Written by: Holly Bates
Tragedy isn’t something that you ever expect will happen to you. As a pastor, I regularly enter other people’s lives in the midst of their tragedy, but tragedy had never been a part of my own life. I say that, aware that there are many like me who have never had a personal brush with tragedy, but also aware that there are many who have not only brushed up against it but have lived there, camped out as it were in the midst of deep pain and loss. This just simply had not been my experience. Even now as I write this, I tend to think of those suffering with far more tragic circumstances than mine because my tragedy had an end and my heart grieves for those who see no relief this side of heaven.
This is where I was at in life as I start this story; I am a pastor’s wife and a pastor myself. I have three beautiful children who at the time were three and a half, one … and a newborn baby girl! The two youngest babies are a year and ten days apart and my one year old wasn’t walking yet! Basically, life had just gotten really crazy!
Shortly after my 3rd child, Mylah, was born I noticed that she was having difficulty breathing. Although she was full term and sent home from the hospital with no issues, she always sounded like she was drowning when I laid her down in her crib. Well, when you have three kids under 3 years old, you don’t have the luxury of holding your newborn all day – so I propped her up and she slept upright. At night, her breathing was so bad I would sleep sitting up in bed, holding my baby. The doctor quickly diagnosed Mylah with RSV, put her on puffers, and life continued! With the busyness of 3 kids, Christmas celebrations all around us, and a very sleep deprived me, we just kept on moving!
Over the holidays I actually thought Mylah was getting better. That is until one day in early January when I just couldn’t get her to stop crying. Babies cry, so that wasn’t alarming to me – I tried everything I could think of to sooth her and at the end of the day brushed it off as a phase…maybe she was growing? However, she would not stop crying. I mean we tried everything! In desperation, at 2 a.m., I decided to bring her to the hospital. But what exactly was I bringing her there for? Surely they would laugh at me and send me away for telling them I was there because my baby wouldn’t stop crying! But I just had a feeling that I needed to take her. I packed her up and off we went. On the way to the hospital I laid my fleece out before God. “God, if she needs a doctor, don’t let her fall asleep on the drive”, of course…she fell sound asleep! Hmm…. I sat in the hospital parking lot and said to God again “I’ll go in, but only ask to see a doctor if there is no one else in the waiting room”. Well, to my surprise, no one was there! I think that’s unheard of in a hospital ER! I literally took my now sleeping baby to triage and said, “I am here because she has cried all day and has not slept!” Well, they triaged her, and brought me in and immediately started giving her oxygen and treatments for her lungs. At this point I began to sense that it was most definitely the Lord who had prompted this trip to the hospital, however, I had no idea what the next 4 and a half weeks had in store.
The next morning Mylah was admitted to Joseph Brant Hospital. I watched her struggle to breath all that day, and sat with her as the nurses gave treatment after treatment to assist her. Through it all, I felt like I was watching someone else’s life. Being a naturel optimist, I just assumed that the doctors would take care of the issue and she would be home in no time. As Mylah struggled throughout the day she started turning grey trying to breathe on her own. Each time the doctors treated her symptoms there seemed to be a little improvement and by the nighttime Mylah seemed to be doing better. We prayed and we trusted the Lord. Later that evening the doctor, also a believer, came into our room and said “Mylah needs to be transferred to McMaster Children’s hospital”. Although she seemed to have pulled through that day, they were worried that if she kept fighting as hard as she was to breath for too much longer, she would eventually loose the energy to fight. I felt like chaos had suddenly hit my perfect little world. I called my husband Jeremy who was at Youth group and told him our situation. The nurses packed our 5-week-old baby up and loaded her into the ambulance to transfer her, and my heart had never needed the comfort of the Saviour as much as I needed Him in that moment.
My whole life, I have been particularly drawn to the idea of complete surrender to God. I was determined to serve God in the good times and the bad times and was ready to give up my very life for my Jesus. But my faith, my words and my life had never actually been tested in this way. It is one thing to sing “though I walk through the wilderness, blessed be Your name” but it’s an entirely different thing to live that out. I think that it was important that God brought my heart to the place of true surrender before this moment. HE built a foundation in my life that was solid…it was ready for the storm…I was ready for the storm. My walk with Jesus, and His faithfulness to me had equipped me for this very moment.
As we settled in at the new hospital, my husband spent the next day with Mylah and I. She seemed to be doing remarkably and Jeremy hoped she’d be out by Monday so we could make it to Youth Pastor’s Time Out Conference at Great Wolf Lodge. Jeremy left after a great day with Mylah, and not 15 minutes after he left, I noticed Mylah turning grey again. I quickly called the nurse and within the next 3 minutes my room was flooded with a team of doctors and nurses doing all they could to get her through this relapse. It was a fury of x-ray machines, breathing treatments, oxygen masks, suction for the fluid in her lungs and desperate prayers! She eventually pulled through.
The following morning my husband came by before church and notice Mylah looked great! He could hardly believe my story from the night before! Moments after he left, it happened again. Mylah struggled to breath and the team was there in what felt like seconds. I barely knew what I was seeing…I could do nothing but call out to Jesus in my mind, watching silently and trying to help where I could. By the time Jer got back to the hospital after service, Mylah once again looked great! I was starting to see a trend here and said, “You, Jeremy, are not leaving tonight!”
It’s a good thing he didn’t leave, he witnessed one more episode. However, this time it took a different turn. This time Mylah’s little body was too tired to fight. After doing all they could where we were in the ward, the team of doctors took her to PICU and tried to hook Mylah up to the C-PAP machine to assist her with her breathing. Mylah was really struggling. I will never forget seeing her gasp for each and every breath, her whole body trying to get oxygen while her heart rate soared and plummeted and soared again. In the flurry of activity the doctors made a decision to sedate and intubate her as she was not responding to C-PAP. It felt like an out of body experience watching this happen to my newborn! Through all of this, it was as if the Holy Spirit turned the volume down on my own thoughts which I know would have raced to “Why me?! This can’t be happening!” and panic would have set in. It was as if the Holy Spirit turned up the volume to a song I ironically had on repeat in my van for the last 3 weeks. “What joy, what joy for those whose hope is in the name of the Lord. What peace, what peace for those whose confidence is Him alone.” The team of doctors whisked Jer and I out of the room. I had no idea what to expect from here on out, but my confidence was in Jesus.
When we were allowed back into the room to see her, Mylah was sedated and intubated. She was hooked up to wires and machines and Jer and I stood by her bed and cried out to Jesus for our baby. We were forced to go home that night, without Mylah. I felt such sadness, I can’t even describe. I cried myself to sleep. I woke up early to get to the hospital to sit beside her and watch her monitor numbers, day in and day out. Oxygen levels, heart rates, breaths per minute and doctors’ analysis became my obsession. She had RSV, which is a common respiratory virus that all kids get, but her lungs were fragile and the virus was just too much for Mylah to handle.
Throughout this time I knew that thousands of people were praying for my daughter and our family. There was a peace and a hope that nourished me. I heard God speak so clearly to me. Mylah was a fighter, that’s what the doctors said. In fact when she was sedated, she kept fighting to wake up! They had to give her twice as much sedation as they normally would give to keep her asleep. She was a fighter (if you know her now, she is still a fighter!) But God spoke to me about her life. “She fights for her own life now, but she will fight for other people’s lives. She will lead many people to salvation”. That is my hope! That’s why God has given us breath and life as believers and that is why He is waiting to return, so that many more would know Him. I believe that will be Mylah’s legacy.
After one week of being sedated and intubated in PICU, the tubes came out and Mylah could breath on her own again. Because she had been so heavily sedated, when they drugs were cut off, Mylah cried like an addict coming off drugs for 50 hours straight. No sleeping. She had jitters so badly I wasn’t allowed to hold her. I thought the week in PICU was hard and tiring. Well…was I wrong! After the 50 hours of crying, she slept for 22 hours non-stop, and when she woke up, she was struggling to breath again. The team once again whisked in, took her x-rays and discovered one of her lungs had collapsed. She was going back to PICU. I was desperate. If there was ever a time for God to come through, I felt like this was it. We prayed, we asked others to pray and we didn’t hold anything back. They came to take one more set of x-rays before sending her back to PICU so the team would have the most up to date x-rays to look at and…her lung was fine. Her lung was no longer collapsed! This was a turning point. We had been praying for so long, but this particular night we were thanking God. We were thanking our wonderful Lord for a miracle.
It was 4 and a half weeks before Mylah was finally released. Although we were told she had RSV in the hospital, we later learned that it was complicated due to her severe asthma she has had since birth. Since those first months, Mylah has had many trips to the hospital, specialists, and clinics for her asthma. She has been put on lots of medication. I could wonder why the Lord so clearly and miraculously healed her that night of her collapsed lung, while she still struggles to breath on a regular basis (much more controlled now). But I don’t wonder. I trust. Not that wondering is bad in and of itself. It’s just that I don’t need to wonder. I trust God’s plan for our lives. I trust that He is faithful. I know that God doesn’t cause sickness, but He will use anything and everything for his purpose. I trust that Mylah’s will to fight will make her a warrior for the Kingdom of God, and I CHOOSE to turn this tragedy into thanksgiving!
Holly Bates is the Junior High pastor at Glad Tidings in Burlington. She is the mom of three amazing, kids! Madison Grace is 7, Jaden Jeremiah is 5 and the baby, Mylah Alicia is not a baby anymore, but turns 4 next month! Holly is married to Jeremy and loves partnering with him in pastoral ministry and in life! Holly loves spending time with family and friends… you can drop by her house anytime and come in for a coffee!