Braids of human hair attached to the sanctuary walls at the Church of San Juan Barrio hung as testimony to the sacrificial prayers expressed by women who had come seeking desperate miracles. It was in this little church in Cotija de la Paz Mexico- almost more macabre than sacred – that Inchi Sugarman came to pray.
After losing three children to miscarriages, Inchi was on a pilgrimage seeking the holiest of all things – newborn life. Kneeling at the tomb of the venerated Mama Maurita, she prayed for the gift of just one more child – her fifth.
It was a prayer she might not have prayed had she realized it would cost her every drop of blood now throbbing through her hopeful chest.
Yet one year later, in her California home, she and her husband, Barry, responded gratefully to the answered prayer by vowing to name their child after the woman entombed outside the little Mexican church — Maura Rose “Maurita” Sugarman.
Yet, the answered prayer took a circuitous route through the next months as Inchi spent the first three months bleeding. Blood tests seemed to question the miracle and showed that Maurita wasn’t getting critical nutrition and Inchi developed gestational diabetes.
Inchi’s doctors sent her to bed, ordering her to eat and sleep as much as possible. Nevertheless, each additional test introduced more questions and pointed more certainly toward removing the baby through surgery – a C-Section.
The surgery was planned for her eighth month, but on the night prior, Inchi’s bleeding restarted and doctors ordered her into the operating room (OR).
Inchi greeted her caring OR nurse with a foreboding prediction, telling her that she had a “bad feeling about all of this.” Illustrating her point, she handed the nurse holy water and asked her to use it if something went wrong.
“I could tell Inchi was nervous and fearful,” says Barry. “but her thoughts were only for Maurita.” She never had any inkling that the holy water might be used on her own behalf.
Yet despite her worries, the doctors were routine about it all and at 1:29 am, Saturday, October 4, 2003, doctors pulled the 4lbs 1 oz Maurita into the world — pink and healthy.
Barry brought Maurita to her mother and Inchi managed a faint smile just before she said “I’m just so tired.”
“At that point,” Barry reports, “Inchi lifted her head off the table and made a loud, gurgling scream.”
Suddenly all the wrong buzzers started buzzing and Barry and Maurita were quickly ushered from the room. “Seconds after I left the room,” Barry recalls, “I heard the ominous, ‘Code blue. Any cardiologist to Labor and Delivery, stat!”
“As scores of people came rushing from all directions, I sat rocking in a chair outside the OR and prayed. I made a lot of difficult phone calls giving family moment to moment information.”
Doctors worked on one end pumping blood while another specialist worked on the arteries to stop the bleeding. A few hours later, when she was wheeled into the ICU, things still remained very uncertain.
Saturday was a day spent in desperation. The priest was called to administer last rites even as neonatal nurses laid Maurita on her mother’s chest – perhaps for the last time. Emergency airline tickets were secured for family after an ICU nurse tersely ordered the airline to “Get them here, now!”
Yet, just twelve hours after Maurita was born, Inchi miraculously began to awaken. Lucid enough to be writing notes through the myriad of drugs and the discomfort of a breathing tube down her throat, she began asking the staff about what happened.
As the sun rose Sunday morning, Barry did the only thing he knew to do. He took his family to early mass. “The scripture reading was about marriage,” he recalls “and that was as close as I came to losing it.”
When Barry returned from mass at 11:00 on Sunday morning, the doctors told him that he should expect weeks of recovery, but two hours later, the agitated Inchi seemed to be favoring other plans.
Surprised at her feistiness, the doctors decided to remove her breathing tube. She not only breathed on her own, but 36 hours after delivery, she was sitting on the edge of her bed eating solid food and talking about the upcoming election of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“I told you that I should have done an absentee ballot,” she scolded her husband.
But the talk was of more than elections. Barry narrated the frightening events that had brought her to the ICU. Through it all, Inchi gained thirty pounds in fluid and lost over twenty units of blood. She had “bled out every drop of her own blood,” reported Barry.
Over the next week, Inchi came to understand that she had experienced a rare and deadly form of birth complication – an Amniotic fluid Embolism (AFE). Her only chance at survival hinged on the split-second reaction time of our medical staff. Most of the time, the mother dies.
“When I was in the OR,” Inchi later reported, “I was aware that something was going on, but I couldn’t get up or see anything – total darkness-twenty different voices talking at once. I felt like there was nothing I could do except to pray. I prayed until I wasn’t conscious anymore.”
“When I woke up, I didn’t understand why I didn’t die. There had to be a reason. I’m not sure whether I know now. I felt like my life isn’t my own. It wasn’t just for me to live. It’s for me to do something for God.”
“When Inchi began to ask me why this happened,” Barry says, “my first reaction was that it could have happened to many different women and they would have attributed the recovery to any number of things – luck or science. But Inchi has a unique spiritual focus. To be able to talk about this as a miracle is a way that helps introduce others to faith.”
“There is no question in our minds that this a first class miracle, but God effects miracles in many different ways and the way God effected this miracle is that absolutely every body did everything they were supposed to do at the moment they were supposed to do it.”