Andrew, age 2 in this 2009 photo, survived a severe heart crisis while in the womb. His doctors and his parents, Sarah and Mark, called his survival a miracle.
Andrew, age 2 in this 2009 photo, survived a severe heart crisis while in the womb. His doctors and his parents, Sarah and Mark, called his survival a miracle.
It’s a rich, vigorous life for 12-year-old Andrew Wellnitz. He gets top marks in sixth grade at All Saints School in Northeast Portland — not easy. He plays football, basketball and baseball with zeal. He hangs out with friends and excels at video games. He manages a sometimes tricky existence with three younger sisters.

And every bit of it is icing on the cake, since it looked like Andrew would die even before he was born.

This is not Andrew’s favorite tale to tell, since his origin story is different than most. But here’s the absolute glory of it: Now Andrew is like any other kid.

In 2007, while he was in utero, doctors at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center were shocked when Andrew’s heart monitor recorded a rate of five beats per second. Such rampaging activity is usually followed by precipitous slowing and then death after about five days.

Doctors had only grim options for Sarah and Mark Wellnitz, Andrew’s parents. One physician thought medical efforts useless and advised that Sarah have labor induced so she could deliver the child who had no chance — essentially an abortion. That doctor predicted that, at best, Andrew would be born with severe disabilities because of oxygen deprivation. Other doctors suggested doses of heart medication high enough they might be dangerous to Sarah.

Andrew was the first child for Sarah and Mark, members of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Northeast Portland. The couple had graduated from the University of Portland. Mark went to All Saints and Central Catholic and Sarah to St. Anthony School in Tigard and then Jesuit.

For them, abortion — or anything like it — was not an option.

So they began the drug regimen, which put Sarah at risk of cardiac arrest. She was willing to lay down her life for her unborn child.

“We were just numb. We didn’t know what to do,” Mark told the Sentinel in 2009. “It was not looking good.”

Life is calmed down now, but Mark is still moved by the 12-year-old story. In the six weeks they were at St. Vincent, he saw Sarah’s heart monitor flatline several times, information he was told to keep from her to prevent stress on her heart. Only he knew the danger.

Andrew’s condition was rare. A piece of muscle fiber did not dissolve as usual, hindering the heart’s ability to regulate. When his heart slowed down, some doctors predicted he had only hours to live.

About 20 friends arrived at the hospital and held a healing prayer in the chapel. At that moment, results came. Andrew’s heart had reached normal rhythm.

“They prayed to save me,” Andrew says. “Now here I am, off meds, a normal child. It’s kind of crazy.”

Andrew never needed the surgery doctors predicted would be necessary to keep him alive.

“Call it a miracle or whatever you want. Andrew is living life like every other normal 12-year-old,” said his grandmother Theresa Schierman, a member of St. Anthony Parish in Tigard. According to Schierman, the story has two lessons. First, doctors do not always get it right. Second, God sometimes works to give people hope.

Andrew wisely is not planning his future before he learns a little more. He may attend Central Catholic, where Dad went, or Jesuit, Mom’s alma mater. As for a future career, he’ll wait to see what high school teaches him.

Sarah and Mark feel deeply grateful for the support from doctors, nurses, family, friends and even strangers across the globe who prayed for Andrew. They also know many families of heart patients who had difficult outcomes.

“It’s humbling,” says Sarah, who teaches middle school at All Saints.

If faced with a similar pregnancy, Sarah and Mark would make the same choices again. “I think parents feel they will do anything for their children,” Sarah says, downplaying what some have characterized as heroism. “For us, it took and it takes trusting in God and continuing to pray.”