On May 13, Bella Santorum did what doctors didn’t think possible: She turned 10 years old.
The daughter of former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, Bella has Trisomy 18, or Edwards syndrome, and doctors thought she would die at birth. But year after year, the little girl has continued to defy doctors’ predictions.
Her mother, Karen Santorum, said Bella’s 10th birthday was extra special because it occurred on Mother’s Day.
“Happy 10th Birthday Bella!” she wrote in a birthday message to her daughter. “You are an extremely joyful and exceptional little girl and we are so proud of you! Ten years have gone by since your birth. Ten years more than the skeptical and scientific said you would live. 87,648 hours of life, unexplained and miraculous. 3,652 days of letting all the world know that you are beautifully and wonderfully made!”
Santorum said Bella has been a perfect example of how faith, hope and love can conquer the worst of predictions. She said her daughter is a happy child who loves to giggle and smile.
“You are living proof that when we ‘just give the kid a chance’ he/she may defy the odds and surprise everyone,” her mother wrote. “Thank you precious teacher of our souls for being a constant joy and light in our lives.”
Although Bella frequently was hospitalized during the first year of her life, her family has been able to provide most of her care at home. Her mother thanked her caregivers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for keeping Bella strong.
Still, life is not always easy for Bella or her parents.
“A simple cold can kill her,” her father said in a previous interview.
He recalled what happened when Bella was born:
“The news from doctors was bleak, and the odds were stacked against Bella. Of the 10% of babies with Trisomy 18 who survive birth, 90% won’t make it to their first birthday.
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“Ten days after her birth, we brought Bella home, and doctors prepared us for how she was going to die. Frankly, this made us angry; Karen and I were not going to just let Bella go, we were going to fight to give her the opportunity and the chance to do as well as she could. We did just that. We celebrated her life every day, and took nothing for granted, rejoicing in every day we had with her.
“And since those early, difficult days, an amazing thing has happened: Bella has defied all of the odds. Now, Bella is a ray of sunshine at the center of our family’s universe, every day inspiring our family with her joyful spirit.”
Karen Santorum frequently has talked about the eugenic push for abortions on unborn babies who are diagnosed with disabilities.
“We got the diagnosis on our little girl Bella four days after her birth. It was a really hard time. You know, we weren’t expecting it and so it was really hard,” she said. “We had lost a baby so that’s all I can think about was ‘I can’t go through this again.’
“I was very angry and went into a deep dark hole for 10 days when she was the in the NICU, I must admit,” she continued. “I was never going to leave my faith, I love the Lord, I was praying and I kept asking why. I couldn’t understand.”
Eventually she said she came to realize that “this beautiful child is here for a purpose.”
“We said right from the get-go that Bella was a part of her family and we would love her and care for her” in the same way they care for their other children. “You know the pain and what a challenge it can be, but we’re a very close family and we came together,” she said.