Less Than 10-Percent

A cold January wind danced around the dead of night in Philadelphia as the doctor walked into the small hospital room of Martine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Still reeling from the previous hours, her husband Hugh held her hand as they braced themselves for the latest news.

That morning of January 16, 1978, complications had forced Martine, only 28-weeks pregnant, to deliver the couple's new daughter, Damaris Suzanne. At 12 inches long and weighing only one pound and ten ounces, they already knew she was perilously premature. Still, the doctor's soft words dropped like bombs.

"I don't think she's going to make it," he said, as kindly as he could. "There's less than a 10-percent chance she will live, and even then, if by some slim chance she does make it, her future could be a very cruel one."

Numb with disbelief, Hugh and Martine listened as the doctor described the devastating problems Damaris would likely face if she survived. She would never walk. She would never talk. She would probably be blind. She would certainly be prone to other catastrophic conditions from severe motor problems, commonly called cerebral palsy, to mental retardation, and on and on.

"Do what you can to save her, Doctor" was all Hugh and Martine could say. Hugh and Martine, with their 3-year-old daughter Laurence, had dreamed of the day they would have another child to become a family of four. Now, within a matter of hours, that dream was slipping away.

Through the dark hours of morning as Damaris held onto life by the thinnest thread, Martine slipped in and out of drugged sleep, praying that if it pleased the Lord of life that their tiny daughter would live and live to be a healthy, happy young girl. Hugh, fully awake and listening to additional dire details of their daughter's chances of ever leaving the hospital alive, much less healthy, was comforted and thankful to know that their home church had called a day of prayer and fasting for Martine and the inevitable premature birth.

There were five doctors working on Damaris the technologies available for premature infants in 1978 meant that they were able to 'save' about 50-percent of babies at 32 weeks. That week they had lost four healthier babies than Damaris. The doctor's were discouraged -- four of them wanted to give up. Yet inexplicably one felt differently and kept encouraging the others to keep trying. Every procedure the doctors needed to perform worked perfectly, from injecting a stimulant to the heart, to adjusting oxygen levels, as if walking a tight rope there was no room for error.

As willed by the Lord, Damaris clung to life hour after hour, with the help of every medical machine and marvel her miniature body could endure. But as those first days passed, a new agony set in for Hugh and Martine. Because of complications, Martine had an infection and could not go to here daughter. As Damaris' underdeveloped nervous system was essentially "raw," every lightest kiss or caress only intensified her discomfort--so they couldn't even cradle their tiny baby girl against their chests to offer the strength of their love. All they could do, as Damaris struggled seemingly alone beneath the ultra-violet light in the tangle of tubes and wires, was to pray that God would continue to remember his child of the covenant, their precious little girl.

There was never a moment when Damaris suddenly grew stronger. As weeks went by, she did slowly gain an ounce of weight here and an ounce of strength there.

At last, when Damaris turned one month old, her parents were able to hold her in their arms for the very first time. And one month later-though doctors continued to gently but grimly warn that her chances of surviving, much less living any kind of normal life, were next to zero-Damaris went home from the hospital, just as her parents had hoped and for which the saints had prayed.

Today, twenty years later, Damaris is a lovely young lady with glittering blue eyes and bright blond hair, an unquenchable zest to serve overseas as a missionary doctor. She does show signs, of minor physical impairments, but only to remind us of the Lord's unfailing love. She is everything that she can be and more -- but that happy ending is far from the end of her story.

One bright autumn afternoon in the fall of 1996 at her college on Lookout Mountain, Ga., Damaris was sitting studying when she received word to visit the campus nurse's office. The blood she had donated, to help those in need, was contaminated with a potentially deadly 'Hepatitis C' virus.

Damaris was selected to be part of a world wide group of people with 'Hepatitis C' to test a new treatment. While we had hoped that she would be selected to be among the two out of three for the experimental treatment, she was selected to be part of the control group, who will receive the standard treatment. The doctors inform us that the chances of the standard treatment working are less than 10-percent.

[Hugh Wessel is an MTW missionary to France. His email address is 100415.1073@compuserve.com.-Ed.]