My wife and daughters and I were headed out to Saturday Vigil Mass on a dreary November evening some thirty years ago. The phone rang, and my wife and I exchanged worried glances as she picked up the receiver. Dr. John DeMaio from Pennsylvania Hospital’s neonatal intensive-care unit was on the other end of the line. His voice, a calming influence during the four weeks that our son had been in the NICU, was uncharacteristically subdued.
“Mrs. Hannan…you’d better get over here right away. James has taken a turn for the worse.”
Our son was born fourteen weeks premature—right on the edge of viability. He weighed two pounds, eight ounces at birth, largely because of the steroid injections my wife had endured in the weeks she had spent in the high-risk maternity ward prior to his birth. His weight quickly dropped to one pound, fourteen ounces.
In the month since James’s birth, we had become accustomed to setbacks in our son’s struggle to survive. We knew the odds were long. We knew that he was susceptible to such grotesqueries as necrotizing enterocolitis, retrolental fibroplasia, brain bleeds, and neonatal respiratory-distress syndrome. Would one of these end his brief life?
That night, whether out of avoidance or in an act of blind faith, I insisted that we...