Medical Miracles

Editor's Note

photograph © Monkeybusinessimages |

I wonder how often many of us consider how lucky we are to be raising children in this day and age. Do you ever think about how many kids are living today that, even 30 years ago, might have died during childhood? Or perhaps, not even long after birth, due to congenital defects or viral infections?

We have many medical miracles in our midst. Be thankful.

I’m reminded of a friend of mine at church who has walked with a limp her entire life because, as a child, she contracted polio. If you’re a young parent, you might not even know what that is, but when this woman was growing up during the 1930s, polio (also called infantile paralysis) was one of the most dreaded childhood illnesses of the twentieth century. This highly contagious infectious disease affected the lives of thousands families in America. Once a child caught the virus, it could lead to partial paralysis or even death.

My friend was one of the lucky ones. She survived with her limp as a reminder of the miracle that she is. It wasn’t until Dr. Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine during the 1950s that parents could at last feel confident their children would be protected against this devastating malady. Vaccination against polio has effectively eradicated this illness from the United States. That is a medical miracle.

Since then, other vaccines have made common childhood illnesses that were almost a rite of passage when I was a kid — chicken pox, mumps, German measles — a thing of the past — or rare, at best. I guess that’s why I’m always baffled when I hear from young moms who don’t want to vaccinate their children. It’s because of these advances that children today can sail through childhood without ever contracting these viruses. It is a triumph of our medical and public health systems. But perhaps that’s a story for another time.

In putting this issue together, I had the good fortune to meet two young mothers who know first-hand how lucky they are to live with so much medical intervention available, because one would have certainly died before her time and the other would have lost her baby.

When I met with Shannon Kirk at her home in Southaven, Mississippi, her 8-month-old daughter, Reese, was sitting upright on the floor, contentedly sucking her thumb. She eyed me curiously as I introduced myself. She seldom cries, Shannon tells me, and is in the pink of health. But just hours after her birth, Reese began turning blue, an indication to nurses that her heart wasn’t working effectively. That night, doctors determined she had a congenital heart defect. She was rushed to Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital where she received treatment.

According to The Children’s Heart Foundation, nearly one in every 100 babies born have a congenital heart defect. It remains the leading cause of infant death in the U.S. But many children like Reese survive and thrive today thanks to medical intervention during those early months of life. Shannon, and her husband, Alan, had no idea their daughter would need immediate care, but her heart problems were quickly diagnosed and dealt with. Today, Reese is developing normally.

Abby Mautong’s story is even more miraculous. From her early teens onward, Abby began to experience a seemingly unconnected group of symptoms: fainting spells, paralysis, forgetfulness, dizziness, eye bobbing, confusion, her body would often betray her and she had no idea why. Doctor after doctor failed to pinpoint her problem; some even brushed her off as hysterical or attention-seeking. Finally, more than 20 years later, she learned the truth. An astute doctor put all of her symptoms together, telling her “your brain is falling out of your head.” Can you imagine? Chiari malformation is a congenital defect that occurs at the back of the head, where the brain and spinal cord connect. In her case, her skull was too small for her brain. An opening allowed the brain and spinal fluid to leak out. Abby came frightfully close to dying, but her life was saved, thanks to chiari specialist Dr. Anthony Capocelli. Today, this mother of three is living with renewed hope. She is completely cured and now shares her story with other similar patients, in hopes of providing encouragement.

It is a good time to be raising kids in this country, where we are blessed with medical care that can work wonders. We have many medical miracles in our midst. Be thankful.


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