Two Months of Compassionate Service

Many times when I returned from the hospital I found either bread on the doorstep or an entire meal prepared for me.

One January day in 1980, my husband left for an early-morning bishop’s meeting; he was the ward clerk. As soon as he left, I asked Jeffrey, our two-year-old, to say a prayer with me for our two-month-old baby, Ricky, who had become gravely ill during the night. We had called the doctor and were to take the baby in a little later.

I was really scared, so Jeff and I said our prayer. Then I put Ricky in his infant seat and went to get things ready to go. While I was out of the room, Jeff came to me and said, “Baby gone.” I ran to Ricky immediately. He was not breathing. I went straight to the three-by-five card near the phone. (Paramedics in the Relief Society home nursing course four years earlier had told us to keep a card with their number and our address on it by the phone.) I called the paramedics. Then I threw the phone down and started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. (The same paramedics had taught us how to do this for infants.) In six or eight breaths, Ricky revived.

Wayne, my husband, came in while the paramedics were there. As soon as he knew Ricky was breathing, he went to the phone and called our Relief Society president. He asked for someone to tend our other three boys because we had to take our baby to the hospital. Within five minutes a married couple from our ward came through the door. The priesthood brethren administered to Ricky.

The doctors found Ricky had pneumonia and thrush. But he was rapidly getting worse. By afternoon he was transferred to the intensive care unit. The doctors were solemn; they were preparing us for the worst.

Through the day, as the doctors ran their tests and examinations, Wayne and I found secluded places in the hospital to pray: empty offices, stairwells, and deserted hallways. Mostly, we prayed that we could know the will of our Father concerning Ricky. If it was time for our baby to be taken, we thought our Heavenly Father would let us know and comfort us. Each time we prayed, we felt that everything would be all right. We would then go back to ICU.

There was such grave concern about Ricky among the doctors that I began to doubt my feelings. Maybe I just wanted him to get well so badly that I was blocking out what the Lord was trying to tell me. I grew confused.

That night our bishop and his wife came. Wayne asked the doctor if it would be possible to touch the baby’s head to give him a blessing. Ricky’s head was in an oxygen plastic bubble. The doctor held the oxygen to the baby while Wayne and the bishop administered to him. I don’t remember any of the words of the blessing. I didn’t listen for the words. As never before in my life, I listened with my heart. I wanted to know what our Heavenly Father’s plans were for Ricky. When the blessing was finished, I knew in my heart that Ricky would be all right.

Soon after the blessing, the doctors began asking me a battery of questions: had he been constipated? had he seemed “floppy” lately? had I ever given him honey? Yes. Maybe. No.

Within an hour, they clinically diagnosed it as infant botulism. They immediately put him on a respirator; he had already stopped breathing once and he probably would again.

Two days later the pediatric neurologist came to us and told us that Ricky was only the fourth case of infant botulism in the state and that he was the most severe case. (There have been only about one hundred cases confirmed in the United States.) He also told us that Ricky did not respond in any way. He was totally paralyzed. Even his pupils could no longer dilate. He was not breathing at all for himself. They decided to run a brain scan to see if there was any point in keeping the respirator on.

Once again I went prayerfully to the scriptures. The feelings I had before kept coming back, telling me that everything would be all right. We called our high priest group leader and asked that the ward fast for Ricky. He made the arrangements. We went to bed that night and slept peacefully.

The next day, friends from the ward came to wait with us at the hospital while the brain scan was being run. Ricky’s brain scan came back good; his brain was functioning in the normal range for a two-month-old. His brain was sending all the nerve impulses, but the botulism toxin was preventing his muscles from receiving them. Now the doctors said if he survived the next two weeks, he might make it.

For the next two months Ricky slowly regenerated new nerve endings. He slowly regained the use of his muscles. First his foot moved, then his hand. Bit by bit, the nerve impulses were beginning to get through to his muscles. After seven and a half weeks he could breathe on his own and he was taken off the respirator. After eight weeks he came out of intensive care.

Once, several weeks into this experience, I got up in the middle of the night, feeling a need for reassurance. I opened my Doctrine and Covenants and found my answer:

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things.

“Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?

“And now, behold, you have received a witness; for if I have told you things which no man knoweth have you not received a witness?” (D&C 6:22–24.)

For two months the Relief Society sisters in our ward welcomed our six-, four-, and two-year-old boys into their homes every day so I could go to the hospital. These women loved my children for me, and they taught them for me; they prayed for my baby, and they asked their children to pray for him. Many times I came home from the hospital tired and found dinner prepared for me. Many times I found warm bread at our doorstep. Many times friends called and just let me talk myself out.

After nine long weeks, Ricky was ready to come home. Unfortunately, I was running the fever of a bad cold that week. Ricky could come home, but not to our house—it would be too dangerous for him. He could breathe now, but they weren’t sure he could cough strong enough to weather a cold. We turned again to the Relief Society, and a ward family opened their home to him. The Relief Society sisters went in around the clock to care for him.

As soon as I was better, we brought our now five-month-old baby home and started to live again as a family. It was then I began to realize the full scope of the miracle. Ricky was well—a big enough miracle in itself, but also our family had survived the ordeal. Not only had we survived it, we were better off because of it. Our little boys had been in many, many homes where scriptures were read daily, where family home evenings were held, where food was blessed and prayers were said, where children had chores to do, and where children and parents were courteous one to another. Our children were greatly influenced by the examples they had seen and actually began to cooperate with our own efforts in these things.

I knew that easing pain and aiding others are more than Relief Society goals. They are the heartbeat of the gospel.

Kathryn Kohler Farnsworth, mother of four, is Relief Society Spiritual Living teacher in her Mesa Arizona ward.