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

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.

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.

"These people don't work for salary," Wilmer said of the doctors and nurses at Children's. "These people work for love."

Pushing the envelope

I had a dream the other night that an envelope arrived for me at my office. It was a standard white, letter-size envelope, but it was bulging at the seams. When I opened it, I discovered it was full of cash: fifties, twenties, many singles. There was also foreign currency: colorful bills from across the sea. I counted it all up, and the total came to $15,000.

Or $13,000. Or $18,000. You know how in dreams nothing is quite fixed. It was simultaneously all of those numbers.

But dreams can often seem especially real, and so it was with this one. An accompanying note explained that the money -- a donation for Children's Hospital -- came from people who worked in the Ariel Rios Federal Building in downtown Washington.

Now, I have never set foot in the Ariel Rios Federal Building, although I have passed it countless times, enough times for it to lodge in the crevasses of my subconscious anyway. It made perfect sense in my dream that the thousands of people who work in the building had pooled their money to donate to Children's Hospital.

I know this is a tough year. The economy is like Jeroy: sick in bed while we all pray for a recovery. I hope, though, that you can still find a few dollars to donate to our annual campaign, perhaps by working with your office mates to make a donation. I will happily acknowledge group donations in print.

Of course, I would prefer you not send cash. Instead, send a check or money order payable to "Children's Hospital" to Washington Post Campaign, P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, Md. 21297-1390. It will be used to help pay the hospital bills of poor children.

To donate online using a credit card, go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/childrenshospital. To give by phone using Visa or MasterCard, call 202-334-5100.

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