You might recognize the name “Alder Hey Hospital,” Liverpool’s pediatric hospital, with a heavy heart: It’s where little Alfie Evans died, and many of us still remember the story of his life, wounded by illness and then cruelly ended at the caprice of a law enslaved to a culture of death.
It’s April, the same month in which Alfie died, and now we’re seeing photos of another child in Alder Hey Hospital. Her name is Erin Bates, and she, too, despite being only six months old, has had her fair share of obstacles to overcome. Her parents, Emma and Wayne Bates, are a young couple much like Alfie’s parents.
I’ll stop here with the parallels because the point is not to conflate two stories that are different. Yet it gives us another opportunity to ask ourselves: How do the most fragile lives teach us to see the world?
Against all odds
In a long interview with UK news outlet Daily Mail, Erin’s dad told the story of his daughter, explaining why he and his wife Emma decided to share with the media a photo of their little girl, hospitalized and on a respirator. Erin recently tested positive for COVID-19 and is fighting to defeat it.
Little Erin’s life story has been a battle against all odds. Her life has been described as a “miracle,” which grabs attention in the newspapers even though it’s devoid of any religious reference. Every life is a miracle, if looked at with honesty; every human person is an unrepeatable and unique wonder. In the case of little Erin, her life is called a “miracle” in particular because of the many obstacles surrounding her birth.
Last October, newborn Erin’s first cries filled her parents with joy. They had conceived her naturally after doctors told them for 10 years that they could not have children. We can imagine how fortunate they felt in the presence of this tiny girl, weighing just 5 lbs 4 oz at birth. Yet their hardships were just beginning.
In December, Erin had to undergo an operation. Richard Marsden of the Daily Mail reports: “Erin Bates [had] a heart condition which required open heart surgery. She has also battled problems with her windpipe, but after months of treatment in and out of hospital, she stood a good chance of recovery.”
Her parents’ joy at her birth, and then their gratitude when she healed from mortal danger, have been a blessed counterpoint to their painful trials. Yet both the joy and the sorrow have helped them cherish their daughter’s life.
And then came the coronavirus. Erin tested positive for COVID-19 last week and was admitted to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital for care; the fragility of her heart makes her a high-risk patient. At her side is her mother (only one relative is allowed to stay in the room with her), while her father is in self-isolation at home.
Both tremble in fear for their baby’s fate, but also with worry at not being able to be close to her. If they too test positive for the virus, they would not be able to stay with Erin at the hospital. Leaving her to fight yet another battle, alone, would be heartbreaking in the extreme.
Emma Bates has asked for prayers for her daughter’s recovery, and surely she will not be disappointed. She told the Daily Mail, “Both myself and Wayne are utterly heartbroken yet again that we are in a position where we may lose our little girl if she doesn’t carry on fighting … Please, please, please keep Erin in your prayers. We can’t lose her over this virus. She has battled through too much — we need her, she completes us.”
It is not yet clear how Erin contracted the virus; Mr. and Mrs. Bates were very attentive to physical distancing even before the pandemic forced us all to regulate our behavior. They knew their daughter would be in danger from any virus, and now her father has decided to come forward, sharing Erin’s photo with the media precisely to talk to those who take physical distancing rules lightly.
“People still don’t seem to have any concept of personal space,” he told Daily Mail. “There was a picture I’ve seen of a beach where there was an ice cream hut open with people queuing outside like it was a normal day. It horrifies me that people still are not sticking to the lockdown measures. It does upset both of us.”
He wanted to show the general public the picture of his daughter attached to the respirator. He wants to give a face to the evidence that our personal behavior affects the lives of others, especially the most fragile.
“When you hear people had ‘pre-existing conditions’ and die from coronavirus, it’s written down as ‘well, that happens.’ But we have been through a lot, we’ve been through the lowest of the low in recent months, and we’ve been told before that there was a chance we were going to lose her,” Mr. Bates explained to the Daily Mail. “I think she has beaten the odds so many times, we are positive she can beat this. Before this (the coronavirus) her outlook was really good.”
I take the liberty of sharing Mr. Bates’ thoughts, and also of adding to his reflection. The story of little Erin reminds us that every day of our life is a remarkable thing. Even the most gray and boring day bears the truth that God keeps us in existence and protects us from slipping into oblivion with a special and immense love.
In the case of this little girl, that “miracle”—which newspapers like to make such a fuss about for the sole purpose of getting clicks—is exponentially more evident, but the truth is that each human life is a miracle. Existence itself is an awe-inspiring gift.
Nothing has changed since Alfie’s days, yet everything has changed: The fact that life exists, that we are alive to see this day, remains a solid rock of goodness we can cling to in life’s storms. We see this more clearly now that a virus has alarmed us all.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Every life is a gift that we must preserve with all our strength and every resource, without sparing ourselves.
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