Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 20, 1999
The greatest Christmas gift
'Miracle baby' overcame the odds against life itself
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
She giggles, smiles and laughs like any other happy and contented one-year-old. But Mary Catherine Therese Marple, named after the saints who helped save her life, is no ordinary baby.
As her parents Chuck and Jeri Marple put it, Mary is a "miracle baby" and the "greatest (Christmas) gift" they've ever had.
Mary was born almost four months prematurely, at 22 weeks, last Christmas Eve and weighed a little over a pound. She was given a 50-per-cent chance to live and spent the first four months of her life in hospital, two of them hooked to a respirator.
"Her survival to me was definitely a miracle," said Jeri. "I think God intervened (to save her life)."
Now Mary weights 12 pounds and is "a very happy little girl" who "laughs a lot and smiles all the time," Jeri said. "She is the least fussy person I've ever had. She doesn't complain very much."
Although she is almost a year old, Mary doesn't eat food, just milk, and has the developmental level of a three-month-old. That's common in premature babies but in Mary's case, the story goes further.
Due to brain damage at birth, she will have to spend the rest of her life with a shunt that was surgically implanted in her skull to help regulate her cerebral spinal fluids.
She also has a high chance of developing severe cerebral palsy.
The Marples don't know whether Mary will be able to walk, talk or learn in the future so they simply don't worry about it. "We have lots of hope for her but we take it one day at a time," Jeri said.
For now the Marples and their seven other children do the only things they can do for Mary - give her lots of love, affection and care, and pray that she beats cerebral palsy the way she beat death.
If she doesn't, she will still be adored by the Marples, a devout Catholic family from Assumption Parish who believe deeply in the sacredness of all life.
"Whether she is handicapped or whether she is not handicapped, she is still a gift from God," Jeri said. "And I think she has a mission in life. The Lord has a purpose for keeping her alive."
Like most people, the Marples found it hard to watch their baby struggle for life while hooked to a respirator. "It was sad to see her trying to cry," recalled Jeri. "You felt so bad for her."
However, the Marples never lost faith in God and entrusted their baby to the Lord from the beginning.
Through this experience, "I realized our total dependence on the heavenly Father," Chuck said. "There are situations where you just have to accept God's will and when you do, you are free. You tell the Lord, 'This is what I want but whatever you choose, I'll accept.'"
Jeri, who has had all her children by cesarean section, had never had a problem pregnancy before. But with Mary she developed a condition known as placenta previa, a condition common to women who have had multiple cesareans and in older women. It means the placenta attaches too low in the womb making it impossible for a baby to pass through it.
Despite all the precautions Jeri took to deal with the condition, she began to develop complications in the 22nd week of her pregnancy. On the night of Dec. 23, she began to feel "funny" and Chuck rushed her to hospital.
The Grey Nuns Hospital didn't have the facilities to deal with her case, so they sent her to the Royal Alexandra.
Jeri began to bleed profusely and her daughter developed lung problems and was also losing blood.
Doctors said the only real hope to save both was to have the baby as soon as possible and to do a hysterectomy on Jeri.
The Marples went on their advice but not without reflecting on the teaching of the Church, which allows hysterectomies or other similar procedures in case of an emergency.
Mary was born at 10:32 a.m. on Christmas Eve and was placed in a respirator. Chuck, fearing the worst, called Redemptorist Father Mark Miller who baptized her 20 minutes later.
"That took all my real fears away because I was in prayer and I gave her to almighty Father and said, 'She is yours.'"
Fifty hours after her birth, Mary developed a brain bleed. Doctors gave her a 50/50 chance of survival and said she had a 90 per cent chance of developing cerebral palsy.
At this point the Marples were confronted with a decision they didn't feel it was theirs to make - cutting off their daughter's lifelines.
"If we would have asked them, they would have turned the respirators off," noted Jeri. "But it wasn't our choice to make; it wasn't our decision. It was the Lord's decision. If he wanted to keep her alive, she would live."
Said Chuck: "For us, that wasn't even an option. If nothing was keeping her alive but the machines, that would have been different.
"I made clear to them (medical staff) that it wasn't their concern if Mary was crippled or handicapped, that she was our daughter, that once she was well enough to bring home it was our responsibility to look after her."
Mary was in a respirator for eight weeks and had a c-pap hooked to her nose for another four weeks. After the c-pap, a medical device which pumped air into her lungs, Mary was put into high-flow oxygen for another three weeks. She spent an additional five weeks on low-flow oxygen.
The first time the Marples held their daughter was Jan. 22, nearly a month after her birth. Mary came home April 29, the feast of St. Catherine of Siena and the date the Marples thought their baby was due.
They named her after St. Catherine and St. Th‚rŠse of Lisieux, the 19th century French Carmelite to whom Chuck said a nine-day novena upon learning his baby had a bleeding brain.
"We were praying hard, I tell you," said Jeri, who was released from hospital on New Year's Day. "There were moments when there was nothing we could do but pray for her."
And there were hundreds of people praying for Mary (both in Alberta and in other parts of the world), according to Chuck, a homeschooling instructor with the Vermilion-based East Central Catholic School Division.
"I got messages on the e-mail from South America; people had heard (about Mary's condition) and said they were praying for her."
There were also Masses said for Mary at St. Andrew's Church, Assumption Parish and the Catholic Pastoral Centre, where the Marples attend morning Mass during the week.
"I really feel that Mary was an instrument in the sense that lots of people prayed for her, even people that had never prayed before," Jeri commented.
The Marples are not sure what they will do for Mary's birthday on Christmas Eve, with Chuck saying they will probably tie it into the celebration of Christmas.
"April 29th. That's to me when I'm really going to celebrate her birthday," quipped Jeri. "I'm going to make her a big cake and that's going to be her adjusted birthday. And then when she gets older she can decide if she wants to keep two birthdays."