Captain of the prayer team: Family credits St. Gerard with saving twins

Every day through 10 weeks of novenas, doctors ‘said they couldn’t believe’ their survival

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Thomas Fuller holds Jacob and Alison Fuller holds William at the twins’ Jan. 5 baptism at St. Clare of Assisi Parish in Farmington Hills. The Fuller babies’ baptisms were the last at the parish, which was merged into Our Lady of Sorrows Parish, Farmington Hills, on Jan. 13.

Livonia — Thomas and Alison Fuller knew that the only way they would make it through the pregnancy was by trusting God’s plan, no matter what happened.

“Trusting in the Lord is the one thing you can do in any situation,” said Alison, who gave birth to healthy twin boys on Dec. 14, 2013, after anxious months prior to their delivery.

“I came to realize God didn’t have to acknowledge my prayers the way I wanted, to be a good God,” said her husband, Thomas, explaining she was diagnosed with preterm premature rupture of membranes (PPROM), at one day short of 21 weeks gestation.

PPROM, which is a rupture in the amniotic sac, offers low chance of survival when occurring that early, the Fullers said.

But babies Jacob Thomas Fuller and William Clark Fuller survived — thanks to prayers from family, friends, fellow parishioners, and a saint named Gerard Majella.

“Every day the doctors said they couldn’t believe it,” Thomas said. “The medical students were checking literature and couldn’t find this case happening.”

 

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Brotherly love from the start: Jacob Thomas Fuller (left) and William Clark Fuller (right).

On July 2, the Fullers learned they were parents to not one baby, but two.

Then, Aug. 29 brought the news that both were boys — an uncommon scenario, as most fraternal twins are either two girls, or a boy and girl.

“We found out that fraternal twins run on the mother’s side,” said Alison, explaining that her maternal grandmother had fraternal twins.

Everything changed on Sept. 14, when Alison’s water broke.

Rushing to the hospital, they learned Jacob’s amniotic sac had ruptured — indicating PPROM. This put both babies in jeopardy, especially if Jacob’s situation triggered an early labor.

The hospital said they would admit Alison for the weekend to monitor her, as 95 percent of women go into labor in the first 24 hours after PPROM; the 5 percent who don’t, go into labor within the first week of the rupture; with about 1 percent making it past the first week after PPROM occurs.

But Alison would miraculously make it to 13 weeks past the rupture.

 

Novena and a saint

When Alison first received the PPROM diagnosis, the doctors explained the twins would not be viable if delivered this early.

“Twenty-three and a half weeks was the earliest that they would be viable,” said Alison. “But 24 weeks was more likely.”

The Fullers learned that even if the twins did survive the premature delivery, there was a high chance of physical and/or cognitive disability.

And if Alison developed an infection from the rupture’s exposure to bacteria, it could prove life-threatening for her as well.

“We didn’t know how Jacob’s lungs were developing because of the low amniotic fluid,” said Thomas, explaining that the amniotic fluid, besides serving as a cushion for the unborn baby, helps the lungs develop as the child “breathes” the fluid in and out.

By Sept. 16, the hospital found Alison had lost a considerable amount of amniotic fluid, and advised her to go home, expecting labor to begin within the next few days.

That day the Fullers enlisted the prayers of St. Gerard Majella, a saint frequently invoked for help in troubled pregnancies, and started a Facebook group inviting friends and family to join a novena for his intercession.

 

Prayers and solidarity

St. Gerard Majella was a Redemptorist brother in 18th century Italy. He is known historically for his commitment and example of purity, but he has also become known for assistance in pregnancy, infertility and childbirth issues.

According to tradition, St. Gerard once dropped his handkerchief. A woman tried to return it to him, but he told her to keep it, as it would one day help her.

A few years later, the same woman experienced severe complications during childbirth, and remembered the handkerchief. She asked for it and soon delivered a healthy baby.

The custom of invoking St. Gerard’s prayers has become a popular tradition for families across the globe — especially the Fullers.

The Facebook novena group attracted an enormous amount of people — “People we didn’t even know were joining the group,” remembered Alison.

Their good friend and best man at their wedding, Fr. Paul Erickson, associate pastor of St. Gerard Parish in the Diocese of Lansing, frequently prayed for them at his daily Masses. Fr. Erickson also prayed the USCCB’s Rite of Blessing of a Child in the Womb over Alison.

 

Choosing to trust

Alison was admitted at 24 weeks and put on bed rest, with daily ultrasounds to monitor the still-leaking fluid conditions.

“Twice there didn’t seem to be enough fluid (in Jacob’s sac),” she said. “But always there was a little pocket of fluid near his face.”

Over the next 10 weeks, the Fullers’ “prayer team” continued the prayers, eventually completing 10 novenas to St. Gerard.

“Once we reached 34 weeks they would induce me,” said Alison.

But on Dec. 14, the last day of the last novena, and two days before the 34-week mark, she went into natural labor, and the babies came into the world.

The twins spent 12 days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Jacob had a tiny tear in one lung, possibly due to his initial cry after birth, but after a short time on a ventilator and then on oxygen — and continued prayers — an X-ray indicated the tear had healed.

Alison and her sons were able to go home the day after Christmas.

On Jan. 5, the feast of the Epiphany, the babies were baptized at the last baptism of St. Clare of Assisi Parish, which merged into Our Lady of Sorrows on Jan. 14.

The Fullers were grateful to be home at last, but said they were thankful that the hospital they chose — Providence in Southfield — was Catholic, and supportive of the Fullers’ faith.

“I felt St. Gerard was the captain of our prayer team,” Thomas said. “He was a special friend that came along at that point in our lives.”

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An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that St. Gerard Majella was a priest. The Michigan Catholic regrets the error.