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Open to Life - A Wonderful Testimony
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Author:  Katie [ Fri Jul 27, 2012 10:20 am ]
Post subject:  Open to Life - A Wonderful Testimony

Open to life, even with a 25 percent chance of cystic fibrosis

by Peter Baklinski

Rees Howell at his high school graduation.

ALASKA, July 25, 2012, ( – Ken and Allison Howell were leading what they considered a “charmed life.” The newly married couple were part of a Pentecostal church where the “preaching was fiery, the services long and emotional, and the music pulled one from the depths of weeping to the heights of dancing.”

But the Howell’s first child Rees, born in 1994 — four years into their marriage — was about to turn their charmed life inside out, leading them on a difficult journey that would test their marriage, their faith, and the way they valued human life.

Rees entered the world after a storybook pregnancy and birth. But by the time he was nine months old, he had contracted pneumonia twice, a rarity for a child who was breast-fed.

Ken and Allison Howell as newlyweds

Further testing revealed why. Rees was found to have cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease caused by two recessive genes passed on to him from his parents.

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a hereditary disorder which causers abnormally thick mucus to be produced, which often leads to serious respiratory infection. Havoc wreaked on the lungs by this disorder is the primary cause of CF-related deaths.

The Howells were devastated by the news, not only because of concern for their son, but also because of their participation in what Allison refers to as the “divine health-and-wealth-teaching church.” It was impressed upon members of that church that “divine healing is an integral part of the Gospel” and that “deliverance from sickness is provided for in the atonement, and is the privilege of all believers.”

“Although we were scared silly, we assumed that there would be some grand miracle for Rees to showcase God’s power,” said Allison who related her story to

The Howells brought their son to “prayer warriors and healing services,” desperately clinging to the idea that his “sickness was from the Devil and that our faith in Jesus’ healing power was all that was necessary for his cystic fibrosis to go away.”

But the Howells had been set up for bitter disappointment.

When Rees’ healing did not occur, the parents were led to believe that something was wrong with their prayers, their faith, their worship, or even with their trust in God. The leaders of the sect convinced the distraught couple they must be harboring a “secret sin” and that they “didn’t love God enough, didn’t love others enough, didn’t sing enough, and didn’t speak in tongues enough.”

For the first time, Ken and Allison began to doubt each other. They began to doubt God.

“The whole thing caused great harm to our marriage, as thoughts crept in of the other one being the hindrance to healing. Our relationships with God crashed.”

Ken and Allison ceased attending church services for a year, trying to sort out the spiritual mess which they found themselves in.

“We were angry with each other, angry with God, angry with our pastors and college professors, and maybe even angry with Rees,” she recounted.

A Turning Point

But the Howells did not want to give up so easily on their Christian roots. They returned to church services, wanting to pass Christian values on to their son.

But troubles in their church’s leadership led the couple to seriously question the matter of authority. What the couple discovered through reading and research led them to the door of the Catholic Church.

“We decided to investigate the Catholic Church’s claim to be the church founded by Jesus Himself. We bought books, lots of them. We rose early to read and spent our evenings reading. We interrupted each other. We shook our heads. We were excited.”

One evening while pouring over some books, Allison remembers turning to Ken and saying: “My God, we’re going to have to become Catholic.”

“We already are in our hearts and minds,” Ken replied.

The Howells were excited to discover the Catholic understanding of suffering as redemptive. They came to recognize that their son’s illness was not a curse from God, but a calling for him and for them to bear fruit by becoming united to the mystery of Jesus’ redemptive Passion.

Along with St. Paul, the parents learned to think of suffering as “complet[ing] what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Colossians 1:24).

Ken and Allison desired to grow their family, but they were scared by the knowledge that a child born to them had a 25 percent chance of having CF.

“I remember wanting someone to tell me, when all we had was Rees, that it was OK to have more children,” Allison recounted.

However, as the Howells progressed in their faith journey, they came to realize that each life is a gift. They discovered in themselves a new attitude toward life and became open to having more children, even if that meant children with CF.

They realized that “no one is guaranteed tomorrow” and that health is not all what life is about. They recognized that every life, whether with CF or not, is imbued with a “spiritual component” that is “more real and lasting” than the elusive and ephemeral happy-healthy lifestyle that many people consider to be the reason for existing.

“All life is of value and all life is in God’s Hands, no matter how long or short, how fancy or poor, how sick or healthy,” they came to see.

The couple’s newly discovered openness to life was fruitful. John was born in 1997, followed by Clare in 2001, both without CF. Then came Ian, Ambrose, Luke, and Joseph, all without CF. Adah was born earlier this year and has CF.

Allison with baby Adah and Joseph.

All Children are a Gift

Some people think the Howells are irresponsible, or crazy, for being open to conceiving children who might have CF. But Ken and Allison simply smile and tell them that “every single life can have health problems, from the moment of conception and onward through all of life.”

“No one is guaranteed anything in life,” they say. They tell people that CF is manageable and that there are ways to keep CF kids healthy.

Rees Howell with a big catch.

They also point out that a child with health problems, like a Tiny Tim, brings out the best in people.

“They have ‘something’ you can’t put your finger on. They tend to be wiser. They charge into life, full-force. They make the world a better place and they want to be here.”

The most important lesson Ken and Allison say they have learned from their CF children is that “all life truly matters.”

They have seen how their own family has blossomed and grown more closer by ordering their family life around the lives of their children with CF.

“We are very close, in part because of the necessary CF care which includes things like ‘lung clapping,’ where one must pat the CF person all over the chest and back to loosen the thick mucus in order for it to be coughed up.”

Up until Rees was 10, the Howells would “hop onto the couch” with Rees to do his lung clapping (pulmonary therapy) for 20 minutes, three times a day.

“When more children came along, they would join us in the activity. Now that we have another baby with CF, the other kids argue over who gets to do ‘lung clapping’ for Adah.”

While Rees now uses a hand-held device for his pulmonary therapy, Allison is convinced that the years of hands-on therapy with her son has “forged an enviable closeness” that she says is now paying off in Rees’ teenage years.

Rees, Ken, and John Howell on an outing.

Life is Normal with CF Kids

Rees, now 17, recently graduated high school and is looking forward to beginning college this fall.

Allison says that she cherishes her son’s every accomplishment because she knows the struggle behind what he has done.

When Rees achieved a black belt in marshal arts, Allison could hardly contain from shouting out to the crowd: “Do you people know that he has CF? Do you know that it took him a year longer to accomplish this than it took other kids? Do you know that he has lung troubles and hospitalizations?”

Rees’ recent graduation ceremony for homeschoolers had to be planned around one of his hospitalizations. He was given permission to attend the ceremony only if a nurse accompanied him. “We all met him in the city, he processed, walked, received, ate, visited, and headed back to the hospital. No one knew that under his gown was a taped-up IV tube in his arm.”

Now with little Adah following in the footsteps of her older brother, Allison says that she has the routine down pat.

“The baby needs to swallow tiny pills that I mix with applesauce before each nursing session, and she needs her scheduled ‘lung clapping.’”

The Howell family likes to spend “as much time as possible” hiking and camping in their beautiful Alaska. On their family outings, Ken and Allison make sure to bring everything that their CF children require to take part in the adventure.

“Pills, the flutter valve, and applesauce can easily be tucked into backpacks, and when a nebulizer is needed, we have an electrical converter that uses the cigarette lighter in the vehicle.”

At the end of each day, Ken and Allison rejoice in the lives of all their children. While they love their CF kids “exactly the way they are,” they nonetheless “pray every day for the researchers who are working on a cure.”

“Every child suffers in some way, whether with CF or not,” they say. “All parents can do is hold them, love them, and help them. There is an awesome mystery to life.”

The Howells have come to a simple conclusion: “Life is precious!” ... c-fibrosis

Author:  John Daly [ Sun Jul 29, 2012 7:39 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Open to Life - A Wonderful Testimony

Look, I hate to be difficult, but why is this good ?
If "life is precious" and we have to be "open to life" does this mean that a couple with a 99% chance of having children with no arms or legs should be encouraged to have as many as possible ?
Where do these expressions come from anyway ? Are the preciousness of life and the duty of openness to it a part of traditional Catholic doctrine ? Or did they enter Catholic currency in about 1970 ?
Suppose this same couple, having established the existence of the genetic problem, had by common accord chosen to live in chastity : would this really have been a worse or a better choice, and why ?

Author:  Oldavid [ Sun Jul 29, 2012 10:13 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Open to Life - A Wonderful Testimony

Well I don't mind being difficult, John... just ask Katie.

There's a world of difference between refusing to have a baby that might have no arms and "having to have as many as possible".

Children, families are a co-operative exercise with God to "fill the Earth and subdue it" not some enslavement to a breeding programme. Ultimately, if God can use a person with no arms who are we to argue? Are we to say to Him "You mucked up... we're taking over Your job"?

Author:  Katie [ Mon Jul 30, 2012 4:11 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Open to Life - A Wonderful Testimony

Hi John! I'm not sure whether to thank you for dropping in. :wink:

Though I am sure you know full well I can handle difficult are none such one. However, I do seem to have been visitated upon recently by someone trying to be difficult but having great difficulty in succeeding because I find him far too likeable...

Are you taking the article to be implying that the decision to live in perfect chastity would somehow be a non-Catholic reaction? The article isn't a moral theology text outlining all of the relevant principles, it's telling a story about one couple and the choices they made which are made in the light of the faith. We'd need someone like you to bring it up a notch.

A few more thoughts. What about the difference in knowing that your children would have a severe disability or the possibility of one? Also, what if one knows that there is a genetic predisposition to a chronic disease such as what used to be known as juvenile diabetes, for example? Should the attitude be the same for a disease such as CF? Do we judge what constitutes being worth the risk? And if so, how does one make such a judgement? Does one change one’s attitude to being “open to life” (sorry for the phrase! but it is a child-friendly term so it suits me for this purpose here, but I take your point) based on what diseases or disabilities and their degrees of severity or is there some other principle? I don’t know the answer but I bet you have a few thoughts. I did like the story mainly because of the conversion aspect firstly and the couple seeing suffering rightly now - and I am a softie and like all things babies! :)

Finally, I think if I were in the same position as this couple re the risk of CF – I would do the same as they did. Of course, spoken out of lack of first-hand experience of the horrors of the disease combined with love of babies!

Author:  Katie [ Mon Jul 30, 2012 5:23 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Open to Life - A Wonderful Testimony

I've only just remembed this story about a large Catholic family of eight, who have four children diagnosed with Diabetes Type 1.

Gould Family Asks Congress to Support Diabetes Research


It was a big room, full of U.S. Senators and other intimidating people, but Patrick Gould, 17, knew he needed to be there. Plus, he was surrounded by his family and other well-wishers who were on his side.
He leaned into the microphone and began his testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

“It was a little nerve-wracking,” Patrick said afterward of testifying before the committee over the summer. “But it was also important because I had a very important message to tell them.”

Patrick and his mother, Ellen Gould had journeyed to Washington D.C. to attend the sixth annual JDRF Children’s Congress taking place in the nation’s capital. Along with three of his younger siblings, Patrick, who has Type I diabetes, had been chosen as a delegate to the Children’s Congress.

But Patrick and Ellen also received another honor that was a golden opportunity for people concerned about diabetes: they were invited to speak before a Senate committee and implore Congress to renew funding for diabetes research programs.

“It was very exciting,” Ellen said. “I was very nervous, but I think it went well.”
Ellen and Patrick were seated at a table in front of a big semi-circular table full of Senators. Around the room were other children there to represent the JDRF Children’s Congress, as well as the rest of the Gould family.

“I never thought of myself as a lobbyist, but I guess for that week, I was,” Ellen said. “We all were.”
Sen. Susan Collins led most of the proceedings, “and she was clearly moved by the testimonies, so it was really a very neat experience, to see how the whole legislative process works,” Ellen said.

Briefly after the proceeding, she met some of the Tennessee lawmakers, but she plans to continue talking with them in more detail now that she’s back in Nashville.

Patrick noted that his family is passionate about the cause they are advocating for—and that’s why they’re so active in promoting it.

“I understand that the only way that diabetes will be cured is if we get the money to fund the research to find a cure. It’s not just going to fall out of the sky,” he said. “We’ve got to be proactive and make sure we’re raising the money to fund the research.”

And indeed the whole Gould family is affected by diabetes. Dave and Ellen Gould have eight children, and four of them have diabetes. Patrick was the first one diagnosed in 2004. Sam, 12, Sarah, 10 and Oliver, 5, all have Type I diabetes, too. The other four children—Andrew, 15, Nicholas, 14, Annie, 4, and Maggie, 2—have not been diagnosed.

Just by virtue of being a family, they all have become intimately acquainted with the ins and outs of diabetes, even the children who don’t have it. For example, Andrew is sometimes called upon to babysit his younger siblings, and he has to know how to count carbs and help the younger ones. Oliver sometimes needs an older brother to give him a shot.

Not only that, but the whole family is enrolled in an international diabetes study called TrialNet. The Vanderbilt Eskind Diabetes Clinic is a site for the study, which looks at the causes and possible treatments for diabetes. Ellen said that it is important to the family to participate because the results could potentially affect so many people, beyond their family.

“It would help so many people,” she said. “It is just a matter of time.”

The older children are regular campers each summer at the Tennessee Camp for Diabetic Children. And Dave Gould recently began a two-year term as president of the board of the local branch of JDRF, so you can count on finding the Gould family being involved.

“I’m going to fight as long as I can, for as long as it takes,” Ellen vowed.

Author:  Oldavid [ Mon Jul 30, 2012 5:50 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Open to Life - A Wonderful Testimony

Katie wrote:
Though I am sure you know full well I can hand difficult are none such one. However, I do seem to have been visitated upon recently by someone trying to be difficult but having great difficulty in succeeding because I find him far too likeable...

Oh Katie! :oops:

You'll have to change the name of the Tea Room again!! Call it: "Kate and Odd's Mutual Admiration Society" :lol:

Author:  John Daly [ Tue Jul 31, 2012 8:55 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Open to Life - A Wonderful Testimony

Katie, I really don't know the answers to these questions myself - what I'm allergic to is the idea that some wishy-washy slogans about life being precious and the need to be open to it furnish sufficient basis for resolving them.
My point is that if these slogans really decide the issue, they also decide it in the same direction however grave the illness, mental or physical, however high the probability of propagating it and however many future generations are going to be affected by it. But this seems hard to swallow.
In the days before there was such a dodgy ecumenical thing as a "pro-life movement", for instance, Catholics were taught that some persons who had the right to marry would nevertheless be better dissuaded from exercising it, for the sake of the potential offspring and for society as a whole.
I don't claim to know where the cut-off point comes, but it seems to me that there must be a certain degree of gravity of disease and likelihood or propagating it at which parents who choose to run the risk have a right to our charitable support but not to active encouragement.

Author:  Katie [ Tue Jul 31, 2012 10:22 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Open to Life - A Wonderful Testimony

John, I agree with all you say. I see the point now, that "preciousness of life" as a fixed principle would include taking it the to the extremes of the possiblility of raising a family of armless, legless and brainless etc children. Okay, no comments on my tribe necessary... :-) I don't think I could actively encourage such an endeavour. There must be easier ways to raise children, and charitably on very many counts (who could condemn a tribe to such a life of misery?) but probably no easier way for a couple to make it to Heaven!

Author:  AMWills [ Tue Jul 31, 2012 11:20 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Open to Life - A Wonderful Testimony

I don’t know the answers either, but it is an interesting question. I think that when one is determining one’s state in life any genetic predispositions to serious disease should be a factor to consider, and I agree that there definitely are people who should not reproduce. I would not include diabetes in this category. And that is not because I am undermining the seriousness of diabetes, but only because in the small exposure I have had to those who are afflicted with this particular disease, it seems that generally it can be managed very well if one puts in the hard yards and it does not have a negative impact on one's spiritual life. Initially, this falls to the parents, of course, but as the child grows they become more and more responsible for their health. In fact, in order to manage it effectively there is required a self-discipline that can only be an ally in the spiritual life - which is the "life" that is really precious.

Most Catholic couples, however, are not going to know that their offspring have a predisposition to something possibly more debilitating and labour intensive, such as CF, until they are married and have produced at least one child. So taking a decision to live a life of chastity becomes very unrealistic in most cases. They also now have a child to bring up together that has a condition that is going to need the support of the family unit. It seems to me that their decision to continue to reproduce falls into an entirely different category and subject to a multitude of subjective factors.

I share Mr Daly’s horror of “slogans”, which don’t really tell the true story, but are pretty much a journalistic justification of a decision that doesn’t require any justification. It is a personal choice.


Author:  Katie [ Tue Jul 31, 2012 12:46 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Open to Life - A Wonderful Testimony


I agree with your view also. I wonder how couples in the past dealt with such issues. I guess for starts they wouldn't have had a clue as to genetic predispositions, they would have lost a lot of babies before birth due to lack of medical intervention (some with these disabilities), and they would have lost a few afterwards due to lack of medical intervention and progress a lot earlier than today. Though this is a whole new topic.

AMWills wrote:
... I agree that there definitely are people who should not reproduce.

I will refrain from dwelling on this too much...:-)

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