Seminary couple proceeds with adoption of premature baby struggling to live

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Randy and Delia Burns had dreamed of adopting a baby even before they were married seven years ago, and they encountered the perfect opportunity to give a child a home when they met a 17-year-old girl from Guatemala who had been raped and did not have the means to care for the baby she was expecting.

Delia Burns, who translates for Hispanic patients at the local health department in Morgantown, Ky., had been in the habit of somewhat jokingly telling expectant mothers that she and her husband would be glad to take their babies if they decided they did not want them.

When the Guatemalan girl came into the health department in the spring, Randy, pastor of Monticello Baptist Church in Kentucky and a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, just happened to be there visiting his wife. The girl, whose name has been withheld, and her boyfriend mentioned that they were considering putting the child up for adoption, and Randy and Delia listened intently.

“When she left, Randy said he wasn’t going to get his hopes up and we’d just have to wait and see,” Delia recounted to Baptist Press about the prospects of adopting the girl’s child.

Months passed and Randy and Delia further investigated the option of adopting the baby, when suddenly something went wrong. Delia received a call from the boyfriend on Saturday, June 24, saying some plastic tubes had fallen and hit the expectant mother in the stomach while she was at work.

“He said she didn’t fall or anything, they just kind of hit her. He said, ‘This morning she woke up at 6 with pain every five minutes,’” Delia recounted.

At a hospital in nearby Bowling Green, Ky., doctors discovered through an ultrasound that the girl was lacking a significant amount of amniotic fluid, though the baby was seeking refuge in the part of the womb that held the most fluid.

The girl was rushed to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville, Tenn., where doctors tried to delay labor because she was only 29 weeks along and they feared the baby would not have developed fully. Randy and Delia had driven the boyfriend down to Nashville, but they needed to return to Monticello for church the next morning.

After church, the couple received a message from a doctor saying the girl was going to deliver the baby, so they rushed back to the hospital just in time for the birth. The girl gave permission for Randy and Delia to be in the delivery room, and Delia helped her through the process.

Doctors soon realized that the baby, Elena Grace, did not have working kidneys and her lungs had not fully developed. They told Randy and Delia that the baby, who they already considered their daughter, would not live much more than a week. She weighed only 3 pounds and 13 ounces at birth.

An option was to put the baby on dialysis and a respirator, but at least one doctor was against it.

“He said, ‘It’s going to be too much pain and a lot of work,’” Delia said. “I was like, ‘If I had given birth and the baby was sick, I couldn’t just let her die. I couldn’t say, ‘Here, put her to the side and let me try again.’

“I said, ‘God has blessed us with her, and if we do nothing, then we have failed. But if we try everything and just leave it in God’s hands, then He will help us through this,’” Delia said. “And I said, ‘No matter what happens, we will walk out of this hospital. If God chooses to use you doctors to help our daughter, then He will. And if He chooses to take her home, no matter what, we’ll walk out of this hospital with grace.’”

Randy said doctors took Elena Grace off the respirator about a week after she was born, and she did well. “Her lungs were beginning to grow and she wasn’t requiring the assistance of the respirator, so they were shocked by that,” he said.

On July 7, doctors performed surgery on the baby to insert a catheter in order to give her fluids to help clean the toxins from her body as a result of her failed kidneys.

“Right now, they’re saying she’ll be on dialysis until they can get her a kidney transplant, and she has to be about 20 pounds before they can put her on the transplant list,” Randy said, adding that the fluids alter her actual weight but they think she weighs about 5 pounds.

Randy and Delia -- both in their 30s -- are taking the trial one step at a time, fully intent on making Elena Grace officially their daughter as the adoption process is ongoing. The birth mother likely will play a role in the baby’s life, Delia said, and she has been to visit the baby a few times.

“I told her that we still wanted the baby, but if she changed her mind, no matter how hard it would be on us, God would take care of us,” Delia said. “She said that she knew she couldn’t take care of her even if she was healthy because she didn’t have the means. I told her that no matter what, we will take care of her and love her.”

Ken Hemphill, national strategist for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Empowering Kingdom Growth initiative, said the ordeal is “a moving story about the value of human life.” Randy was scheduled to take a class at Southern Seminary that Hemphill was teaching in June, but he had to drop the class in order to care for Elena Grace in Nashville.

“Our class prayed for them daily and anxiously awaited the news,” Hemphill told BP. “The early news was discouraging and prayers flowed. I think I was most impressed by Randy and Delia's love for this little child who the doctors gave little chance of surviving. When the child was born prematurely with multiple complications, they asked us not only to pray for her survival, but also for the adoption process.

“I remember what it was like to be a seminary student,” Hemphill added. “I knew they probably had barely enough money to keep up with seminary expenses. This young couple had such a passion for life and this child they were willing to adopt even in the circumstances.”

Randy said he has already learned some major life lessons from just a few weeks of fighting for Elena Grace’s life.

“We got to be in the room when she was born, and we both just knew when we saw her that she was our daughter and that her life was worth fighting for,” he told BP. “I’ve been asking myself that same question, ‘Why is this important?’ I guess at that moment, the idea of sanctity of life stopped being theoretical and started being personal. I believe that every life is sacred, but when it was my little girl, I knew I would do anything I could to see her have a chance at life.”

The baby’s middle name, Grace, is significant, the couple says, because it’s a testament to what God has done for them in this situation.

“I think it’s important that people understand that we know that everything that has happened so far has been the grace of God,” Randy said. “And we know that every day we come in and she’s doing a little bit better, it’s because God did that. The children’s hospital is an amazing place and the doctors are marvelous, but we also know that it was God’s providence for us to be here and to give us the people He’s given us to work with.

“God has sustained us,” Randy added. “In the first few weeks when we really didn’t know whether she was going to live or die, I told my wife, ‘I just don’t know how people without Christ make it because if I didn’t have Him to lean on, I just don’t know where we would be right now.’”

Delia said that when Elena Grace was born and they learned about the problems she was sure to face, they prayed that her tiny life would mean something.

“God is awesome,” Delia said. “When half the doctors thought this wasn’t going to work and they were against it, we prayed that God would just use Elena Grace -- even as little as she is. And I believe He’s going to. Even now she has a voice.”

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