Praying for a Miracle: When Faith and Science Cross Paths
Even when medical science doesn’t seem to have the answer, you can keep hope alive in your faith.
That’s the situation Bobbie and Brian Lensing found themselves in just 10 days after their twin boys were born at 25 weeks.
Sawyer and Samuel, both born under 2 pounds, were in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) due to their premature birth. At 7 days old Sawyer took an unexpected and unexplained turn for the worse. He was retaining water, his heart rate was dropping and he was showing signs of his body shutting down, said Justin Sharp, MD, a Neonatologist with Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health System.
“I had conversations with the family that morning to say that I’m not sure if he’s going to survive,” Sharp recalled. “I was doing everything I could but it wasn’t clear to me what the underlying issue was. I reached out to specialists in Minneapolis about the case and they had no answers to help either. It just didn’t make sense.”
So the family did what they always do — they relied on their faith and prayer and tried to enjoy every minute with Sawyer.
Praying for Improvement
Bobbie and Brian called their family to the hospital. They came with blankets that had been blessed by a local church and placed them over each of the boys’ incubators. Then along with the chaplain, they stood around the boys and prayed in the NICU for improvement.
Sharp, who was off to the side, prayed silently to himself.
“We said a lot of prayers over those 72 hours he was really sick,” Bobbie recalled. “All of a sudden he started to come back and needed less breathing support. There is no other way to explain it. It felt like a miracle.”
Sharp said lab reports were indicating his body was in shock but with no explainable cause. Later that day, his lab reports inexplicably began to improve.
“Just as bizarrely as he got worse, he got better in a very short period of time. Looking at his reports in that situation I would not have expected that to happen,” Sharp said.
The boys’ parents discussed with Sharp the possibility that a lesion on his liver might have caused problems with blood flow to the heart and improved during the day.
“I couldn’t believe it was happening,” Bobbie said of Sawyer’s recovery. “I also knew that besides God wrapping his arms around him and placing his healing hands on him, we were doing all we could.”
The Role of Hope in Medicine
Sharp draws on the experience at times to discuss how hope and faith can play a role in health and healing, if the family wishes. While part of his job is explaining realistic expectations and outcomes for patients and families, he also knows the importance of not giving up hope.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m wearing two hats,” Sharp said. “On one end I’m the doctor who knows as much as possible about the problem and wants to do everything within my medical toolbox to bring about health and healing. Oftentimes when that has exhausted itself and I don’t have any other tools to draw from I consider how to incorporate prayer.
“More and more I believe you can bring the best of both faith and prayer into it earlier to support the family if they have similar beliefs.”
Both Sawyer and Samuel were in the NICU many more months as they continued to grow, and the Lensings formed bonds they still have today with the NICU staff.
“I wouldn’t wish a NICU stay upon anyone but I wouldn’t give ours up for the world,” she said. “I feel like Dr. Sharp’s faith and his knowledge were so rewarding. Bringing that side of his personal life to the bedside meant a lot to us.”
Two Years and Thriving
It was 157 days before Sawyer left the NICU and 163 days for Samuel. Today, they spend their days at home in Minnesota, with their parents and two older brothers.
They recently had their feeding tubes removed and are also seeing other improvements. Slowly, the doctor and therapy visits are decreasing and Bobbie is enjoying the personalities she could see so clearly from the beginning.
“Sawyer’s will to survive is still very evident. He is determined at everything he does. He’s very strong and I’m glad that he had that because he needed that. Samuel is much more passive and I think that he needed that because all the attention that Sawyer required. It wasn’t hard for us to split our time.”