“Tell Elizabeth , that her baby Laurel will be alright!” said Laurel ’s Great Aunt as she laid espousing deathbed predictions.
It was odd thing to say because Laurel was more than all right. Months before, Laurel was born such a perfect baby that Elizabeth and Dave Gates had considered her a gift. Born Jan 16, 2002 , the third of three girls, they brought her home on Elizabeth ’s birthday.
Smiling when she was only days old and sprouting curly blonde hair in the first few months, Laurel was the kind of kid people stop and fuss over while Christmas shopping at the mall.
Last month, Elizabeth returned to her childhood home bringing potted plants to help her children celebrate their Grandmother’s 75 th birthday.
After a waffle breakfast with their grandchildren, the family adjourned to the front yard to plant the plants. Laurel and her sisters played nearby, running in and out of the house.
“My last recollection of Laurel ,” explains Liz “was when I called her back from the end of the driveway as she’d come too close to the street.” Liz praised her. “Good job, you came back!”
But as quickly as Liz returned to her plants, Laurel gone was again. The second disappearance prompted Liz to begin asking those questions that no preschool parent likes to ask.
“Who’s seen Laurel ? We need to find her.” The search escalated quickly into some dramatic mental pictures. “She may be dead, I thought. I know that’s dramatic, but after a few minutes, that’s what I’d began thinking. So, I ran though the house and into the backyard, where I suddenly remembered the backyard pond.”
Elizabeth ’s eyes shot toward the pond and there she saw something Liz says her “mind wasn’t letting her see.” She wanted it to be a giant lily pad or a discarded bucket, but it wasn’t.
It was Laurel , floating face down in the pond.
Liz remembers “grabbing Laurel by the back of her pants, but she was completely limp like a cold fish. Her eyes were rolled back slightly and her tongue hung out her mouth. She seemed gone.
“I started screaming ‘Oh my God, she’s already gone.” Like the earlier moment when Liz had called her back from the street, she kept screaming, ‘ Laurel , come back. Come back!
Liz laid her down in preparation for CPR and the water began to drain from Laurel . And as Liz started the CPR she had recalled from a class nine years ago, grandmother called 911.
Liz called her Southwest Airline pilot husband, Dave, in New Hampshire frantically sobbing the words, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.” It would take him hours to come home, but he began that long trip by first assuring his wife of his love for them all.
Once in the ER, Liz waited with her family anxiously watching the door anticipating the worst news. However, in a few minutes, Liz was told that Laurel had a faint pulse and needed to be transferred to Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento.
But before the transfer, the family was invited to visit Laurel . “ Laurel had a body temperature of 88 degrees. I bent down to whisper that I loved her and I was so very sorry. I sung her favorite lullaby as I heard nurses comment on Laurel ’s ominous twitching.
“One by one the family came in and our family priest came to pray. His prayer acknowledged that the God who created Laurel could recreate her. He prayed that she would be whole and new as she was intended to be.
At that point, I felt really connected with God, and for the first time, I knew I had to pray that Laurel would completely recover.”
After Laurel ’s transfer to Sacramento ’s Sutter Memorial Hospital , Liz met Dr. Smith. “He was kind, but brutally honest.”
“I wish I could tell you everything will be alright,” Smith said, “but I can’t. She’s taken a great insult.” And then holding his thumb over his index finger, he said, “There’s a hair of hope, but that’s hope. The first 24 hours is critical.” Then he said something that made Liz grab for breath. “We will then look at what will remain of her brain functions.”
After receiving that news, the family joined hand-in-hand as Liz offered her prayer telling God know how grateful I was to have Laurel at all and I promised that if God would do a miracle and make her as new as the morning it happened, I’d not waste the miracle. I’d declare his awesome, beautiful and loving mercy to anyone who’d hear it.”
My sister shared a prayer and the scripture found in Psalm 34:7 where it says, “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them”.
Liz worked to memorize the verse. “I repeated the verse throughout the night in my heart and the next morning when the doctors came in with their first report, I remember the feeling as if the sun was coming out of the dark sky.”
Doctors told the family that the refrigerated blanket Laurel was sleeping on could be turned off and the medication would be weaned as they watched for some level of activity.
But as the Laurel left the bounds of medication, there seemed to be no response and Liz remembers the neurologist giving her that ‘very sorry’ look. Liz discarded the look and knelt beside Laurel to sing.
Hush, little baby, don’t say a word,
Mama’s going to show you a hummingbird.
And if that hummingbird should fly,
Mama’s going to show you the evening sky.
And as every eye in the room flooded with tears, Laurel opened her eyes. Yet even as surprised expressions overcame the staff, the doctors cautioned that it might well be a reflex action.”
Yet a few hours later, as Liz was stood outside the room, Dave came running out. “She’s waking, Liz! She’s waking up!”
As Liz scrambled to Laurel ‘s bedside, Laurel puckered her lips, and said I love you. “Those were the very words I had asked God if I could hear from Laurel again.” Then turning to Dave, Laurel called “Dada” and kissed him.
Throughout the afternoon as Laurel showed her recognition of everyone, the doctors fought back their tears of astonishment. “We’re declaring that God had a hand in this!” Liz told me.
Dr. Dan Falco, the Intensivist in charge that day told the family that none of this could be explained in medical terms telling the family that the laboratory results weren’t compatible with life.”
Over the next few days, Laurel fought an uphill battle as she labored to breathe, but “Ultimately God had every bit to do with her healing,” Liz told me. “Some people thought the cold pond had worked in her favor, and perhaps that helped a bit, but the doctors all admitted that the pond couldn’t have been near cold enough.”
“The water temperature really shouldn’t have made any difference at all” says Dr. Falco whose own faith was tremendously affirmed. “God did this one and this may well be the defining point of her life.”
Liz remained at Laurel ’s bedside for six days staring into Laurel ’s eyes. “Children don’t usually let you gaze very long, but Laurel let me look until I could see into her soul. And I kept thanking her for coming back.
Two weeks after the near drowning, Liz reports that Laurel is now “doing wonderfully. She’s learning new words and has a deeper joy when she’s having fun.
But Laurel isn’t the only one who has changed. “It’s changed us all for the better” says Liz. “The family feels how incredible it was to walk with the Lord.
“So many people tell me that I’m such an inspiration to them. ‘Your faith is strong’ they say. Yet, I never thought of my faith as strong. God was showering us with grace and our faith comes from God. I accept that. And I’m so grateful.
Yet even now, Liz admits that she doesn’t really “know why it all happened but I do know that God works through angels, doctors, nurses, and saints. Now I believe, but it will always be a mystery that I’ll never understand.”
It’s a mystery that the Apostle Paul compared to looking in a dim mirror. “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; but one day we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”