An open heart

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Julie Brock-Garcia is alive today because of an abortion that didn’t happen.

Now, 12 years after her mother braved the storm of having a child out of wedlock, she’s battling for her daughter’s life once again.

Only this time, she’s not alone.

Pam Garcia was a 20-year-old college student involved in what she thought was a committed relationship when she discovered she was pregnant. Her boyfriend insisted she get an abortion or he would have nothing to do with her or the child.

“My mom was pro-life advocate up at St. Agnes [in Roeland Park], so I really knew a lot about it,” recalled Pam. “I couldn’t go through with an abortion.”

“I wasn’t going to push the issue; I didn’t even ask for child support,” she said. “I totally broke off the relationship.”

Pam had a beautiful baby girl, named her Julie, and prepared for her future as a single parent. But an old high-school sweetheart, Peter Garcia Sr., had a better idea.

A perfect family

Pam and Peter met and dated as students at Bishop Miege High School in Roeland Park. After graduation, Peter joined the military. Although the couple agreed to see other people, they still remained close, often talking on the phone.

“We talked to each other about the people we were dating,” recalled Pam. “I could always talk to him about anything.”

After the birth of Julie, however, Pam called Peter and told him she wouldn’t be able to stay in touch with him any longer. She had to devote all of her energy to taking care of Julie.

“I told him, ‘I really like you, but I’ve got to focus myself on this child I’ve created,’” she said. “He asked me about the guy involved, and I told him that he didn’t want to have anything to do with me or the baby.

“Then my [future] husband said, ‘Well, you’ve always been the one I wanted to marry and I still want to marry you.

‘“So I’m going to ask you: Will you be my wife and let me take care of you and our baby?’”

Pam hardly knew what to say.
“I was in tears at that point,” she said. But she eventually said yes, and the two were married.

A year later, the couple presented Julie with a little brother, Peter Jr. They became active members of St. Agnes Parish and School and went on their lives.

Until last January. That’s when Julie started to feel lethargic.

Then, one evening at home, Julie passed out on their second floor landing and fell down the stairs.

Peter and Pam rushed their daughter to the emergency room and were met there by every parent’s nightmare.

Their bright, athletic daughter had idiopathic cardiopulmonary hypertension — a progressive, incurable disease affecting her heart and lungs. Half her heart was already irreparably damaged.

A faith-filled fighter

Even in the hospital, right after her diagnosis, Julie took a positive approach to her illness.

“When I first heard of it, I thought it might change my life,” she said, “and it has.

“But I don’t really mind. I’m able to do most of what I want to do.”

Julie has had to give up her beloved sports. She can’t run or do high-energy activities. And she will have to be home-schooled next year.

“But she’s a fighter,” said Pam, “and she believes in heaven. She’s like, ‘If I do die, it’s OK, Mom.’

“And I’m like, ‘Well, yeah. But we’ll miss you.’”

Julie gets her strength from her parents, who faithfully attend Mass each week and say a family rosary at least twice a week.

“Whenever we pray the rosary,” said Peter Jr., “Julie is part of our petitions, and I pray that she gets cured.”

And in the months since Julie’s diagnosis, the Garcias have experienced many little miracles that have helped them continue to trust in God’s plan for their daughter.

When Julie was hospitalized, her dad happened to glance out her window one day and saw the contrails of two planes make a cross in the sky. Below the cross was a double rainbow.

He turned to his wife and asked, “Do you think [God is] hearing our prayers?”

She didn’t hesitate.

Looking out the window she said, “Yes. I know he is.”

When Pam visited St. Agnes first-grade teacher Sister Ann Everett the following day, she was told that “yesterday the kids were working to send a rainbow of prayers up to the Lord for Julie.”

Even as the cross and rainbow appeared outside Julie’s window, in fact, 400 students were writing personal prayers on pieces of colored paper and linking them together in a prayer chain.

Hope and a pilgrimage

Julie came home from the hospital on oxygen and in a wheelchair.

But for a short while, it hardly seemed to matter. For waiting for her there was something she’d dreamed of for a very long time — a puppy.

“For the first time in a long time, I saw Julie laughing and smiling,” recalled her mother.

“And I said, ‘That’s a little bit of hope right there.’ So we named [the puppy] Hope.”

Hope was not the only surprise awaiting Julie. Students at St. Agnes School wanted to do a Love Walk for her, a traditional school fundraiser for families in need. The students wanted to raise money to send Julie and her family on a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Lourdes in France.

“It showed what a family our whole church and school community are,” said Mo Orpen, St. Agnes’ vice principal and director of development. “Whenever someone is down, there are hundreds of us around to help pick them up or help carry them through the rough times.”

“We really instill that in our students here,” she added. “So this gave our kids a great opportunity to do that.”

The Garcia family went to Lourdes in May, and Julie was immersed in the water that flows from the grotto, which she said was “really special, but really cold.”

The family found the entire experience humbling.

“Lourdes itself is a paradise,” said Pam, “but there were thousands of people there. When we did the candlelight procession, we were crunched, shoulder to

shoulder, and all these people came hoping for a miracle.

“When you’re focusing on your own world, you unintentionally block those things out.

“But when you’re thrown into a big pool with everybody having so many issues, it’s like, ‘Wow, what am I complaining about?’”

Julie came back from Lourdes not cured, but improved. She was no longer confined to a wheelchair or in need of oxygen. And another surprise awaited her. The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Missouri wanted to grant her a wish.

A wish to make a difference

Julie is a huge fan of the “Terminator” movies and chose as her wish to meet Arnold Schwarzenegger and go to Disneyland. Make-A-Wish submitted the paperwork, and Julie was waiting for a response when an encounter with a homeless man turned her decision upside down.

“I had wanted to see Arnold, but one day we were at a red light and there was a guy close to our car who had a sign ‘In Need of Food,’” Julie recalled.

The family had a box of cookies in the car. They pulled over and handed the cookies to the man. He dropped his sign, and dug into the cookies.

The man was ravenous — and also very, very grateful.

Julie was touched beyond measure.

Despite all she had on her own plate, she couldn’t get that moment and that homeless man out of her mind.

“I still wanted to see Arnold Schwarzenegger, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the homeless man and how he enjoyed the cookies so much,” she said. “I just knew there had to be other people in need of food, and I started thinking maybe for my wish I could donate money to a food kitchen.”

When Pam called Make-A-Wish to ask if it were possible for Julie to have the monetary equivalent of her wish donated, she was met with disbelief. The people there were so astonished by the request, they asked to talk with Julie personally.

“They said, ‘If it’s just that you don’t want to see Arnold, we can switch that. You can go to Hawaii or we can get you a horse. You can have a personal Jacuzzi,’” recalled Pam. “They offered her all these temptations and she just said, ‘No, thank you.’”

Julie chose to donate funds totaling $5,000 to the food kitchen at Guardian Angels Church in Kansas City, Mo. — the parish in which her dad, who had recently been deployed to Iraq, grew up.

When Make-A-Wish told the staff workers at the food kitchen the news, they couldn’t have been more grateful. Demand for food had been so high lately, they were concerned about how they were going to make it through the winter months.

“I guess God helps other people by using us,” said Julie. “And I guess I’m the person he chose to help [those that are] trying to help the homeless.”

But it’s more than that.

“You were open to the call — you were an instrument,” Julie’s mother told her.
“I know we’re not supposed to brag,” said Pam simply, “but I’m so proud of her.” Make-A-Wish Foundation members were so impressed with Julie’s generosity they called Kauffman Stadium and nominated her for the Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat — a prime stadium seat reserved for a member of the community who embodies O’Neil’s charitable spirit.

Julie was the honored guest at a game in August, but the experience was bittersweet — she wished her dad could have been with her. And for that reason, she has chosen to make the donation to Guardian Angels when her dad comes home from Iraq sometime in October.

A wish for the future

In the meantime, this close-knit family will do what they always do: pray. Julie said she prays to God the Father, but also for the intercession of Mary, St. Michael, St. Thérèse the Little Flower and St. Bernadette.

And for now, said her mother, medication is “leveling things out” for Julie. The family will stay positive and hope for a breakthrough — medical or otherwise.

Watching Julie cope with this dire disease over the last eight months, however, has given Pam cause to reflect more than once on her decision 12 years ago to carry her baby to term.

And to thank her lucky stars.

These months have been a blessing of a sort, as Pam has witnessed firsthand the way that Julie’s life has touched so many, many others — and has opened their hearts to compassion, hope and trust in God.

“I am very blessed and very thankful that I didn’t go through with an abortion,” said Pam, “just because of all the wonderful things I would have missed out on.”

When Julie herself is asked about her own hopes for the future, her answer is full of the unselfish attitude that has touched so many.

“I just want people to notice the homeless and people in need and try to do their best to help them,” she said.

“And I hope people who don’t know God that much — that they could actually say prayers once in a while and maybe they could start realizing all that God does for us,” she added.

Out of the mouth of babes, thinks her mother.

“We haven’t gotten the healing for her,” said Pam, “but God has healed her in a different way — by opening her heart.”

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