Sunday, January 1, 2012

Life is its own quality: miracles and the wonderfully made human body

So often stories about people who have suffered traumatic brain injury include the phrase "quality of life". Life is its own quality, and each of us enjoys it uniquely. Eddie, our 17 year old son, has a wonderful quality of life. He smiles constantly, enjoys his school bus ride, and reacts to the Consecration of the Eucharist during Mass with a zeal and comprehension that attests to it being truly the most exciting thing he has ever seen. Eddie has multiple disabilities, yet he is happier than a majority of the people I come into contact with on a daily basis, to include myself.

If quality of life is based on happiness, most of us fail the test for having a decent quality of life. However, happiness is not the litmus test for quality of life, ability is. That's troubling. Every human being is uniquely made in the image and likeness of God; each has his/her own ability to progress to that unique God-given potential. We will never all be the same, and no set standard can be placed on human potential.

A child like Eddie, a child with Down Syndrome, a typically developing child, all need help and support as they grow -- in utero and beyond. Human beings do not gestate, give birth and abandon their young to fend for themselves. No. They are raised and nurtured to be the most that they can be. Isn't it ironic that someone with no intellectual or physical disabilities can make a complete and utter mess of their lives, eg. drug addicts, prostitutes, criminals, etc. At what point would it be wise to question their quality of life? If those who have potential throw it away, is the quality of their life still deemed as good?

Quality of life -- it's a misnomer. Perhaps quality of convenience  would be a better phrase. The reality is that quality of life only becomes a topic of discussion when we are considering whether personal comfort, leisure and pleasure are going to be hampered by the need to care for another life or live one that is limited in some fashion. Or, Lord help us, when our wallet can't handle the expense of such care.

Consider the circumstances of the family and physicians caring for Sam Schmid. Sam suffered critical injuries in a car accident several months ago, leaving him in a coma after critical brain surgery. There seemed to be very little hope. Sam's situation wasn't improving and both physicians and family were preparing to have to make the decision to end life support.

Schmid's doctor saw something on the scans that didn't quite make sense to him. ABC News reported: "For days Schmid didn't seem to be responding, but what puzzled his doctor was that he did not see fatal injuries on the MRI scan. So he decided to keep Schmid on life support longer." This decision to give Schmid time was only one part of the miracle that occurred.

Sam Schmid woke up! (watch video)

His mother had this to say about her son's recovery:
I tell everyone, if they want to call it a modern-day miracle, this is a miracle," said Regan, 59, and a Catholic. "I have friends who are atheists who have called me and said, 'I am going back to church.
This modern miracle sends a vivid reminder that not everything is known about the human brain, or the human body for that matter. They are not only fragile, but amazingly resilient. This is also evidenced by another truly amazing Christmas miracle, one that had doctors stunned. This time, it's the story of a mother and child, both dead after what should have been a routine childbirth on Christmas Eve. For no apparent reason, Tracy Hermanstorfer, went into cardiac arrest.  Mike Hermanstorfer held the cold hand of his dead wife, and after an emergency C-section to try and save his son, Colston, held his lifeless child, as well. But, that was not to stay the case.

For reasons doctors can't explain, both mother and child began to breath again on their own within moments of each other.

Tracy and Colston woke up!

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There are such things as Divine miracles, and arrogant humans should take a giant step back from their limited knowledge base and reassess what they can and what they cannot control. Sam Schmid's family was poised to make the decision to donate his organs. Tracy and Colston Hermanstorfer were both pronounced dead. All of them are alive; all of them have a second chance because of a miracle in their wonderfully made human bodies that medicine cannot explain.

How many babies are misdiagnosed in the womb with medical anomalies and lost to abortion; how many are correctly diagnosed with anomalies and parents are told that it would be better to kill the child now rather than have them suffer later? But, humans beings were designed to love, to suffer, to live, to die -- naturally. When man interferes with the plan of God, that interference causes greater suffering.

What might the Schmid family have been thinking in that moment when Sam woke up? Perhaps, outside of immense joy -- dear Lord, we almost gave consent to donate his organs! What a horror to consider. And, how might other families who have agreed to donate organs be feeling at the news that Sam Schmid woke up -- did we do the right thing?

The heart and mind returns to Terri Schiavo, who was starved and dehydrated to death. While her body may not have been fully functional, she still owned her existence. Her life was not ready to end. It was taken from her -- a court ordered murder.

If medical care is to be civilized and human, it must recognize that there are situations where miracles occur, where God intervenes and changes the order of things as we know them to be. It can't be explained, but it can respond to. Each and every life is precious -- the notion of "quality of life" is a lie, and the human body is just as mysterious and marvelous as the God who created it.


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