Sometimes prayers get answered in the best way possible

Parents have differing ambitions for their children, one supposes. Everyone wants their kids to be happy, to live fulfilling lives and to avoid the mistakes that they themselves have made.

However, one also harbors the suspicion that those with more temporal aspirations for their offspring – riches, marrying “up,” political ambitions – are more likely to keep such objectives to themselves, their spouses or a tight-knit group of friends who think along the same lines.

My hopes for my six children have always been the same: good health, happiness and holiness (I like alliteration). That’s been my prayer for each of them every night. If they can achieve a modicum of those three, their lives will be rich beyond measure.

For daughter No. 3, who I will refer to as Caroline, since that’s her name, my prayers have already been answered many times over. Not only is she a happy young lady and goes to church on her own, but she has overcome a host of early health issues that left her life in jeopardy from the moment she was born.

Caroline was diagnosed with a congenital cystic adenomatoid malformation before she was born. Because she was a twin, there was no chance of doctors performing surgery while she was still in the womb. The congenital cystic adenomatoid malformation, or CCAM, prevented one of the lobes in her right lung from developing, leaving it instead a mass incapable of functioning like normal lung tissue.

Daughter No. 3 in action earlier this year. And, yes, she will exact revenge upon me for using this photo.

Fortunately, she was delivered at one of the best hospitals in the Southeast, the Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital. Within moments of her birth, she was whisked to the neonatal intensive care unit. Almost immediately, because the CCAM was preventing her from getting necessary oxygen, she was placed on a frightening piece of equipment that provided extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, called an ECMO machine.

ECMO is a heart-lung bypass that oxygenates the blood. It is described as “advanced life support technique used for patients with life-threatening problems.” It is used “only when all of the standard treatments for those problems have already been tried.”

The goal is to support the patient while doctors try to treat the underlying issue. Unfortunately, the longer a newborn is on ECMO, the greater the chances of bleeding in the brain, which can cause brain damage or even death.

My then-wife, having given birth to twins by caesarian, was recuperating and understandably unable to visit Caroline in the hours after her birth. I was able to see my daughter within an hour after she’d been born, and she was already hooked up to the very large machine, with oxygenated blood being circulated into her body through a cannulae in her neck. Standing there alone, with just a nurse monitoring her, as machines beeped and blinked over my tiny baby was very sobering experience.

Even more difficult was what occurred a short time later, when a nurse asked if I had a priest I wanted to call. She knew we were Catholic and that if things didn’t look good for Caroline that we would want her baptized immediately. I said yes, and made the call.

The priest showed up a short time later and not only baptized my hours-old daughter, but also gave her extreme unction, better known as last rites. Caroline had been born at 1:01 p.m. and I distinctly remember more than once praying that she make it until at least midnight, so that no would think she had been a stillborn. It’s odd what one dwells on in times of crisis.

My mother had flown out from California and my ex-wife’s parents were on hand, as well. As excited as everyone was about the second baby, who I’ll call Abby, since that’s her name, there was a definite sense of foreboding as we watched little Caroline struggling while hooked up to the ECMO.

We would visit her regularly, and I was there one day by myself when she opened her eyes for what I believe was the first time. She was looking directly at me. I have no idea if she could focus on me or even knew of my presence, but it was a positive development. It was on that day that she was able to grip my finger with her tiny hand for the first time.

However, attempts to take her off ECMO weren’t progressing. Because of the danger of brain bleeds, the maximum time a newborn is allowed on the machine is three weeks. As we passed the two-week mark, Caroline’s compromised lungs still were unable to take the strain of her breathing on her own. Doctors had removed the mass, but each time they tried to take her off the machine, she wasn’t able to get enough oxygen into her bloodstream on her own and would have to go back on ECMO.

Walking outside the hospital one late spring day, I distinctly remember asking my mom if we would have to look into organ donation. She said we should wait and see what happened.

As the third and final week of Caroline on the machine came to a close, things were not looking particularly good. But just as we were preparing for the worst, Caroline’s lungs improved enough that doctors were able to remove her from the heart-lung bypass and she was able to breathe on her own. It seemed like a last-minute reprieve.

There were more challenges ahead. Did she have brain damage from her extended stay on the ECMO? (no, fortunately); she had had so many surgeries that she had become addicted to morphine, which she had to be weaned from; she would spend more than three months in the neonatal intensive care unit before she could come home and join her twin and older sister and brother, and she needed physical therapy because her neck muscles hadn’t developed, leaving her unable to hold her head up, because she had had to lay in the same position on the heart-lung transplant machine for three weeks.

Why do I write this today? Last night Caroline attended her high school cross country team’s annual banquet. The girl born without the middle lobe on her right lung spent the last five years running cross country, and another four years running track.

She wasn’t the fastest, but she worked hard, didn’t complain and developed a love for a sport she will likely enjoy her entire life. Ironically, it was eight years yesterday that she went for her first run, with her stepmother – my wife – who took her and her sisters out for a jog to introduce them to the sport.

Over the past few years of attending my daughter’s cross country races I’ve seen parents yell at their children for not finishing as well as the parent would have liked. I’ve seen parents say how disappointed they were with their kid’s performance, turn their backs on them, walk away from them and even make them cry.

Me? I was grateful for every time Caroline got out there and ran. She made some wonderful friends, was part of a good team and learned lessons that will serve her well through life. Many a time as she ran past me I thought back to that spring when all I wanted was for her to live to the next day, or to open her eyes just once so she could see me.

Needless to say, many times over the past five years I’ve thanked God for giving me the chance to see my daughter run, and last night, when she walked up and received her school letter from her coach, culminating years of hard work, I said another prayer of thanks that she has come so far.

She is a good person with a good heart, as are all of her siblings.

It is said that we often don’t know what we have until we’ve lost it. Having nearly lost a daughter at birth, I’ve long recognized and appreciated what I have with my children.

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The ‘Man in Black’ stands tall over California capital city

Near the California state capital in downtown Sacramento is a striking 15-story mural of music legend Johnny Cash.

The mural was completed earlier this year by graphic artist Shepard Fairey, who is best known for the “Hope” poster supporting Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

It shows Cash looking toward Folsom State Prison, site of one of his most famous performances, and the subject of one of Cash’s greatest songs, Folsom Prison Blues.

The mural is both a tribute to Cash and recognizes his passion for prison reform.

Cash mural in downtown Sacramento, with more of the surrounding area, for context.

Cash staged close to 30 prison concerts over a 20-year period and two albums were based on those performances: “Live at Folsom Prison” and “Live at San Quentin,” according to the Sacramento Bee.

Fairey is also an advocate for prison reform, and did the mural in the hope that it would “ignite a conversation around the need for incarceration reform,” he told the publication.

The mural is based on a print Fairey produced in 2016. It is Fairey’s largest in California and his most “most technically ambitious mural ever.”

Remembering one of 10 million, 100 hundred years later

One hundred years ago today Capt. Theodore Dubose Ravenel Jr. was killed in fighting on the Western Front. Sadly, he died just one day before the end of the Great War.

Even sadder, given the confusion of war, his family did not find out for some time afterward, so they initially believed he had survived the terrible conflict that claimed 10 million lives.

Ravenel was from a rural community in Sumter County, S.C. He was described as a “brave soldier” and it was noted that he “was highly esteemed by a wide circle of friends.”

That he was brave is indicated by the fact that he was killed on final full day of the war. With German allies Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire already having surrendered, rumors were rampant by early November 1918 that an armistice was imminent. Many soldiers on both sides were understandably content to do their best to just keep out of harm’s way.

Still, high-ranking officers in the rear continued to send men forward, many times only to add to their own personal accolades, resulting in needless deaths in the war’s final hours.

Ravenel, a member of the American Expeditionary Force’s 316th Machine Gun Battalion, was killed near Verdun, France. Verdun had seen some of the worst fighting of the war, and in the history of warfare, in 1916, and the area remained a hot zone throughout the remainder of the conflict.

An after-action report by 2nd Lieutenant Herbert R. Stender, who served under Ravenel, recounted the details regarding latter’s death.

According Stender’s Nov. 14, 1918, report, at about 4 p.m. on Nov. 10 he was ordered to gather a detail of two noncommissioned officers and four privates from his platoon and patrol an area up to the limit of the territory held by the 324th Infantry, then return with his information before dark.

Stender’s detail left a short while later and after about a mile came across the “dead body of Corporal Burgess of ‘B’ Company,” he wrote. “I then realized that something was wrong because Corporal Burgess’ death was caused by machine gun bullets and not by a sniper.”

Stender and his men proceeded cautiously in the same direction and was within 200 yards of Bois de Chabotte when Stender heard “cries of some distress.”

“… to my surprise and sorrow, I found Captain Ravenel of ‘B’ Company. He had been shot through the leg with machine gun bullets and his leg was broken,” Stender wrote.

“He recognized me at once and requested me to take him away before the Boche (Germans) could return and get him,” Stender continued. “I called my patrol to the spot and we fixed the Captain as comfortably as possible.

“The Captain cautioned us to keep down and to get away as soon as possible because the woods in front of us were infested with machine guns and that the Boche would open up on us right away.”

Stender’s patrol then proceeded to bring Ravenel back to the American lines, but Ravenel died en route.

Stender added that the task of recovering Ravenel’s body in was an arduous one: “… we had to go through a swamp covered with shell holes and enemy wire (and the) patrol was under heavy artillery and machine gun fire the whole time while they were returning …”

Ravenel’s body wasn’t returned to the US for nearly three years, when he was interred in the family burial plot at the Church of the Holy Cross in Stateburg, SC, in the summer of 1921.

Ravenel was one of several World War I casualties from South Carolina whose remains were returned to the Palmetto State on Aug. 5, 1921, according to a newspaper account.

The others included Private Williams D. Wells, of Greenville, killed on Nov. 11, 1918, the day the armistice was signed; Private Oscar Camp, Gaffney; Private James M. Lynn, Rock Hill; Private Henry K. Brown, Saluda; Private Jesse J. Moore, Westminster; Private Richard Williams, Jefferson; and Private L.T. Dickson, Kings Creek.

It would be nice to be able to write that Ravenel and the tens of thousands of other U.S. troops who gave their lives in World War I died for a worthwhile cause.

Given that World War II, with all its accompanying horrors, would be spawned from the carnage of the Great War, though, it’s hard to believe much good came from the First World War.

And today, the centennial of World War I has largely gone unnoticed in the United States, from the war’s beginnings in Europe to U.S. involvement in 1917 to its last days in November 1918.

We plod merrily along, glutting ourselves with consumer goods, social media minutiae and pointless political squabbling, oblivious to the hardship and sacrifice of 1914-18. Meanwhile,

In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row on row

As they have for a full century now.

(Top: Gravestone of Capt. Theodore Dubose Ravenel Jr., in Church of the Holy Cross Cemetery, Stateburg, SC.)