A Gift From Above

On a Wednesday afternoon, I went into labor with my third child. I called my husband, my midwife, and my mom to tell them. Then I did everything I could to make the labor progress, from scrubbing the bathtub to repeatedly climbing the stairs in my house. After much prayer, we had decided on having another homebirth and I was ready to go.

My midwife and her birth assistant arrived at our home and began to monitor my labor, timing contractions, listening to the baby’s heart tones, and preparing for delivery.

My other labors had been long and difficult but this one was beautiful. On my bedroom floor, I swayed and prayed through the contractions, supported by my husband and cared for by my midwife. Everything was peaceful and the baby’s heartbeat was strong and healthy.

In the middle of the night I gave birth to a ten pound baby boy, James Fulton, and my midwife quickly passed him to me. As I held him his arms flopped down and hung at his side. He was blue and quiet. He was not breathing or moving.

We didn’t know it then, but there was a knot in James’ umbilical cord. As he descended the birth canal the knot tightened and cut off his blood supply. My son was stillborn.

My midwife whisked him from my arms and, not finding a pulse, she and the birth assistant began CPR. Travis looked around the room and found my cup. After dipping his fingers in the ice water he trickled the water on James’ forehead, making the sign of the cross with his thumb, and proclaiming out loud, “James Fulton, I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

A friend, who had been photographing the birth, called 911 as I sat on my bedroom floor going into shock. One of my few memories is of repeating Fulton Sheen’s name in my head while I watched. I could not gather eloquent words to beg God for my son’s life or to implore the Archbishop to intercede for my stillborn son. Calling Sheen’s name in my mind was the only prayer I could say; I suppose I trusted he would know the words to say to God to bring me back my son.

First responders and paramedics arrived. They cut James’ umbilical cord, bundled him up against the cold September night, and took James to the hospital. In the ambulance James was hooked to a heart monitor, which showed pulseless electrical activity. James’ heart was still sending out electrical impulses, but it was not beating. His heart was not pumping blood to his organs, so his body was not getting oxygen.

When James and Travis arrived at the emergency department (ED) there were several nurse practitioners from the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) waiting for him. Like the ambulance medics, the ED team and NICU nurses gave him doses of epinephrine to restart his heart but nothing worked. He was cold and still. The nurses and doctors were hoping James would come alive long enough for me to say “good-bye.”

One of the nurse practitioners was speaking on a phone to the on-call neonatologist, updating her on the situation.

“Try for five more minutes and then call it,” the doctor said. She didn’t really think the five more minutes would help; the five minutes were so they could tell us they had tried everything they could to save our son.

They worked on James for five more minutes and his heart sat still. They stopped their efforts to call the time of death, but just as they did his heart began to beat again. After being without a pulse for sixty-one minutes, James Fulton came back to life.

James was transferred to the NICU a couple of floors up at the Children’s Hospital of Illinois.  He was sedated and put on a ventilator and everyone expected that he would die shortly due to massive organ failure from the severe lack of oxygen. They didn’t know if he would live through the night, but he probably wouldn’t live through the weekend and definitely not through the week. The hospital chaplain came and confirmed James; Travis and I went home and asked people to pray.

Using email, Facebook, and my blog we asked people to pray for a miracle for our son: that his body be healed and he be spared any brain damage. We specifically asked people to ask for Archbishop Sheen’s intercession and all over the country and the world people responded.  People prayed, and we believe Sheen prayed with us and that his prayers were an integral part of what happened.

And what happened was that James lived. He lived and he healed and this past fall he turned two. In the NICU we were told that if James lived, he would be so severely disabled that he would remain in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. James would be unable to control his body, fed through a tube, and mentally vacant.

Instead he is just like every other little boy: he’s cute and ornery, loves trains and playing outside, and he devours chicken nuggets. Even the things that set him apart – allergies and a speech delay – are completely common, even amongst boys who were not considered dead for over an hour.

Because my family believes that James was miraculously healed by Jesus Christ through the intercession of Fulton Sheen we contacted the Sheen Foundation, who opened an investigative tribunal in September 2011.

When Sheen was declared Venerable by Pope Benedict on June 28, 2012 the findings from James’ tribunal were submitted to the Vatican along with two other cases. God willing, there is a chance my son’s alleged healing could be declared a true miracle, thus allowing for Venerable Sheen to be beatified. It is all very exciting and for many reasons my husband and I hope and pray that Fulton Sheen is beatified and then canonized. But in the end, more than anything else, we are just grateful for the miracle of life and the gift of our son, James Fulton.

Bonnie Engstrom is a cradle Catholic and stay-at-home mom. She married her dashing husband in 2006 and they now have five children: one in Heaven and four more wandering around their house, probably eating pretzels found under the couch. Bonnie lives in central Illinois and gets excited about baking, music, film adaptations of Jane Austen books, and the Chicago Bears. She was a co-founder of The Behold Conference and she blogs at A Knotted Life.
Articles by Bonnie:

  • PrayingInSeattle

    Dearest Bonnie: Your/your family’s experience has me weeping tears of joy this morning. God is so faithful, so good. I came into the Catholic Church in 2000 and I’m so very glad I did. Thank you for your testimony…it’s helped me root deeper in His Love as well as the Church itself

  • Jeannie Hurley

    Praise be to God and thanks be to Archbishop Sheen. Thank you for sharing this truly touching story of faith and hope. Blessings to you and your family!

  • Lisa Dullard

    What a beautiful story! God bless your son, James Fulton – and your entire family as well. When Fulton Sheen is beatified (and I’m sure it’ll be sooner rather than later) your family will be in my heart. Praise God! :O)

  • Petrus F

    So wonderful and inspiring testimony. I believe in the power of interession as I and my wife had such an experience too. Doctor say operation is needed for baby delivery but I just pray for his saint patron Francis of Assisi and couple minutes later, he was born without operation….it is so amazing..

  • Dropofclearwqter

    My husband suffered a severe spinal cord injury, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. After surgery at Bellevue Hospital, NYC, I went to the smoking room (1991 when I still smoked and there were smoking rooms!). I met a slender black man who enquired why I was visiting. I told him my boyfriend (at the time) was paralyzed. That, according to the doctors, he would never walk again, nor have children.
    He told me, “You have to imagine what it’s like for him. It’s like moving a hair on your head.” ( I am imagining you all doing it right now!). Of course the stranger was alluding to the futility of defying paralysis.
    He then went on to say, with great confidence, “Don’t worry. He will walk again.” I left that smoking room feeling very reassured, and later phoned my mother-in-law and told her what this nice man had said.
    This made her feel very good and also reassured. She said, “That message was for me!”
    You see, she had been praying for intercession from St. Martin De Porres, whom she strongly advocates. And my husband did learn to walk again, albeit with a cane. ANd we have three wonderful children.
    And as for smoking: One morning I awoke like any other, eager to get a cup of coffee and a cigarette. Once in the kitchen I did something strange and unexplainable. Without warning, even to myself, I suddenly made a promise to Jesus to never smoke again. I don’t know why, or from whence this promise came (okay, perhaps I do know, and so do you), but from that day on I never wanted, craved, or desired, a cigarette. That was 12 years ago. I guess, when you make a promise to Jesus, or better yet, Jesus makes a promise through you, He will help you keep it!

    God bless, and keep the faith. Put your total confidence and trust in the Lord. It is what He wants and desires. This way you can give even better testimony than mine, and convert souls. Amen.

  • Jean Fallace

    May God’s continued blessings be upon James Fulton, and may the intercession of Venerable Fulton Sheen be showered upon you and your beloved family.

  • Pingback: Venerable Fulton Sheen: A Model for the New Evangelization - Truth and Charity Forum

  • Pingback: A Gift From Above | Cardinal Winning Pro-Life Initiative

  • Pingback: Generous Motherhood - Truth and Charity Forum