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Aug 6, 2012
A Wedding Joins Two Lives. (But Not the Ones You Think.)
A fledgling pediatrician saved a preemie baby's life. The two women are serendipitously reunited – 40 years later – through a summer wedding.
Come back with me to July 27, 1969. Providence Rhode Island. Providence Lying In Hospital. The operating room. Emergency cesarean. Father Welch is praying outside the door. On his knees. His fellow priests are playing with Gus back in Bristol. Dr. Sumner Raphael. A quickly assembled team. Frantic calls to Chic Isadore Gershman to return from Europe. Chigaboom. A baby girl. Two and a half pounds. DOA, they're saying. Then, out of the wave of green gowns and masks, under the bright lights, center stage – appears a teensy fairy-sized person who jumps on the gurney and begins mouth-to-mouth resuscitation – Whoosh. Ahh. Whoosh. Ahhh. Ahh. Ahh. More green gowns push the baby and gently working fairy out the door. There were no neo-natal units in those days. Babies in trouble were just that – babies in trouble.
And this baby's troubles were just beginning. Months go by. Code Blue after Code Blue. A miniature lung from Boston Children's. It didn't save the Kennedy baby, but maybe it will help the Awerman baby. Then it's October; it's five-pound time. It's dire-predictions time. Vegetable. She'll get pneumonia. She'll go home and come right back. You can't do it alone.
Fast forward. July 2009. Rachel. Mother of two. Wife. Mirroring my drama-queen nature, Rachel Beth would have such a dramatic start to her life as a preemie. It is only expected that Rachel's life would be filled with more extraordinary occurrences. Nothing to match up to Rachel's girlfriend's wedding and the continuation of this breathtaking tale.
Almost 41 years ago, I gave birth to a little girl. And "little" was the operative word – a tiny princess, carried for just 7 months through a terrible time in my life – a child of destiny, to be sure. And so it went. All of life's possibilities. Learning. Growing. Becoming: a beautiful child. A bright young woman. A smart gal. A devoted wife. A nurturing mother. A faithful friend. Prizes. Honors. Challenges. The spiritual soup of living. So far from Providence Lying In. So many heartbeats later. Then, in 2009, Rachel's dearest friend got engaged. And Rachel was asked to be matron of honor at the wedding. Little Carly Hannah, Rachel's daughter, would be a flower girl and little Evan Irving, the ring bearer. The happy adventure – showers, luncheons, plans. Not once did it dawn on me. Not yet, that is. Came the weekend of the wedding and I asked Rachel, "By the way, what is Kristen's fiance's last name?"
"Mendoza, Mom," she said." And then it happened. My energy field – my whatever field – my GOD FIELD – sparkled and spin. There it was. The Knowing. "And his family?" I asked, keeping it nosy-momma-like.
"Oh, his mom was a pediatrician. She's retired."
Click. Flick. Flicker. Sparks. Stars. Possibilities.
"Uh-huh. Where did she practice?"
"Ummmmm I think New England." KERCHINK. And WHOPP! The god-energy struck me fully, spinning and tipping me in all six directions – north, south, east, west, up and down – in the traditions of the old people. "Funny thing, Rachel. Do you recall the stories that I told you about the resident who saved your life for all of us? Dr. Teresina Mendoza?"
"Only a little."
"Wouldn't it be wildly crazy, godly, if," I let the "if" hang there … like I was hanging there … Breathe. Breathe. Wonder.
"Maybe you could ask her where she did her residency."
"Oh, Mom. I couldn't do that." And outta the couch came, "I could" from Rachel's husband. Sometimes, I am grateful for his presumptuous behavior. His more permeable boundaries. Probably not grateful often or enough, but THIS time …
So, that night – at the pre-wedding dinner, he did just that: He asked her. I didn't really know if he REALLY would. I didn't know when. But "when" became THEN. Right there and then … it was about 9 o'clock that night when Rachel called. There was something new in her voice. In her 40 years, I had only heard that kind of elation a few times – when she got engaged, when she became pregnant with her first child. It was the big-moment voice – a pitch that God reserves for utterances of JOY and AWE.
"Mom. Guess what, Mom?" Breathe. Breathe, Jackie. Breathe. Are they all right? Is everything all right? I think. I pray. Quickly. Just a few words – the usual I-am-scared opening – "Please, God" …
"Michael's mother is Dr. Teresina Mendoza, Mom. She IS, Mom." I am shaking with the burst of sparkling knowing. "And Mom, she still has the necklace that you gave her."
"Did Art ask her?"
"Yes, he did. He asked her if she had ever been a doctor in Rhode Island. And she said that she did her residency there. When she said yes, he asked her if she remembered a certain baby girl – born in trouble. And she did .She said, "I always wondered what happened to that beautiful baby. I still have the gorgeous necklace her mother gave me.
"It's the Hebrew letter for life – a chai."
Then Art nodded toward me and said, "Here she is!"
The second meeting with Rachel, now alive and beautiful, left Dr. Mendoza taken aback in astonishment. Staggering, she had what seemed to be an out-of-body experience – the instance of an overwhelming flow of emotions and memories of her days at Providence Lying In, doing whatever she could to save the life of a delicate, innocent Rachel Beth. Her efforts and courage were responsible for the foundation of Rachel's life – in which Rachel had flourished and truly lived.
Rendered speechless, the two had their destinies entwined once again in this life of utter wonderment.