When doctors prepared expectant Minnesota mother for the worst, she prayed. It worked.
Julie Buntjer / Forum News Service
WORTHINGTON, Minn. — Jenalee Mahoney was 20 weeks pregnant when, during her ultrasound appointment, a heart irregularity was discovered in the baby girl growing inside her.
The news sent Jenalee and her husband, Patrick to Sioux Falls, S.D., for further testing. Learning their God-given gift had a heart imperfection was devastating — even more so when they were told she had Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. The diagnosis meant her left chamber of the heart didn’t properly develop and she would need open heart surgery soon after birth.
Within weeks of the HLHS diagnosis came a second blow. During a follow-up appointment, tests revealed Jenalee was carrying extra amniotic fluid.
Via telephone, Jenalee was told that in addition to HLHS, the baby tested positive for Trisomy 13, a duplication of the 13th chromosome.
“I was told T-13 was not compatible to life,” Jenalee shared. She was also told not to Google the diagnosis.
“Well, I did,” she said. The combined HLHS and Trisomy 13 diagnosis sounded like a death sentence for their baby girl. Doctors explained how her skin would be grey and her lips blue at birth, and that she wouldn’t make a sound.
The Mahoneys shared the diagnosis with their mothers, and then Jenalee called her dad in South Dakota.
“My dad said, ‘Stop it right now. That’s a lie from the devil and your baby is fine,’” Jenalee recalled. “I thought, hmm, my dad is right.”
Aside from their parents and their siblings, they kept the diagnosis from their friends and co-workers in the school district. Jenalee is a second grade teacher at Prairie Elementary, while Patrick teaches social studies, history and introduction to education in the newly developed education pathway program at Worthington High School.
“I didn’t want anyone to speak that diagnosis over her,” Jenalee said. “It’s not the truth and I’m not going to believe it and it’s fine.”
As she moved into her third trimester, Jenalee was well into a routine of praying over her baby girl through music.
“I would sing over her and pray over her and just continue to fight off those fiery darts,” she said. “I would just breathe in the righteousness of Jesus and breathe out those negative thoughts. It was like a battle, but I never stopped believing.”
Each subsequent appointment, Jenalee went in believing she would hear that her baby’s heart was normal, and each time she left with the same news — the baby “definitely has hypoplastic; it looks worse than it did before.”
She was told no surgeon would ever touch her baby if it had Trisomy, that her baby wouldn’t survive and she just needed to be prepared to let her die.
“Walking out one day, I said to one of the nurses, ‘What if you are wrong and I am going to walk out of here with a car seat?’ She said, ‘If that happens, I will bring the balloons.’
“Well, I’m still waiting for my balloons,” Jenalee said.
Jenalee was at home on the afternoon of Oct. 12, working on her long-term substitute plans in her kitchen, listening to her Christian music and worshipping and praying over her baby.
“One song in particular came on, ‘Still Believe’ by Kim Walker Smith, and I laid my hands on my tummy, sang the song and the tears just flowed from my eyes,” Jenalee said. “I just felt this feeling that I can’t really describe. I felt hot and cool at the same time and had kind of like a floating feeling. And this voice came over my heart, saying ‘It’s OK now, I’m finished — I'm done making her.’
“I felt totally at peace,” Jenalee said.
Three hours later, at midnight, her water broke.
The Mahoneys drove to Sioux Falls, where Jenalee was prepped for a C-section at Sanford. She was nervous because her regular doctor wasn’t available, but she started the playlist of Christian music on her phone.
For her daughter’s delivery, she chose the song, ‘Miracles’ by Kari Jobe.
“One of the lyrics is, ‘His blood is flowing through my veins’ and I sang to her, ‘The blood of Jesus is flowing through your veins.’
“If his blood is flowing through her, she has a perfect heart,” Jenalee reasoned.
When little Genevieve was born at 5 pounds, 3 ounces, she let out a big, strong cry.
“Trisomy babies aren’t supposed to cry, and with Hypoplastic, they aren’t supposed to have the strength to cry,” Jenalee said. “The neonatologist said, ‘She looks great, go give her to her mom.”
After a brief meeting, Genevieve was whisked away for testing. Doctors worked through a checklist both for HLHS and Trisomy.
“They said, ‘We’re just going to worry about one thing at a time,’” Patrick said. “Does her (esophagus) connect to her stomach; sure enough, it did. They just kept going down the list.”
After a sonogram was done of Genevieve’s heart, a cardiologist came in and told the Mahoneys their daughter did not have HLHS.
“I knew God fixed her heart right then and there. I understood in that moment what happened the night before was a true miracle,” Jenalee said. “God just fixed her heart and I felt it happen — that’s awesome.”
While baby Genevieve did not have HLHS, she did have VSD and ASD — one hole in the upper chamber of her heart and one in the lower chamber. Holes in the heart are common with Trisomy babies, but it doesn’t necessarily mean Genevieve has Trisomy 13. There are no physical signs that she has it.
She spent 39 days in the neonatal intensive care unit in Sioux Falls before being released.
Heart surgery a success
While doctors said the holes in Genevieve’s heart could close on their own, that didn’t happen. In February, the Mahoneys traveled to Ann Arbor, Mich., to one of the best pediatric cardiology surgeons in the country. On Feb. 26, surgeons repaired the two holes in Genevieve’s heart and also discovered and fixed some loose connections to her heart, noted Patrick. The pulmonary hypertension she was born with should improve with the surgery.
The Mahoneys spent 41 days in Ann Arbor and, like their time in Sioux Falls, they were able to stay at a Ronald McDonald House. They were able to fly to Ann Arbor through a local pilot, the gift of the Angel Flight Program, and a GoFundMe page — created for the Mahoneys by a family friend — reached its goal within a brief time to help cover some expenses.
The Mahoneys returned home in early April.
“The amount of support we’ve received has been unbelievable — financial, emotional, social support,” Patrick said. “It’s really humbling when you see how not alone you are in something like this. We’re just really grateful for the support system we have and that we’ve continued to grow through this.”
“When you go through this, like having a sick baby, your perspective changes on everything in your life,” added Jenalee. “I think it’s important to have perspective and remember that everyone you see has a story and you don't know what that story is. It's important to be thoughtful and kind because you don’t know what someone’s story is.”
Genevieve makes a family of six for the Mahoneys. Her siblings include Nazali, 13, Giani, 9, and Stella, 3.
Jenalee truly believes she and her daughter were the recipients of a miracle, and said it’s called Believer’s Authority.
“We all have it and we just need to use it,” she said. “It’s a real thing, it happens. Genevieve is proof.”