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Healing for Fayetteville girl called God’s intervention

After receiving anointing of the sick, Mary Virginia Stacey recovered and went home

Published: January 30, 2018   
The Stacey family has had much to celebrate since their 7-year-old, Mary Virginia, was released from Arkansas Children’s Hospital in October after suffering from a life-threatening unexplained heart failure and an equally unexplained recovery.

FAYETTEVILLE — 2017 will be a year the Stacey family never forgets.

Although the calendar page just turned, Adriana Stacey can recount the events of the past few months as if they were yesterday.

About three months ago, she and her husband Heath were bringing home their 7-year-old daughter, Mary Virginia, from Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock after an anxious 12-day stay.

But it is the story of how she came to be admitted on Oct. 21, 2017 and how she was able to walk out after being discharged on Nov. 1 that is worth the retelling.

Stacey said her daughter, a twin to her brother Whitman, and sister to Annalise, 11, and Jack, 4, has always been an active, talkative second-grader who loves math and science, playing soccer and riding horses. But, on this day, she wasn’t herself.

A practicing psychiatrist in Fayetteville, Adriana Stacey said in hindsight, she can now connect the dots from the days leading up to her daughter’s illness. But that is hindsight.

Like most parents, the day-to-day business of living with four children doesn’t always allow for deep introspection. Add to this, the additional distractions of the family moving from their home near the University of Arkansas, building a new house and hosting guests for the home University of Arkansas football game that weekend.

“We thought she was coming down with a cold or virus that day,” Stacey recalled.

So, she and her husband decided to keep her home from a sleepover to rest with the babysitter that afternoon. The Staceys, parishioners for the past seven years at St. Joseph Parish in Fayetteville, left with their friends and other two children for the game. But at halftime of the game, Stacey said she had the feeling they needed to return home and check on their daughter.

What happened next would have been every parent’s nightmare. They opened the door to the house only to find their daughter lying on the floor.

“While the babysitter was bathing the 4-year-old, Mary Virginia had slid out of the chair onto the floor and was too weak to move, her extremities were blue and she was barely responding,” Stacey said, “It was frightening.”

What followed was a surreal night of racing to the emergency room in game traffic, being transferred to Arkansas Children’s Hospital via ambulance in a torrential storm and arriving at 3 a.m. with her daughter in cardiogenic shock. By 6 a.m. that morning, Mary Virginia was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit with heart failure.

At this point, Stacey recalls there was no clear diagnosis, but it was initially believed she had acute viral myocarditis, an inflammation of muscles of the heart as a result of a viral infection in the body beginning to attack the heart. Over the next two days, her condition seemed to worsen, as test after test was run and doctors could not diagnose why or how she was in heart failure. Her pixie-like frame seemed to be diminishing in size by the day.

On Monday, to make administration of medications easier, she had a “central line” put into a vein and seemed to be showing limited improvement, saying a few words by Tuesday morning.

After lunch that same Tuesday afternoon, Father Jason Tyler, the family’s pastor from St. Joseph, stopped by to visit. Father Tyler was in Little Rock for priest continuing education and the family had asked if he would administer the sacrament of the anointing of the sick to Mary Virginia.

The following morning, after another echocardiogram, her heart seemed inexplicably normal.

“They had warned that it would take three to six months for her heart to repair,” Stacey said, “and the doctor could not explain what helped her heart get better so quickly.”

Amazingly, Mary Virginia was discharged Nov. 1, after staying one more week for other tests to be run trying to explain what had happened to her.

Although administering the sacrament many times, Father Tyler said Mary Virginia’s case stood out as a quick turn around with no explanation.

“We certainly know that God works through doctors and medications, but in this case, we know that she got better but don’t have a clear scientific understanding of what happened,” he said.

Mary Virginia’s father, who is plastic surgeon, knew of all the complications and risks she could face in the future and said it was difficult knowing that one-third of all the patients in her condition get heart transplants, but also admitted that modern medicine does not have all the answers.

“I can see how people attribute this to another force, maybe something spiritual,” he said.

“Anytime we celebrate the sacraments,” explained Father Tyler, “we as priests are acting on God’s behalf and connecting to his people. The primary purpose of an anointing is a spiritual healing, but often that can be brought about through a physical healing of the body.”

In cases like Mary Virginia’s, Father Tyler said there is certainly a recognition of the connection between the body and the soul and the reminder that it is one. But also, he said, “it is another good reminder to take very seriously what I do as a priest in helping bring God’s grace to people.”

“She’s been a champ through all of this,” said her mom, “And I think she recognizes there were a lot of people praying for her.”

“We are not the same people that we were before Oct. 21,” Stacey admitted. “I think when you go through something like this it increases your faith. It’s not tangible, but it makes it more real.”

Stacey said another important lesson is “you never know what your day will bring,” she said. “I feel like both of us (as parents) are better about being in the moment and focusing on what’s important. Certainly, your priorities adjust.”

“2017 was by far one of the worst years, but in some ways, it may be the best because it changed the way we live,” added Stacey.

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