The family chose to appeal to the late pope out of respect for his service to the worldwide community, along with their shared Polish ancestry.

"Could a little girl in Catonsville be the beneficiary of a miracle? Sure — just as there have been so many others in so many other distant parts of the world," said the Rev. Christopher J. Whatley, the family's pastor at St. Mark Church. The church and school are affiliated.

Documenting a miracle

The Catholic church's process of declaring a miracle — an instantaneous occurrence that cannot be explained by science — is a rigorous investigation of scientific and spiritual evidence, including medical documentation, such as X-rays and testimony from doctors.

Diane Barr, chancellor for the Archdiocese of Baltimore and a civil and canon lawyer, said any possible miracle must be investigated by local church authorities and then submitted to the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

The process is veiled and the results of the investigation are not public, Barr said, so the diocese would not weigh in the case involving the Bartlinskis' daughter.

One of the two miracles investigated by the diocese in the last decade, believed to be among only five in the last 200 years, involved the Rev. Ronald P. Pytel, who was deemed by the church to have been cured of heart disease through his prayer to St. Faustina, a Polish nun who died in 1938.

Pytel, the longtime pastor of the Holy Rosary Church in Fells Point, died in 2003 of kidney cancer.

The second was investigated in 2010 and involved Blessed Francis X. Seelos, a Redemptorist priest who served as pastor of several Maryland churches in the mid-1850s. Mary E. Heibel, an Annapolis antiques collector and appraiser, was allegedly cured of cancer after an appeal to Seelos. Heibel died in 2009 of pneumonia.

The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, contributing editor of the Catholic weekly America and author of "My Life with the Saints," said the Vatican sets a high bar for confirming a miracle — "probably higher than most of us would set it."

An ailment healed by a miracle cannot recur, voluminous proof must be submitted for both the illness and the cure, and its occurrence cannot be attributed to anything other than divine intervention, Martin said. The doctors called on by the Vatican to investigate an alleged miracle are often not Catholic and sometimes non-believers, he said.

Even though many unlikely factors would have to align for Teresa's case to result in a miracle, Whatley, the pastor at St. Mark whom the Bartlinskis call their spiritual adviser, said they believe that God called them to care for Teresa.

"When they first bought her to very, very qualified physicians, they said, 'The best thing you can do is make her comfortable,' " Whatley said. "That was what they were prepared to do, but not resigned to do. There have been little things happening to her that are beyond the norm.

"To me, based on the early reports, the fact that Teresa is still with us and looks as healthy as she does … I like to think of it as, [Pope John Paul II] is sharing a little bit of his tenacity with this little girl."

In addition to the prayers from the children at St. Mark, the Bartlinskis said through the family's blog, Our Place Called Home, people on six continents are praying for Teresa's healing. Ed Bartlinski said he has a patient at his chiropractic practice who is contacting a person in Antarctica to round out support across the globe.

A child's life

Teresa's life has affected many who've learned about her story, her parents said.

"It's brought them back to their faith, helped them go through cancer treatment; several people adopted special needs children who wouldn't have otherwise," Ann Bartlinski said. "God's used Teresa's life so far, so we know he's got great plans for her."

The family felt called to bring Teresa home, but they had their doubts at first.

"We didn't know if we could do it physically or emotionally, so we contacted our pastor," Ann Bartlinski said. "The answer he gave us was, the will of God will never lead you where the faith of God will not sustain you."

Stacked in a corner of the Bartlinskis' home is a pile of suitcases and bags that Ann Bartlinski will live out of when she relocates to Philadelphia after the surgery. The bags have been packed since August.

Ann Bartlinski said she's leaning on her faith to see that Teresa survives the heart transplant, even survives until the day they get the call that a heart is waiting for her.

"I believe God will give us the grace to be ready," she said. "If you ask me right now if I am ready, no, I am not ready. I believe God will provide the grace needed at the moment it's needed.

"There is no way we could handle that ourselves. It's just crushing. … We think about it every day. When we say good night, we don't know if she'll wake up the next morning."