Eugene: My name is Eugene, and this is my wife Ann. We have been married for almost nine years, and have two children; Erin is seven and Anica is almost five. We come from the Philippines and we are here in Italy for a year, to make an experience in the school of families in Loppiano. I am an engineer by profession, and before coming here, I was working in the supply chain department in a power generation company.
Ann: I have a degree in Information Technology. When we got married, I was then working in the IT industry. I had what I could say was a successful and flourishing career, and I was going up the corporate ladder. But it was a job that demanded much from me; at a certain point, I felt that to love Eugene and to make our desire of starting a family a reality, I had to put my family above my career. We talked about it together. Around that time, the global financial meltdown was being felt. We had doubts about being able to raise a family with only one income. It was a big risk. But we felt strongly that it was what God was asking from us, and we said our yes, trusting that God would always take care of us. I left my 10-year IT career and became a housewife, and Eugene became the sole provider for our family. Soon after, we found out that we were going to have our first baby and we were very excited.
Erin was born. It was a joyful an exciting moment for us. But our joy was short-lived. Two weeks later, on December 6, we had difficulty feeding her. We brought her to the hospital, and the doctor told us that she had sepsis and meningitis, which was potentially fatal. December 7 was a special day for us. We started the day renewing our ‘yes’ to God’s will, believing that everything was part of His great love for our family. Very early that morning, the doctor called to inform us that the infection was apparently at an advanced stage and that Erin was in a very critical condition. That afternoon, we had Erin’s emergency baptism at the neonatal ICU.
Eugene: The next day, Erin’s pulse started to drop. She was pale and weak, and her eyes were not responding to movement and light. At once, the doctor advised us to transfer her to a better-equipped hospital, which, naturally, was also more expensive. At first, I was worried because we could not afford the rates of that hospital. But Ann helped me make a leap of faith, and we agreed to do everything for Erin and worry about the expenses later. That morning, I couldn’t accept what was happening to our family. I asked God, “WHY?” but later, entrusting everything to Him, I gave Him my ‘yes.’ In the ambulance on the way to the new hospital, I was asked to stimulate Erin by touching her and singing her favorite lullaby because her pulse was dropping. It was hard to understand why our young family had to go through all this. But we continued to believe that there was a reason for everything, even if we could not understand it at that moment. Once again, Ann and I said our ‘yes’ to His will.
Arriving at the emergency room, we watched as Erin was pierced with needles, connected to tubes and surrounded by machines. We watched her go into a seizure. We could not help but cry, seeing everything that was being done to her and realizing the gravity of her illness. I was at a loss and couldn’t understand why our baby had to go through all those painful medical procedures. That day was December 8, the feast of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. We went to the hospital chapel and entrusted Erin to our Lady.
Ann: The doctors told us right away that Erin’s condition was very critical, that the infection seemed to have already reached her brain and that she had meningitis. They also told us that upfront that in cases as grave as this, they had only seen two outcomes in the past—either the patient did not live, or the patient survived but with a handicap. They assured us that they would do everything they could, but that we could only hope and pray. Various tests were run on her the entire day. Again, Erin had to undergo the ordeal of being pierced many times with needles while tubes and machines were connected to her arms and feet. Transfusions were ordered for platelets, fresh frozen plasma and red blood cells. She resembled a small Jesus being crucified, suffering and helpless. It was hard to see her go through this, but we also felt how special she was to Jesus, who had chosen her, at such a tender age, to be an innocent victim like Him on the cross. There was really nothing we could do but be there for her, staying “at the foot of her cross” as Mary had done when Jesus was on the cross.
Eugene: While Erin was going through physical pain, Ann and I underwent a great deal of emotional pain. Many times, Ann and I would look at each other, assuring one another of our love and unity in this suffering. Though we couldn’t understand why we had to go through this, we continued to believe that it was part of God’s great design for our baby and our family. Absurd as it was, we still believed that this suffering was the immense love of God for us. That night, Ann and I asked ourselves if we were ready for anything: for the possibility of raising a handicapped child, even for the possibility that she would not make it at all, and we would lose her. I asked God, “Are You asking me to give You even my only daughter?” Ann remembered Abraham, who continued to trust, even when he was asked to sacrifice Isaac. She also remembered Job, who remained faithful even when he had lost everything, peacefully saying, “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away.” It was not easy to accept these harsh possibilities, but together, we accepted His will, realizing in that moment that Erin was not ours; she belonged to God.
Ann: We prepared ourselves for the worst. But as days passed, we found each day giving us more and more reasons to hope. Erin responded remarkably to the treatment that was given to her. Her color returned, and her skin quality improved. Her eyes started to respond again. She became more mobile. Her cranial ultrasound showed that her brain was normal despite the gravity of the infection. All other tests done on her showed normal results, without a trace of the infection. Soon, the doctors and the nurses were calling her “a miracle baby.” Day after day, she became better and stronger. We watched our little woman bravely fight to live, and as we went through the experience with her, we re-learned important things in life which we might have started to take for granted. In a way, she was teaching us to “BE” more rather than to HAVE or DO more. She was teaching us what life was all about.
Eugene: It was Christmas time, and in the midst of the many uncertainties, I was reminded of what Chiara Lubich affirmed one Christmas–that God alone is the source of joy and complete happiness. I also read the Pope’s message–that Christmas is a reminder of that little family of Nazareth, a seemingly unfortunate family that had to go through a lot of difficulties when Jesus was born. As we lived the experience with Erin, it was like a real-life meditation, a constant chance to meet Jesus and choose Him again and again, sometimes on the cross, sometimes in the resurrection. We were not always strong. But what sustained us was the presence of Jesus in our midst, with the Focolare community, and also the support of our family and friends. We felt God’s concrete love through the many people who came forward to help us–practically, financially, emotionally, spiritually–and through countless others who prayed for Erin and for us.
Ann: Erin stayed in the hospital for 23 days. We had many celebrations in the hospital: my birthday, Erin’s first month, and our first Christmas as a family of three. But if there was anything worth celebrating and being grateful for, it was the gift of a new life for Erin. We went home on December 29, just in time for the New Year. During her first year of life, we continued to go to different doctors for follow-up check-ups, with consistently normal results. Just before she turned one-year old, she passed her neurological evaluation with flying colors, exceeding her neurologist’s expectations.
Now, Erin is seven years old, living life spiritedly with our second daughter Anica who is almost five years old. We are here in Italy for one year to make an experience in the school for families in Loppiano. Like most parents, we also have our concerns, challenges and worries about our children. But we have already entrusted them and their future to God to whom they belong in the first place. We realize that as parents, we are only stewards with a role to accompany these children as they grow up, helping them to correspond to God’s beautiful plan of love for their lives.