Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Short Life of Zeke Weatherford: A Strength That Will Live Forever

Jessica Weatherford, 29, and her husband David, 35, were used to difficult deliveries. Victoria ("Tori") Ann, now nearly two, was born after a tenuous emergency Cesarean, but now is perfectly healthy. So, when Jessica had her twenty-week sonogram and a doctor began to tell her there would be complications carrying this baby to term, she wasn't all that worried.

But these problems would be different. The sonogram did determine the Weatherfords had conceived a son, which both Jess and Dave had prayed for. But this baby would have extreme birth defects, defects so bad that once born, he would almost immediately begin to die. Termed Full Trisomy 13, their son's veins were where his arteries should be—which meant half of his organs were growing on the outside of his body. While the baby would grow relatively well inside the womb, once delivered, his time would be short. Many people, most people would choose to end the baby's life in the womb, before this all could happen. But Jessica and David Weatherford were not most people.

They named the baby Ezekiel, which means "God is my strength." They sought support, and through research discovered Alexandra's House, a local (Kansas City, MO) hospice that dealt with desperate deliveries, and were so touched by its founder, Patti Lewis, that they invited her to Zeke's birth. They also invited their parents and siblings, and, as Jessica felt the baby growing inside her, decided to have a Cesarean so that all who wanted to experience Zeke's predicted-to-be brief life could. And, of course, they prayed for a miracle.

As it turned out, even Weatherford's C-section didn't go as planned. At 1:30 a.m. on March 6 (a good week before the delivery was scheduled), Jessica's contractions began. Dave monitored the situation and then began to call the invited guests. By the time the Weatherfords had arrived at Overland Park Medical Center at 4:10 a.m., Patti Lewis was already there.

With the C-section already in progress, Jessica's parents arrive, as well as Dave's mom, followed by Jessica's twin sister Jacquelyn. With the moment drawing near, Dave brought the impromptu congregation together to pray.

"Lord," prayed Dave, "this is your baby. We just pray that ... we'll have some time with Zeke ... Amen." And, as if on cue, Zeke emerged. It is 5:23 a.m.

Zeke is blue ... but gradually his skin begins to turn pink, and there is life. Zeke does not cry (for with a double cleft lip and no nose, this is probably impossible) but he begins to breath slowly out of the side of his mouth.

"Hi, Zeke! This is Mommy," Jess whispers. "I love you."

She sees Zeke weakly nod his head, and thinks she hears a faint "coo." And now the relatives begin to file in; mom, dad, grandparents, aunts—a birth that has the feeling of a funeral. Next is Jessica's sister, as well as Rex Bonar, their minister, most likely here to baptize Zeke in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And all the while, Jessica hugs him ... but soon ... all too soon, Zeke's breathing grows shallow and the pink cheeks once again turn blue. And Jessica begins to cry.

The father, 35 years old, holds his son, 35 minutes young, one last time, before handing the baby back to his mother, and then, becoming a son again, Dave finds his own mother's arms and begins sobbing himself.

"He's done," the doctor confirms, although Jessica, being his mother, already knew. And the clock now reads 5:58 a.m.

Because we live in a culture of death, I'm sure some will call Zeke's life meaningless, his message grotesque. But David and Jessica had the faith to trust their only son, their love, to God, and it was through Zeke's bodily weakness that the Lord made him strong (1 Cor. 1:25). Zeke's heart was weak, but it was pure, and we know that the pure of heart shall see God (Matt. 5:8). Some day when doctors pursue life as passionately as they now deal death, perhaps they will even find a cure for a condition as puzzling as Trisomy 13. But I know that Ezekiel's heart is now beating for me, and I ask his intercession for those who seek to deny life to babies not blessed with beautiful noses and working organs, even for the 35 minutes Zeke had. As for you, Jessica and David, today you both will mourn, but some day you will rejoice. For you gave your son the perfect name, and now God has given his perfect strength to you.

Fighting Irish Thomas: Catholicism, Politics, Saints, and Notre Dame


Pristinus Sapienter said...

'God is my strength' and through Him, with Him, in Him, from Him and for Him do I yet stand. Trisomy 13 - what an odd name for a path of a 'day of glory' - where Satan can but howl, and God triumphant speaks 'as he is Mine, I am his.'

Would that God would and I could, I'd suffer that such babies have life-saving, life-changing miracles right before everyone's eyes. That my cross would find me suffering more that an innocent not suffer at all, yet . . .

An old man's tears are more bitter, for knowing suffering and wishing that he could give more, even if he suffers more. Years of helplessness in the face of such sadness have worn tear tracks in my heart.

Little Saint Ezekiel, pray for us. And, beloved of our Father, lend me your strength.

Anonymous said...

Our son has touched more lives in his 25 minutes than many people will in a lifetime. God has been glorified and has been our constant sourch of strenght throughout this experience.
-David and Jessica Weatherford

Tom O'Toole said...

David and Jessica Weatherford - Thanks for writing. The story of Ezekiel has been an inspiration to all of us. Glad to have you on the site, and we would feel blessed to hear from you from time to time. -Tom