Family believes that God used relic to save baby

Sunday, October 15, 2000     By Christopher Snowbeck, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Were it not for her faith and a lock of hair from a Canadian priest, Jill Chadwick believes she would not have the happy, healthy 13-month-old baby she holds today.

Chadwick expected to give birth to Christopher on Dec. 7, 1999. When she went into labor 15 weeks ahead of schedule, her mother went to pray at St. Anthony Chapel.

In an unusual move, the Rev. W. David Schorr sent the woman back to the hospital with a relic from the Troy Hill chapel.

St. Anthony's is home to the second-largest public collection of saint relics in the world, but relics almost never leave the church. In this case, though, Schorr had just received in the mail a blue case that included a strand of hair from Blessed Frederic Janssoone and a medallion honoring the Franciscan.

The mother took the relic to Western Pennsylvania Hospital and placed it under her daughter's pillow. Every day the two women read from a book about Janssoone's life, prayed with the relic and asked the blessed priest to intercede with God on behalf of the baby.

"Every night when my husband was asleep on the couch [in my hospital room], I took the medal and rubbed it on my stomach," she said. "As I put the medal on my stomach I would say, 'I don't know you, I don't know who you are yet, but I was told you would help, and I'm asking for whatever you can do.' "

On Aug. 23, doctors could no longer delay the delivery.

As she lay in a delivery room surrounded by doctors, nurses and her husband, Scot, Chadwick's left arm dangled from the side of the bed. A nurse kept telling her she would be more comfortable if she held the railing, but Chadwick responded that her arm was fine. She felt someone was holding her hand.

After the delivery, Chadwick was left alone for a moment. She looked to her left and saw a man with white hair.

"I think it was [Janssoone]," she said. "I remember my mom came in and she started crying, and I looked at her and I said, 'Mom, he's going to be OK. I know he's going to be OK.' "

Christopher Ian Chadwick weighed 1 pound, 10 ounces, at birth. Doctors told the Chadwicks that the next few days would be crucial. Babies born at 24 weeks have a 40 percent chance of survival. Christopher was born with his eyelids fused shut and weighed less than 750 grams. Up until 1992, hospitals didn't even try saving those babies, said Dr. Nilima Karamchandani, chief of the division of neonatology at West Penn.

The first obstacle Christopher faced was a scan that would look for bleeding on his brain. Since premature babies' brains are immature and delicate, bleeding that can doom a preemie's prospects is among the biggest fears. There are four grades of bleeding, with grade one being the least severe and grade four being the worst.

The Chadwicks were understandably anxious during the day it took to get results back from the test, but it turned out that Christopher had only a grade one bleed. Only one out of every four babies his size does that well, said Karamchandani.

Making sure Christopher could breathe on his own was the next obstacle. All premature infants his size need to be put on a ventilator, but Christopher needed the machine for less than two weeks. With the ventilator gone, Christopher had a small tube placed down his throat to aid in breathing. But in short order, the boy pulled out the tube and was breathing on his own.

Christopher needed breathing assistance for a total of 16 days. Only one-fourth of all preemies his size need that little help, Karamchandani said.

When it came to eye exams, tolerating food and having normal bowel movements, Christopher did better than expected on all counts. When he checked out of the hospital on Nov. 2, he left five weeks ahead of schedule.

"He went home faster than almost all 24-weekers do," Karamchandani said. "I think what's very miraculous about him is that he had such a smooth sailing course. ... A lot of these babies survive, but they survive much longer hospital stays with much greater morbidity. He survived with what looks to be a much more normal life ahead of him."

Throughout his time in the hospital, Jill Chadwick and her mom would show the relic to Christopher in the incubator and tell him that Frederic was there to help. In time, the Chadwicks added Frederic to their son's name.

Now, roughly a year later, Chadwick and the Troy Hill church are in the process of submitting paperwork that could help in the cause of declaring Janssoone a saint. She said a doctor at West Penn volunteered to write a letter describing what happened to Christopher.

Janssoone is already "blessed," meaning the Vatican has substantiated one claim that a person was miraculously healed after asking for Janssoone's intercession. If the postulator in charge of making the case for Janssoone's canonization is impressed by Chadwick's story, the miracle claim could be forwarded to the Vatican for investigation. If the Vatican calls it a miracle, Janssoone would qualify for sainthood.

Schorr said the Chadwick case would be the first in his years at St. Anthony's where paperwork was submitted claiming a miracle. Most miracles that are said to occur on Troy Hill occur for people who are calling on religious figures that have already been canonized, Schorr said, so no documentation is needed.

Regardless of whether the Vatican acts on the information, Chadwick praises God when describing how her son has almost no developmental delays. He crawls and walks with some assistance and can say "mama," "dada" and "baba." At 23 pounds, Christopher is pretty much a normal size for a 13-month-old baby.

"I think he could definitely help Frederic possibly become a saint," Chadwick said. "I know there are many, many preemies born every day, but it's just that he had no dips. They kept telling us, 'Be prepared, it will be like a roller-coaster ride.' But there was none of that."