Sarah Rodriguez found herself alone and in despair inside a hospital bathroom last December, where she stood quietly, collected herself and prayed that God would intervene in a seemingly hopeless situation to save her infant daughter's life.
"I said, 'God, if there's any way,'" Rodriguez recalled. "'Thirty days is not enough.'"
Ellis was just 2 weeks old when she contracted bacterial meningitis in November and had significant brain swelling as a result. Her baby on a ventilator, doctors delivered Rodriguez the heart-wrenching diagnosis: "Incompatible with life."
As she stood in the bathroom thinking and praying, Rodriguez said she was unimaginably distraught. Having been a Christian her entire life, abandoning God wasn't an option, but if her infant daughter died, she felt her faith would be forever changed.
Baby Ellis Rodriguez has a remarkable story. (Photo courtesy Sarah Rodriguez)
"I know that God is real enough that I will never be able to turn my back on him, but I don't know if I can serve him like I did before," she remembered thinking. "[Or] if I could ever make sense of that."
In the days leading up to the removal of the ventilator, Rodriguez said, she held out hope for a miracle, but was profoundly discouraged.
"They told me, 'It's worse than we ever thought,'" she said of the day before doctors decided to remove life support. They said there was profound damage to Ellis' brain. "I took that whole rest of the day and I said, 'All right, I'm going to say goodbye.' I cut locks of her hair. I painted her hands and did handprints and footprints."
Rodriguez, 33, who lost her husband, Joel, to kidney cancer in 2013, was left with no other choice but to take the child — a baby she had barely had the opportunity to get to know — off of life support just one month after her birth.
She walked out of the bathroom, mentally prepared to say goodbye. But as doctors removed Ellis from life support, allowing the grieving mother to hold and comfort her baby, Rodriguez said something miraculous happened.
Ellis began breathing on her own, which medical professionals previously told her would be highly unlikely.
"For the first hour I was rocking her. I read her a story, because I had never gotten the opportunity to give her a story," she said. "I'm giving her permission to leave. I was telling her, 'You get to meet your daddy today' — [trying] to make transition as peaceful as it could be."
Joel and Sarah Rodriguez (Photo courtesy Sarah Rodriguez)
But Ellis continued breathing, defying the very prognosis that was supposed to render the child "incompatible with life" — and the baby continues to beat the odds months later.
"They said, 'We don't think your child would ever breathe, but if she did happen to live, she would be a vegetable. She won't ever be a normal," Rodriguez recalled. "And what we've found is just the opposite. She had four different follow-up appointments. Every single one said, 'We're not seeing signs of damage with this child.'"
A physical therapist, too, said that developmentally speaking, Ellis is right where she should be, with one doctor telling Rodriguez that her daughter is "absolutely laughing in the face of medicine."
A Miracle From the Start
In many ways, Rodriguez said that Ellis has been a miracle from the start. Before her husband, Joel, died on July 23, 2013, she said that he randomly told her from his hospital bed one day that the couple, who had one son at the time, would soon also have a daughter.
"My first thought was, 'He's wrong,' because it's impossible," she said. "At that point in time, he was paralyzed in half of his body … he had not had a lot of success in his rehabilitation. I was looking at a life of a lot of uncertainty because of his condition."
Joel had undergone chemo and briefly went into remission before the couple — who had struggled with infertility issues — got pregnant with their son, Milo; a few days after Milo's birth, though, they found out that the cancer had returned. Joel eventually passed away at age 35.
Suddenly a single mother, Rodriguez remembered what her husband told her about a second child. And considering that the couple still had two embryos left over from their previous cycle, she made the decision after his death to have them implanted.
Ellis and Milo Rodriguez (Photo courtesy Sarah Rodriguez)
"The conversation in the hospital was at the forefront of my mind as I decided to move forward," she said. "I believe God is the giver of life and the pregnancy would not come to be unless he ordained it. Watching his plans unfold for her life has been nothing short of breathtaking."
Rodriguez, who grew up in a Christian home and attended Bible school, said the name "Ellis" originated in a dream she had about the child prior to her birth — and that she had never previously heard the name.
"Her name means 'Jehovah is God' and her life has certainly declared that," she said.
Learning Lessons Along the Way
The death of her husband and Ellis' survival have taught Rodriguez many lessons along the way.
"Everything became really real. I had grown up in it and thought I had lived through all the things that bring you closer to God," she said. "But the last four years tested my endurance."
Though she is overjoyed by Ellis' recovery, Rodriguez said that it's a daily journey still moving on after the loss of her husband.
"Nothing has been the same since losing him. I don't even view myself as the same person anymore," she said. "Once he was gone, so was the life we had together. I've have had to learn how to pick up the pieces and chart my own path, while also seeking to honor him and keep his presence a part of our life moving forward."
(H/T: Norman Transcript)