In the hospital bathroom, Sarah Rodriguez, from Norman, Oklahoma, pulled on her gown. She was preparing to spend the last few minutes with her month-old baby daughter, Ellis, as she died. Doctors had told her there was no hope for the baby to survive, beset as she was by bacterial meningitis and sepsis. The mom had made the agonizing decision to hold Ellis, skin to skin, as the baby’s ventilator tube was removed.
The situation was all the more heartbreaking because of the remarkable circumstances that had led to Ellis’s birth. Rodriguez’s husband, Joel, had been diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2010. He was treated with chemotherapy, and while he was in remission, the couple decided to undertake IVF.
The procedure was successful and the couple, who had been trying for a baby for more than three years, were delighted. Their son Milo was born in July 2012. However, their joy was short lived. Tragically, just three days after Milo’s birth, Joel learned that his cancer had returned.
“Here we were balancing the joy of finally having this long-awaited son with the grief of the fact that we were fighting for his life once again,” Rodriguez recalled in a radio interview with The Church Boys. Despite chemotherapy, the cancer proved too much for Joel’s body to cope with. He died almost exactly a year after Milo’s birth, at just 35.
Shortly before his passing, Rodriguez had had a conversation with her husband where he had talked about them having a baby daughter together. “We were sitting in his room and I was rubbing his back and he said, ‘You and I are going to have another child and it’ll be a little girl,’” she told The Church Boys.
“I said okay, and I’m looking at him thinking there’s no way we’re going to have a child with our situation like it is,” she said. “And he said no, we’ll have another child and it’ll be a girl and you [know] what to name her.”
Joel was referring to a dream that Rodriguez had had years before. She had been holding a baby girl – and her name was Ellis. “We kind of just tucked that in my back pocket, if we ever have a girl, that’s a really cool name for her,” Rodriguez explained to the radio station.
After Joel’s death, she couldn’t get what he’d said out of her head. “Once he died, that was one of the first things that my mind went back to,” she told The Church Boys. “The conversation where he was telling me that that was what we were going to have.”
What would seem a hopeless situation perhaps wasn’t quite so impossible. When undertaking the IVF, the couple had decided to freeze a sample of Joel’s sperm. There were two remaining embryos in a nearby fertility clinic – a “little piece” of Joel left, as Rodriguez explained.
Remembering his words, the mom-of-one made the agonizing decision to implant the embryos. “Whatever was supposed to happen would happen,” she told the podcast. Happily for her, Rodriguez became pregnant and on November 6, 2014, a healthy baby girl was born. She called her new loved one Ellis.
Against all the odds, Joel’s prediction had come true. Rodriguez was now a mom-of-two to a boy and a baby girl. But, just two weeks later, tragedy struck. Ellis was lethargic and hot to touch, and concerned about her health, Rodriguez took her to the pediatrician.
She was instructed to take Ellis to the ER of the local hospital. The baby was immediately rushed to the Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City and diagnosed with sepsis and bacterial meningitis. “By that evening, my beautiful, healthy daughter was on a ventilator fighting for life,” Rodriguez told the podcast.
Ellis’s condition was so bad that Rodriguez was told that her daughter wouldn’t make it. If she did manage to pull through, doctors said, she would be left in a vegetative state. “I didn’t understand, why the miracle of life, why her name, why this conversation with my husband, if it was all going to end at this point,” Rodriguez recalled in the podcast.
Medics told the heartbroken mom that there was no hope. When Ellis stopped breathing on her ventilator, Rodriguez agreed to remove it and let her daughter pass, with the belief that there was no hope of her recovery. But before she did, she wanted to hold Ellis one more time against her skin, like she had at birth.
So Rodriguez went to the hospital bathroom to remove her gown. The doctors unhooked Ellis from all her tubes and wires, except for one on her foot so that doctors would know when she had slipped away. “So I put her on my chest and I started reading her her first and last book. We had music playing and I was singing to her,” Rodriguez remembered.
But then something incredible happened. Rather than dying, Ellis was coming back to life. Rodriguez told The Church Boys, “Time went on and she let out a cry, and she was just moving and wiggling around. And she wasn’t seizing – she’d been seizing for weeks and weeks straight. As soon as they put her on my chest, she just completely stopped.”
Incredibly, she was breathing on her own, and her vital signs had returned to normal. The mom recalled, “We’re all looking around the room thinking like, ‘What is happening? Because her vitals hadn’t been fine for weeks. And here, all of a sudden, she’s off the tubes, she’s off the medicine, she’s in my arms and everything is back to perfection.”
Although doctors warned it could be a temporary revival and the little girl might still pass, it didn’t happen. The next day, Ellis was taking a bottle, and a week later, she was discharged from hospital. Doctors were astounded that she had managed to survive.
At the time of the podcast, Ellis was almost two. She was at home, undergoing physical and occupational therapy only once a week. “She’s doing well, she’s playing catch up in some areas but in other areas she’s ahead of the curve,” Rodriguez said. “She’s talking and singing all kinds of words, and eating finger food and rolling and sitting up and standing.”
Today, Rodriguez puts pictures of her adorable three-year-old girl’s progress on her social media accounts. There are other heartwarming posts too. Because three years after Joel’s death, the mom found love again with her high-school sweetheart. In October 2017, they married in front of family and friends – led down the aisle by her son, Milo and watched by daughter Ellis.