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John Kelly: As his son lay dying, a father's prayers were answered

Jeroy Acosta, with brother Jarel, nearly died from the H1N1 virus.
Jeroy Acosta, with brother Jarel, nearly died from the H1N1 virus. (John Kelly/the Washington Post)
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By John Kelly
Tuesday, December 1, 2009

For 10 years, Ana and Wilmer Acosta tried to have children. They'd reached the point where they thought that might never happen.

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In their native country of Honduras, Ana was a dentist and Wilmer an agricultural engineer. After the devastation of Hurricane Mitch in 1998, they moved to the United States. The couple live in Silver Spring. She works for a religious broadcaster; he is a landscaper. It was at a theater after the screening of a multimedia version of the Bible's Sarah and Abraham story that Wilmer said he heard a voice. It was as clear as if someone were addressing him directly: "You will be a father," said the voice.

Wilmer turned to his wife. "I said, 'Ana, did you hear that?' "

She hadn't.

Their son Jeroy was born in 2004. Two years later the couple had another boy: Jarel.

It was Jarel, now 3, who in October got sick first: a cough, then a fever. Two days later, Jeroy took ill. Jarel slowly got better. Jeroy got worse. His fever reached 104 degrees; his breathing became a labored wheeze.

What worried Ana, Wilmer and their son's doctors was the 5-year-old's asthma. It wasn't severe -- he'd only had two asthma attacks -- but it was all the H1N1 virus needed to gain a foothold in his little lungs.

Jeroy arrived by ambulance at Children's Hospital on a Sunday. On Tuesday at 3 in the morning, Ana called her husband at home. "Wilmer, come here," she said. "Jeroy is dying." His lungs were bleeding. His doctors gave him a 30 percent chance of surviving.

Wilmer collapsed, then forced himself to stand. "I say to myself, 'Wilmer, be strong.' "

The pastor from his family's church, the Washington Spanish Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Silver Spring, met Wilmer at the hospital.

"More than 200 people were praying -- here, in Florida, in Honduras, my country," Wilmer said. Still, the fever would not break. When it finally did, Wilmer thought he knew why: "I believe that God was working along with the medicine."

Jeroy doesn't remember his time in the hospital, the 12 days he spent intubated, the welter of needles and tubes that made him a human pincushion. The boy Ana calls their miracle child is as rambunctious now as he was before he took sick.


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