I thought I knew the meaning of interfaith, until I met Miguel and Bahar Torrente. They are married to the idea of interfaith.
Bahar is a 32-year-old Iranian-born Muslim. Miguel is a 41-year-old Colombian born Catholic. Both are public high school teachers, and Miguel serves his adopted country as a helicopter pilot in the California Army National Guard.
Six years ago, they were married in a Catholic ceremony followed by Muslim vows at the reception. Two years later, they had a healthy child named Bianca.
In the spring of last year, Bahar returned to labor and delivery for the birth of their second child, but doctors sent her home saying it was false labor.
Bahar repeated that scenario the next day. On the third day, Bahar was insistent, it was the right day — in more ways than one.
Arianna was born normal, but six hours later, worried about the baby’s color, Bahar consulted a nurse who immediately began giving oxygen.
Unknown to the staff of this small hospital, Arianna had something called pulmonary atresia. The American Heart Institute Web site defines this as a “condition in which no pulmonary valve exists. Consequently, blood can’t flow from the right ventricle into the pulmonary artery and on to the lungs.”
Simply put, Arianna’s heart had no capability of pumping blood back to her lungs, so oxygen was useless and Arianna was dying.
But on this day — the right day — there walked into the nursery a visiting doctor from our hospital. The only doctor on site qualified to make the diagnosis, Dr. Andrew Juris ordered a steroid given that would buy precious time.
As the staff readied her for transport to Sutter Memorial in Sacramento, a priest baptized Arianna and family members prayed over rosaries, medallions, Bibles and Korans. “This was interfaith,” as Miguel recalls, “friends of all faiths and churches were praying.”
When Miguel and Bahar arrived in Sacramento, they were met by pediatric heart surgeon Dr. Richard Mainwaring, who explained Arianna’s condition and the series of surgeries he would perform in repairing her heart.
The Torrentes were feeling like things were coming together as some kind of divine plan.
But before Bahar would consent to surgery, she insisted a chaplain be called for prayer.
I arrived in our NICU holding no prayer book specific for Muslim/Catholic families. So, I simply began praying the lord’s prayer. As I prayed, both families were reverently respectful. Then I pulled out a Muslim prayer and softly asked permission to read it, too.
Both families nodded and after I read the prayer, I could see in their tears that both prayers had found their marks in listening hearts. It was a faith that gathered the hopes of a mother with the intentions of our creator and molded into something much more powerful than the prayers of one.
“This was the hardest thing we’ve gone through,” Miguel admitted to me by phone this week, “and it can make or break a relationship, but this made it stronger.
“Having had Bianca, we were grateful, but you can’t imagine how grateful until you have (a) sick child.”
“How is Arianna right now?” I asked.
“Oh boy,” the pilot said. “Other than a scar, she’s a wild child!”
Well, Arianna may be a wild child, but after all that, I think we can definitely say she’s God’s child.