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Ashley's Miracle
Photo: Jasper Greek Golangco
What’s a parent to do when her teenage daughter is stricken by a medical condition that is usually fatal?

Our family was getting ready for bed. Fifteen-year-old Ashley was walking across the room smiling. Suddenly Ashley rubbed her forehead above her left eyebrow, and said, “Why is my head hurting? Mom, help me; something’s wrong.” She grabbed me and knelt at the end of the bed.

I asked if the pain was bad enough to go to the hospital. She nodded Yes, so I called the paramedics. When Ashley tried to describe the location of the pain, I noticed one of her sentences came out distorted, the words out of proper order. Ashley noticed this too, saying “Why aren’t my words coming out the way that I want them to?” Ashley continued to clutch my leg and begged, “Help me; help me!” She then started to babble incoherently. About that time the paramedics entered the house, and I told them my observations.

After we arrived at the local hospital, the emergency room doctor told me what he thought was wrong with Ashley. I reiterated his statement to make sure I understood: “We think she’s had an aneurysm: and his response was, “No, Ashley has had an aneurysm. We’ve seen it.” He went on to say that they were stabilizing her for an airlift to Iowa City. We would have to sign permission papers for emergency surgery.

The doctor’s next statements were words every parent hopes never to hear: “I know you’re hoping for the best, but I’ve seen many patients in Ashley’s condition, and they usually don’t make it. So I want you to be prepared for the possibility that Ashley will die.”

I was in shock. I was faced with losing my daughter, and there was nothing I could do. I cried out to God, asking that He would keep her with us. The medical team that would accompany Ashley was ready to leave, so the doctor instructed us to talk to her before they left. Her eyes were open in a glassy fixed gaze in our direction.

Stay with Us

Out in the parking lot, as we watched her being loaded into the helicopter, I kept shouting, “Stay with us Ashley, Mommy and Daddy and all of us—Jared, Dwight, Jordan, and Sarah—all love you so much. We want you to stay with us! Don’t give up Ashley. Stay with us!” I held up my arms and prayed aloud, “God, please keep Ashley with us! Don’t let her leave us. We love her so much, God, and we thank You for her life that is so precious to us!”

As I drove to the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics, I tried to stay positive. I tried to believe that God would work two miracles: First, to keep Ashley alive, and second, to restore her to the way she was before this happened. Pushing the thought of funeral plans out of my mind, the thought came to me that I should start saying, “Ashley is with us; Ashley is with us.” After some time had passed, I felt a change within me that the statement was correct, as though it was now coming from God.

Relieved, I entered the emergency room where Ashley lay, still with a fixed gaze, still very much alive, waiting for surgery. During the surgery, I waited in the pediatric intensive care unit, where a chaplain waited and prayed with me. I was so thankful that she was there and that I did not have to be alone at a time like this.

Finally the phone rang. The voice on the other end said, “Ashley just came out of surgery. It only took an hour and forty-five minutes. She’s in the recovery unit, and she’s doing fine.”

Soon the neurosurgeon came in to talk to me. He said they had sealed off the burst ends of the flood vessels to stop blood loss. He believed Ashley had an arteriovenous malformation which had caused the aneurysm.

For four days Ashley’s body was kept cool, due to the brain’s inability to regulate body temperature after this type of surgery. She had tubes and electrodes all over her body.
A sign above her be read, “No left bone flap,” indicating a section of her skull had been removed for surgery and to prevent swelling of the brain.

I was told that Ashley was being sedated to keep blood demand on the brain low. When Dr. Wilson was making rounds, he asked the staff if Ashley had made any purposeful movements. I had seen her open her eyes briefly a few times, then close them again. Ashley was given an angiogram to determine whether any blood clots or other pre-aneurysms existed that should be treated. The angiograms revealed no additional problems, so the medication that kept her sedated was reduced.

Ashley began to stir only a couple of days after surgery. Despite the IVs in her wrists and hands, she reached around trying to figure out what was happening to her. She felt the large bandage that covered the surgical opening and started picking at it, but the nurse told her to leave it alone. Ashley was on a respirator, so she couldn’t talk, and the doctor had expressed concern about swelling and possible paralysis on her right side.

It was a great milestone when the respirator, suction, and feeding tubes were removed one by one. She was able to walk, and she regained her speech, progressing from short, simple sentences to the constant ramblings of a teenager. God has indeed shown us a miracle with His answer to our fervent prayers on that scary nightmare of July 13, 2005.

Ashley asks me why I stare at her so much and so often. My response is, “Because I am looking at a miracle!”

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By Shelley Watkins. Reprinted with persmission from Signs of the Times, November 2006. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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