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Did an Angel Appear When Her Son Was Seriously Ill?

Doctors didn’t know what was wrong with her toddler, but a mysterious vision brought her comfort.

An artists rendering of a ballpark angel, hand extended

The Minneapolis cityscape was a blur as the train rattled along the tracks. I usually loved watching the scenery go by, but it was hard to enjoy the family outing with our 16-month-old fussing so much. Leo sat in his stroller, chubby legs kicking. He wasn’t himself.

“Is he okay?” Josh asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “He’s been like this all day. And he didn’t eat much at dinner.” I hoped the train ride would help calm him.

We were on the light-rail headed to Target Field to see the Minnesota Twins face off against the Detroit Tigers. I loved baseball—a love I hoped to pass down to our son. But it was clear that Leo wasn’t enjoying the experience so far.

I was wondering if we were going to be late, when I had the sudden sensation that someone was watching me. I turned my head. A white and golden light sparkled in a human shape. Was the sun playing tricks on me? I blinked hard.

The figure took a step toward me, offering an open hand. Almost like it was asking me to dance. I could feel the energy emanating from it, so powerful it made me feel small. Something about its posture was questioning. Like it was asking me if I understood. Look at me, Stephanie, the figure seemed to say. Do you see that I’m standing here with you?

I nodded and the figure of light was gone. I looked around me to see if anyone else had noticed. Was it a sign? A warning? An angel? But why would an angel be interested in a baseball game?

The train doors opened. I checked the time. We were late. And we had to get to the stadium and find our seats. I’d try to process the experience later.

Part of me felt like something important would happen that night. Leo seemed to feel it too. He refused to settle down. Throughout the game, he squirmed in my arms, even head-butting me a few times. The game ran long because of rain delays. “Great game,” Josh said sometime around the seventh inning. I just wanted it to be over.

That night, back at home, Leo vomited in his crib. The next morning, he vomited again. He couldn’t keep anything down. I stayed home from work to look after him. He was breathing more heavily and he seemed tired. I still couldn’t get him to eat. I took him to the pediatrician.

Leo’s chest X-ray showed nothing. The doctor shrugged. “Your son’s symptoms aren’t consistent with one illness,” he said. “Let’s just watch him.” He prescribed a steroid and an antibiotic. While it wasn’t the definite answer I’d hoped for, the doctor didn’t seem worried, so neither was I. Leo had always been a healthy kid.

I even felt comfortable picking up a night shift at work. But when Josh called in the middle of it, I knew it was Leo. “I can’t get him to take his medicine,” he said. “And he’s still not eating.” I raced home. Leo was limp, his lips were blue. We went to the hospital. The ER doctors thought it was possibly a respiratory issue. They ran more tests. Leo got worse.

Around 3:00 in the morning, we received some disturbing news. “Your son’s toxicity levels are off the charts,” the doctor explained. “Usually that indicates he ate something he shouldn’t have—aspirin, paint thinner, antifreeze…. If Leo got into something he shouldn’t have, you need to tell us now.”

I said, “We would tell you.” The doctor took a step closer to me and held my gaze, as though trying to determine whether or not I was telling the truth. He moved Leo into the pediatric ICU.

Josh and I waited, hoping to get some answers soon. I looked at my husband. Something about his expression made me think of the angel I’d seen on the train, its offer of strength and peace. I’d told myself I’d think about the experience later, and maybe now was the time. Should I tell Josh what I saw? Was an angel with us right now?

My thoughts were interrupted by an update from the doctor. Leo had to be intubated to help his breathing. He was sedated and put on dialysis to flush the toxins from his system. High levels of acid in his body had caused a stroke. No one knew what was at the bottom of it. Poisoning was ruled out because his acid levels increased, even after treatment.

With all the bad news, I couldn’t hold it in anymore. “Josh,” I said, “I saw an angel the night of the baseball game.” As I explained myself, Josh didn’t say a word. I could see that the data analyst in him didn’t know what to make of me. But ever since I’d seen that sparkling angel, I knew that, in the end, everything was going to be okay. That’s what got me through.

It took two months before the doctors could confirm their suspected diagnosis: methylmalonic acidemia, MMA, an inherited disorder in which the body is unable to process proteins and fats. The toxins had built up in Leo’s body until he was in crisis. If not properly managed the disease can be fatal. Each state determined what disorders are screened for at birth, but the year Leo was born Minnesota had changed its screening providers. The machines used hadn’t been sensitive enough to flag his condition.

Thankfully Leo’s form of MMA was one of the more manageable types and we would eventually be able to take him home. He’d have to be on a low protein diet, special formula and medication all his life. The stroke left Leo like a six-month- old, so he had to relearn how to swallow, roll over onto his stomach and even use his fingers to grasp his toys. All because his condition wasn’t caught early on.

With the help of the Minnesota Department of Health, changes were made to our state’s screening measures. And I understand that Michigan may follow suit. Once again, I thought of the sparkling angel I saw before the game. Minnesota Twins verses the Detroit Tigers. Minnesota verses Michigan. Only one team was victorious that night, but for a newborn baby both states are winners.

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