Treatment options for Patrick were minimal — mostly just a heat-controlled incubator and lots of attention. The critical period was the first 48 hours of life: If the baby could struggle through that delicate time, the odds were better that he’d survive, though they were still only 40 to 50 percent. Had Patrick been born in 2013, he would have had the benefit of ventilators and neonatal intensive-care units, and a 95 percent likelihood of surviving.
To give him every chance, the newborn was rushed from Cape Cod to one of the finest hospitals in the world: Children’s Medical Center in Boston. A vigil began, and crowds waited for the president outside the hospital. “They greeted him ghoulishly with applause and cheers,” journalist Mary McGrory wrote. “If they honored his anguish, they gave no sign.”
As the hours ticked by, Americans huddled by their radios, listening for updates. To many, the mystique of the Kennedys meant that luck was on Patrick’s side. “He’s a Kennedy,” the Boston Globe declared. “He’ll Make It.”
Pat, as the Globe took to calling him, occupies a small corner in Kennedy lore. He crops up for a few pages in books on the president or on his relationship with his wife. Most often, he is mentioned only in passing, if at all, as authors race on to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, civil rights, Vietnam or Dallas. This fleeting notice is fitting, perhaps, for Patrick’s presence was only temporary; he was allotted little time to carve out his place in the world. There are no ubiquitous photographs, as of the rest of the family. We are left to imagine a fragile infant described by those who glimpsed him as “beautifully formed.”
But an abundance of prayer and hovering doctors were not enough. Patrick’s tiny heart gave out, and he died just 39 hours into his journey.
Though he was gone too soon, Patrick had a profound impact on his mother and father. For Jackie, his loss was her latest childbearing trauma. She had already suffered a miscarriage and delivered a stillborn baby, and her son John Jr. also had been born prematurely and overcame his weak lungs. Measured against her sister-in-law Ethel, who delivered her eighth child around this time, Jackie was the Kennedy woman with the reputation for troubled pregnancies and births.