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Catonsville girl receives transplant, but is rejecting heart

Roman CatholicismChristianityArchdiocese of BaltimoreNobel Prize AwardsJohn Paul IIHeart Disease

Ann Bartlinski placed the Eucharist and a pearl-beaded rosary blessed by the hands of the late Pope John Paul II on the chest of her 6-year-old daughter, Teresa, who lay Tuesday in a hospital bed, her tiny body rejecting a donor's heart.

Teresa remained still, connected to life support at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia while her parents, Ed and Ann Bartlinski of Catonsville, their parish priest, the Rev. Christopher J. Whatley of St. Mark Church, and the community prayed for a miracle.

About 250 people gathered at the St. Mark chapel for a vigil Tuesday night. They tried to understand God's plan. And they petitioned God to heal the child, born with a congenital heart disease in a village west of Beijing, whose last words before surgery were, "Tell Mommy I love her more."

Ann Bartlinski said Teresa is "fighting hard."

"All she needs is for the heart to start beating again; Jesus can do that," she said.

Bartlinski posted an update Wednesday on the family's blog, "Our Place Called Home," to say Teresa made it through the night. The child still has little heart function and she is at risk for seizures.

"Teresa had a pretty good night," Bartlinski wrote. "We had a few scary moments but she quickly fought back."

The family has waited since August for doctors to find a heart that would be a good match. The call came Monday while the Bartlinskis — who have five special-needs daughters adopted from China and four biological children — were on the beach in Delaware.

The couple collected the children, leaving the young ones with their grandmother at a hotel, and made the more than two-hour drive to Philadelphia with Teresa.

Doctors began to prepare Teresa for surgery about 8:30 p.m. and by 5:30 a.m. the heart transplant, from an unidentified child donor, was complete.

Not long after, though, the right and left ventricle began to struggle, Ann Bartlinski said. Teresa went into full cardiac arrest, and her medical team gave her CPR for 30 minutes. She was put on life support to give her heart a chance to rest, Bartlinski said.

Doctors told the family they intend to keep Teresa on life support, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, for several days, Bartlinski said. They intend to wake her up periodically to check her responses, but the longer she stays on life support, the greater her risk for suffering a stroke, blood clot or brain damage.

If she doesn't show signs of a recovery in several days, Bartlinski said, doctors would re-evaluate the situation and likely put her back on the transplant list. In the best-case scenario, the heart's failure could have been caused by trauma from the transplant and will adjust with time, she said.

"She just needs a huge miracle, and the more people we can get to pray for her, the better she will be," her mother said.

If Teresa survives the procedure, her parents, devout Roman Catholics, intend with their priest's help to petition the Archdiocese of Baltimore and, ultimately, the Vatican to declare the healing a miracle. The child is named for named for Mother Teresa, the late Catholic nun and Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

Teresa was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a birth defect that prevents the left side of an infant's heart from developing. Her condition caused significant damage to her lungs, and most doctors considered her too high-risk for a transplant.

The family, along with St. Mark parishioners and students at its affiliated school, have asked for the intercession of the late pope, now known as Blessed John Paul II, to petition God in Teresa's healing. For John Paul II to be declared a saint, the Vatican must ascribe one more miracle to him.

Declaring a miracle, an instantaneous occurrence that cannot be explained by science, in the Catholic Church requires scientific and spiritual evidence that must be investigated by church authorities.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore has apparently investigated only five miracles in the last 200 years, although the process is veiled.

Whatley, the Bartlinskis' priest, said Teresa's future may be uncertain, but the faithful must "entrust everything to a loving God."

"Our God is totally unpredictable," Whatley said. "Prayer is always effective; however, we never know in what manner the effectiveness will be displayed. This little girl right now is very critically ill.

"Our existence on this Earth is temporary. If Teresa loses this battle, she has won the victory of her life."

The family, friends and neighbors gathered for the vigil, recited the rosary, sang "On Eagles' Wings" and prayed for the child who donated his or her heart to Teresa.

In the back of the chapel, a prayer banner with 11 ribbons to signify each of the Bartlinskis was signed with personal messages, such as "Praying & hoping" and "Your strength and spirit inspires us."

Brigid Fischer and her daughter Addie, 12, came to the service to show "our hearts" are with the Bartlinskis.

"They are an inspiring family in the way they live their faith," Brigid Fischer said. "It gives us real perspective on what's really important."

Sheila Wheltle came to the vigil with her husband, Ray. "Everyone felt a sense of helplessness that we couldn't do anything more for them, and we just needed to come together in prayer," she said.

Denise Campbell, a family friend of the Bartlinskis for decades, said the vigil was a remarkable display of support. "This entire community has fallen in love with this little girl. One tiny body has impacted so many people, and what we learned through her spirit, strength and resilience is something we will all be able to take away with us."

ywenger@baltsun.com

twitter.com/yvonnewenger

To help

A nonprofit group, "Believe In Miracles," was established to take donations to help cover Teresa's medical expenses.

To contribute, send donations to Believe In Miracles, P.O. Box 21199, Catonsville, Md., 21228.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Roman CatholicismChristianityArchdiocese of BaltimoreNobel Prize AwardsJohn Paul IIHeart Disease
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