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Looking at little Sarah charm the people around her at Mass at St. Charles Borromeo Parish, you wouldn’t notice anything different about her: She has a winning smile, bright eyes that take in everything around her, and soft curly hair.

Her mom Sandy looks like any mom trying to keep her toddler occupied at Mass and within an arm’s reach. But Sandy and her husband Jack know what a miracle their adopted daughter Sarah is. And they recently reflected on how God prepared them for this child: a child that they knew would be born needing a heart transplant, if she was able to survive at all.

After three pregnancies ended in miscarriage, Sandy and Jack Ellis began praying to St. Gerard Majella, the patron of couples desiring children.  They also attended the annual Mass at St. Bridget’s Parish in Glassboro in 2009. 

After the Mass they felt called to try adoption, and soon they were working through the steps in the foster-to-adopt program of the Division of Youth and Family Services. One of the questions in the process was “Would you accept a child with special needs?” Since Sandy was born with a congenital heart condition that required surgery when she was a child, they felt they would be prepared to accept a child with heart problems. 

As the next year’s feast of St. Gerard Mass was approaching, they found themselves finishing the home study for DYFS and awaiting their certification. Just one day before they received their DYFS certification as foster parents, Jack said, “I overheard two co-workers talking about a friend who was pregnant and looking for a couple who might adopt her baby. I went right over and asked if I heard them correctly, and asked if Sandy and I could meet their friend.” 

What Jack didn’t know until later was that the women had planned to have him overhear their conversation, as they knew that he and Sandy were in the adoption process.

The birth mom was seven months pregnant, and she knew there were complications. She had been in a near-fatal car accident several years earlier, and when she became pregnant, she was advised by her doctor to abort the baby. Her boyfriend also wanted the abortion. Her pregnancy was considered high risk due to her injuries from the accident, and she was monitored closely, which is how the heart condition — hypoplastic left heart syndrome — was discovered.

Despite this diagnosis and the knowledge that the baby would need three surgeries before she was 18 months old, Jack and Sandy began planning for the baby’s birth and helping the birth mom.  Sandy said, “We are so proud of Sarah’s mom; she gave life to Sarah when so many around her discouraged her.”

Sarah was born in January of 2011 and had her first surgery soon after, the start of a nine month stay in the hospital.

Sarah’s heart was deteriorating so rapidly that she was put on a transplant list when she was only four months old.  Jack would go to a prayer group in Cinnaminson when he could. One evening, seeking healing for his daughter, Jack asked someone to pray with him for Sarah. “As the prayer finished,” says Jack, “I took two steps back and my beeper went off. Sarah had a heart!  She got the heart of a little boy on the feast of Corpus Christi.”

She was only five and half months old. She spent another three months in the hospital, and then came home with monitors, medications, tubes for feeding and oxygen.

In October, 2011, Jack and Sandy attended their third St. Gerard Mass —this time with little Sarah, attached to her oxygen tank and monitors — to give thanks.

“I am very humbled that God gave us such a gift. I feel honored to be given this child,” Sandy says. “But a gift is meant to be shared,” she continues. “Through Sarah’s nurses and caregivers, we have had a chance to share Sarah and the blessing she has been to us.”

Sandy and Jack and Sarah plan to be at the Mass this year again, to give thanks for the active toddler they now have and perhaps give hope to parents who come to the Mass as they once did, hoping to have a child.

The next Mass in honor of St. Gerard will be Tuesday, Oct. 16, at 7 p.m., at St. Bridget’s Church in Glassboro. For directions or more information, please call Linda at 856-881-2753.

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