Dec 11, 2016

Eleven years ago, I was the chaplain for Women and Children at Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento, Calif., where I met a couple that helped me better understand the concept of interfaith. In fact, you might say that Miguel and Bahar Torrente are married to the idea of interfaith.

Bahar is a 42-year-old Iranian-born Muslim. Miguel is a 51-year-old Colombian-born Catholic. Both are public high school teachers, and Miguel is also a retired helicopter pilot in the California Army National Guard.

Seventeen years ago, they were married in a Catholic ceremony followed by Muslim vows at their reception. Two years later, they had a healthy child named Bianca.

In the spring of 2005, Bahar returned to labor and delivery for the birth of their second child, Arianna. Six hours later, Arianna’s color took a drastic change and she was immediately placed on oxygen.

The baby girl was admitted into our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) where our pediatric cardiologist, Dr. Andrew Juris, saw what no one else was seeing. Arianna was dying from something called pulmonary atresia.

The American Heart Institute website 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 near useless.

Juris ordered a steroid to buy precious time and referred care to pediatric heart surgeon, Dr. Richard Mainwaring. The surgeon broke the news to the terrified parents that Arianna would need not just one surgery, but a series of surgeries to repair her heart.

But before Bahar would consent to even the first surgery, she insisted that the medical staff summon a chaplain for prayer.

I arrived in our NICU with two prayers in hand. The Lord’s Prayer and the Muslim counterpart called the Al-Fatiha. As I read each prayer, both families showed reverent respect. I’d never seen such union among family members of varied faiths. People were praying over rosaries, medallions, Bibles and Korans.

Both families nodded in agreement as I read the prayers. I saw a faith that combined the hopes of a mother with the intentions of our creator and morphed into something more powerful than the prayers of one.

In the months that followed, Miguel told me, “This was the hardest thing we’ve gone through. Something like this can make or break a relationship, but this happening has made it stronger.

“Having had a healthy child in Bianca, we were grateful, but we didn’t imagine how grateful until we had a sick child.”

This week, after eleven years, I called Miguel to see how Arianna was doing.

“She’s great,” Miguel told me. “Our daughter is active in school and involved in gymnastics.”

Miguel explained that their only limitation is that the family has to limit the durations of their ski trips because Arianna’s blood oxygen levels can drop to dangerously low levels. Concerns like this have Arianna taking medications the rest of her life.

I pressed Miguel with the more difficult question about Arianna’s life expectancy.

“Doctors cautioned us that because the procedure is relatively new, they can’t predict lifespan.”

There was a pause. I could hear in his silence that’d he’d weighed the possibility of his daughter’s shorter lifespan more than once. He’d considered the possibility of losing his daughter in the NICU and had probably pondered the idea nearly each day of her life.

“God gave her to us for a purpose,” he said. “I just enjoy watching that purpose unfold.”

Now that’s what I call “keeping the faith.” Or perhaps I should say, “keeping the interfaith.”

– Write Norris at or P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Twitter @chaplain, or call 843-608-9715. Read more in Norris’ new book, “Thriving Beyond Surviving.”