital her condition worsened. Her liver function deteriorated and she went into fulminant hepatic failure. Mary slipped into coma. She was then transferred to our ICU.

Because her baby may get compromised further, we had no choice but to deliver the baby, even if it was barely 33 weeks old (full term is 38-42 weeks). Mary underwent an emergency caesarean section.

Now, 3 days after her baby’s delivery, Mary still remains in our ICU. She continues to be comatose.

As I stand beside her bed to examine her, I see the pictures of her newborn baby posted on the wall of her room. Being a parent, I cannot help but feel a twinge of sadness. Will she ever know that she brought forth a beautiful baby, premature, but otherwise healthy boy? Will she ever hear the yearning cry of her dear child? Will she ever see the sweet smile of her son? Will she ever hold her baby in her arms, the life that she fought for so dearly to bring to this world, even if it meant going against medical advice?

I just hope that someday this precious boy would be grateful and proud to the mother, he may never know. And may he appreciate and realize the challenges, the difficulty, the sacrifices her mother went into, to give him the gift of life. Yes, even in exchange of her own life.

But wait. This is Christmas season. Time of miracles. Maybe there will be one here tonight.



Post Note:

After I published this story, Mary did improved and recovered. She got out of the ICU and eventually went home to take care of her beautiful baby. I took care of Mary a few more times and I always asked her about her baby boy. Her son became her pride and joy.

Sadly, Mary eventually succumbed to her illness last year, leaving a very young son, who at least experienced a mother’s love, even for so short a time.

Living Gift

Ten years ago, I received a “living” gift on my birthday. It was my son. Yes, he was born on my birthday. It is a gift that keeps on giving.

The only downside to this gift, if there is one, is that my birthday celebration became an afterthought since my son’s birth. It’s “his” birthday now. But that’s alright, I always like kids-themed party, with hats, balloons, and Super Mario cake for my birthday anyway.


my son and I doing Math lesson in the kitchen

Recently, on my last birthday, I received another living gift. But before you think we had another baby, well it is not that. No diaper-changing needed on this one. No waking-up in the middle of the night for feeding needed too. But it requires tender-loving care as well.

My birthday gift is a plant. It is actually a Bonsai Japanese Juniper tree. My wife gave it to me, and it now sits on top of my office desk.


my Bonsai tree

I really need to take good care of this living gift, like a real child. Besides that it is a beautiful tree, and that it is a loving gift from my wife, there’s more to it than that. Somehow my reputation (and career?) depended on this.

I am very aware of the common advice that says, “Never go to a doctor whose office plants are dead.”

Fake plants are not an option.

Christmas List

While I was in the clinic the other day, a patient of mine asked me if I was done with my Christmas shopping. I laughed. Done? I have not even begun!

With the holidays fast approaching, people are rushing, scrambling, and hustling to get their last-minute shopping to complete their long Christmas list. It’s no wonder we get so stressed. Are we sucking out the joy of the season? Why did Christmas become so commercialized and when did this holiday become synonymous with shopping anyway?

To the modern times, Christmas is not Christmas, unless we have completed our list (and checked it twice), and all the gifts are bought and wrapped, and all of those gifts are sitting pretty under the Christmas tree waiting for their eager recipients to open them with much elation (or much disappointment if it’s not what they want) on Christmas morning. Bah, humbug!

I know this season is said to be the season of giving and people often refer to the Biblical story of the wise men who came from the East to visit the baby Jesus, and they brought gifts for him. This is supposed to be our model for gift giving on this season. Really? Maybe we got it all wrong. Maybe we are missing the real essence of the season. Maybe we are taking too much emphasis on the gift-giving. Or maybe I’m just playing Scrooge.

Ten days before Christmas. I got time. Where’s my list? What list? Oh, I have not even drafted one yet.

But wait. Isn’t it 12/21/2012 arriving before 12/25/2012? Isn’t that the end of the Mayan calendar? Isn’t that the end of the world? What if the Mayans are right?

Then I don’t have to do my shopping after all!


Mayan calendar

Gift of Life 2: A Christmas Miracle

(A continuation of the story: Gift of Life)

Mary opened her eyes and the bright lights flooded her vision. She squinted and saw people donned in white attending to her. Is this heaven? No, this was the ICU room where she was in, before she slipped into coma.

She felt her tummy. It was much smaller now. She thought, did she delivered her baby already? When? Where? How?

She later learned that she was out in a coma for about a week, and she had an emergency caesarean section while she was comatose. She strained her eyes to see the picture posted in her room’s wall. It was a picture of her newborn baby boy! A weak smile graced her gaunt face. She and her baby survived after all. Both of them have received the gift of life.

Few more days later, Mary was stable enough to get out of the ICU, and be transferred to the maternity ward, where she will finally meet her miracle baby boy.

On this Christmas night, a silent night, a mother and her child will sleep in heavenly peace.

Mother and child

(image from here)