by Lisa Baniewicz
Special to The Leaven
ATCHISON — While most expectant couples are busy painting nurseries, being showered with gifts and posting pictures of their growing bellies on social media, this Atchison couple was not.
Mary and Luke Baker were planning a funeral instead.
It was early 2017 when the Bakers found out Mary was pregnant with Patsy. Dr. McGarrett Groth, OD, of Amberwell Hospital in Atchison, had delivered Patsy’s three older brothers — Joe, now 12; Sam, 9; and Charlie, 7. Due to Mary’s four prior miscarriages, Groth referred the Bakers to a maternal fetal specialist.
At their initial appointment, the specialist offered an abortion based on statistics of older women and pregnancy risks. Mary was 37. Only after the Bakers said no to an abortion did the specialist examine her. Spotting abnormalities, the specialist asked them to come back.
During an ultrasound at 22 weeks, Patsy was diagnosed. The specialist said, “The fetus has severe microcephaly” — a condition in which a baby’s head is much smaller than expected. They were told to expect anything from learning disabilities to full-time care. An abortion was offered again.
“It felt like our baby was being treated like a cancer that needed to be dealt with,” Mary said.
At 28 weeks, Mary transferred to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri. In a boardroom full of doctors from the newborn intensive care unit (NICU), neurologists, internal fetal specialists and palliative care, Patsy’s scans were discussed. Only 20% of Patsy’s brain had developed. The doctors told the Bakers their baby would not survive. She would not live more than a few minutes without the life support of Mary’s body. She would most likely be born deaf and blind and in a vegetative state until she died.
Abortion was not offered that day. Instead, the doctors asked the Bakers, “What are your goals for her?” The Bakers wanted a few simple things. They wanted their daughter to feel loved and cared for, to be as comfortable as possible and they wanted her baptized. Even with their plan in place, they knew Patsy might not survive the pregnancy.
Luke, an insurance agent for the Knights of Columbus, asked people to pray for Patsy through the intercession of Blessed Father Michael McGivney, the founder of the Knights.
“We had thousands praying for her,” Luke said. “Even prisoners in Leavenworth.”
He chose Blessed Father McGivney because the miracle attributed to him was similar to Patsy’s. In addition, Luke’s brother, Benedictine Father Simon Baker, held a relic of Blessed Father McGivney to Mary’s stomach at a Benedictine College healing Mass and prayed for a miracle.
Patsy was born on Aug. 2, 2017, and weighed four pounds.
“Patsy had a strong heartbeat and came out crying on her own,” Mary said. Father Simon baptized her and doctors and nurses joined the Baker family as they sang “Happy Birthday.”
“We were celebrating a double birthday,” said Mary. “Patsy’s birth on earth and in heaven.”
In those few precious minutes with Patsy, she was passed between family members.
And then they waited. But Patsy did not die.
On day three, the NICU doctor told the Bakers not to get their hopes up. Patsy would probably live only a week or two. The Bakers took Patsy home that same day.
“Hospice got to our house before we did,” Mary said. Patsy remained on hospice for over six weeks.
Patsy is now 4 years old, gets up around 7:30 a.m. with medication and follows a special diet.
“She can’t swallow well, so she eats four times a day through a feeding tube, gets nine medications a day and has approximately 1,000 seizures a day,” Mary said.
Their family and community continue to offer support.
“It’s not just about choosing life. It’s saying, ‘I will help you,’” Mary said.
Their neighbors have been buying diapers for Patsy since she was born. Luke’s parents moved to Atchison to help with Patsy’s sleepless nights, and the Knights Council 818 of St. Patrick Church in Atchison stepped up when Patsy needed a wheelchair ramp.
“Patsy was four and getting too heavy for them to carry,” Knight Terry Wagner said. “Someone donated a wheelchair, so it was time.”
Local Atchison companies Bottorff Construction, Steve Marlatt Construction, BRT Construction and Carrigan Lumber all stepped in to help.
Technically, Patsy is deaf and blind, but Mary said she loves noises and loves to smile. Her brothers fight over who gets to snuggle her each night and have asked repeatedly for another sister just like Patsy . . . with microcephaly.
“Life is good,” Luke said. “When you have to do something for someone you love, it’s amazing what you can do.”
He and Mary both attribute the miracle of Patsy’s life to Blessed Father McGivney.
“She is more miracle than science can explain,” Luke said.
(According to the website kofc.org, Daniel and Michelle Schachle learned “their unborn son had a deadly case of fetal hydrops — and zero chance of living.” Daniel, also employed by the Knights of Columbus, appealed to Father McGivney for help and asked hundreds to pray as well. The miracle of their son Michael, now 6, was formally approved by Pope Francis in May 2020, according to the website at: frmcgivney.org.)