By Dave Andrusko
Okay, before you read this, please make sure you have a box of Kleenex nearby. The story of Jenna Gassew and Dan Healy and their son Shane Michael will make you cry but it will also make you marvel that a couple this young could be so wise beyond their years.
Perhaps you’ve already heard something about Shane Michael. Forgive me if you have, but most have not heard about a little baby whose parents shared with him a lifetime of joy—“memories,” as Dan said–before he was even born.
Imagine being happily pregnant, and then finding out that your baby has a brain malformation so severe he will live just a few hours, a day or two, at best? That’s exactly what happened when Jenna was three months pregnant.
She was in a minor car accident, went to the hospital to check up, just in case, and then got the news.
“I got a text from her saying ‘call me.’ I knew something was wrong,” Dan told WPVI in Philadelphia. Shane had anencephaly, a severe malformation of the baby’s skull and brain in which much of the brain is missing. The couple told Lauren Enriquez:
“We were in shock to say the least and didn’t want to believe that all of this was happening. It was in the car that day that we both agreed that God was blessing us with such a special baby for a reason greater than we could understand and that no matter how hard it was to feel the way we did, that we had to keep the faith and believe in His plan for our lives. We wanted people to never question how proud we were to be Shane’s parents and that we were thankful and felt blessed that God chose us to bring him into the world. Shane is our son and we are so proud of him and he’s had such a positive impact on the lives of so many people that have heard his story.”
“He’s still our little boy and even though he’s been given such a short life expectancy … we wanted to make sure that we gave him a lifetime worth of adventures and love while he’s with us,” Dan told ABC last month. “One thing we would want people to take away is that each human life is so valuable and that it’s important to live each day to its fullest potential.”
Their hundreds of thousands of followers (they have nearly 900,000 “likes” on Facebook) were then given continued updates on the “bucket list” of activities they intended to complete (#shanesbucketlist updates). Besides being taken to the top of the Empire State Building, the couple took their unborn son to some of their favorite childhood places, from New York City to sports games, concerts and classic Philadelphia landmarks such as Geno’s Steaks. They completed their list on Sept. 6.
Shane was born Thursday; Jenna’s labor was chronicled by Dan. First, “Baby Shane is here!!.. Mom and Baby are doing well! .. more details and pictures to come!”
“Today at 6:15AM, after meeting his entire family and being baptized into the Catholic faith, baby Shane died peacefully in his Mother’s arms .. we are so grateful for the time that we were blessed to hold and hug our son .. the support and prayers we have received from all of you have been amazing and we want to thank each of you with all our hearts .. Shane spent his entire life in the arms of people that loved him unconditionally and I don’t think you could ask for a more beautiful life than that .. he is home now with the Lord and will forever be our little miracle!”
Back in September, Dan told ABC 13, “Most families wait until their baby is born to start making memories and traveling to places with them.” He added, ‘We understood what it was and knew that our time with our son could be very limited, so we wanted to make the most of the time that we had with him.”
What a reminder to all of us, whether we are the parents of a baby who will live only a brief time or the parents of adult children building their own lives. Time is limited, but don’t use that brevity as an excuse not to continue to make memories.
Injured—severely injured—Shane was no less their son. Why would he not be? Was he not “one of us” because he was less than perfect?
Jenna and Dan certainly didn’t think so. Shane will always be a member of the family, a contributor to the family’s history.
Finally, when couples like Jenna and Dan are told their unborn baby suffers from a catastrophic malady, they are routinely told they have the “option” of “termination.” The implication is that somehow everyone—even the baby—is “better off” if the child is killed immediately rather than allowed to be born and die in his or her parents’ arms.
But it’s not better…for anyone.
Thanks to Jenna and Dan for reminding us that each of us counts; that each of us is a member of the family; that the bond we forge during the months a baby like Shane is carried will last a lifetime; and that we can blessed in ways we could never imagine.