Photo: Photos courtesy of the Kasprzak family
The Heart of the Matter
Through our daughter's beautiful life, a glimpse of God's plan
by Thomas P. Kasprzak
"Dear Blessed Mother, I beg you to intercede on my behalf. If it is God's will, please bless me with a daughter that I can spend the rest of my life with. I promise to name her in your honor."
That was the constant prayer my wife, Joanne, repeated for years as we raised our first two sons. Joanne lost her mom when we began dating at 17 in 1969. She never had a sister and was desperate for a daughter.
As our sons grew older, Joanne began to share her prayer with me. At first, I felt neither mentally nor financially prepared to start raising another child. But I adore my wife and could not refuse her pleas. It turns out we had twins!
Nicholas and Mary were born in 1988. Mary was born with Down Syndrome, and so began the most difficult period of our lives. During the next 15 years, we often found ourselves in despair in front of the image of The Divine Mercy, which had been honored on our living room wall since the day we were married (though it wasn't until years later that we learned what the image was all about). We'd be in tears, begging for strength from God.
We never lost faith, even when dealing with a doctor who admonished us for not just keeping "the good one" after the amniocentesis tests. In fact, we began to see that God did, in fact, have a plan for us.
We also began to see that no matter how much we sacrificed for Mary, it paled in comparison to what she was doing for us. She taught us to slow down and value every second of life. Her blindness to labels taught us how to accept everyone as equals — as sacred, precious persons. Mary also constantly reminded us of how little we really surrendered to God in trust.
Before she was born, our lives revolved around striving for "success" — that is to say, material success. She forced us to realize that there was not enough materialism in the world that could quench our human desires; for it's not our bodies that need nourishment, but our souls. Mary showed us that we can be happy no matter how big or small our home is, or what type of car we drive, the size of our bank account, or the titles we have in the workplace.
Mary never complained about what she didn't have. She helped show us that our arrogance, pride, conceit, greed, and failure to act are nothing more than millstones around our necks that keep us from surrendering to God. By being humble, innocent and pure, Mary gracefully accepted God's will for her life.
Simply put, Mary helped us become a stronger, more loving family.
And, finally, she showed us that regardless of what any "expert" would predict, God's will could easily overrule it. In 2002, after she was paralyzed on the right side of her body for three days, we asked for St. Padre Pio's intercession, and our daughter was healed after the doctors told us it was permanent.
A year later, Joanne had a dream that Mary would soon leave this earth, but that she would return on "the 16th." Mary passed away on September 8, the birthday of the Blessed Virgin. Once she was pronounced brain dead, our 28-year-old son Tom asked if we would consider donating her organs. Most individuals with Down Syndrome have organ dysfunction. Mary was unique in that her organs were normal and healthy. Mary was such a loving, happy, compassionate young lady who always wished to help others that once the thought entered our minds, Joanne and I immediately responded in tandem: "This is what Mary would have wanted!" So we donated her organs.
Her heart, two kidneys, her liver, and her pancreas helped save the lives of five people.
More than a year later, the young lady who received Mary's heart called to ask if she could come to our home and personally thank us for her life — on the 16th of October, 2004!
Her name is Kerry. She was married on Sept. 8, 2001, and had been diagnosed with terminal heart disease. When Kerry received Mary's heart, she was 34 years old and had weeks, possibly months, to live. Last September 9, Kerry and her husband, Michael, officially became the parents of an adopted son. That was two years to the day that she received Mary's heart. How's Kerry doing? Great! She runs marathons!
His Divine Mercy has touched our family members' lives in thousands of ways through the years, but none greater than to give us a glimpse of His divine plan by allowing us to meet Kerry and her family.
Thomas P. Kasprzak lives in East Lyme, CT. He may be reached, via e-mail, at firstname.lastname@example.org