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An Update On Baby Irene

Irene Harrington, a happy child

If you’ve been following this blog for at least two years, you probably know about the plight of Irene Harrington, a daughter of Father Matthew Harrington and his wife Anna. Father Matthew was the priest at St. John the Theologian Orthodox Mission in Starhill. When his wife Anna became pregnant with their fourth child, they discovered early on that Baby Irene would have severe birth defects, and that both the pregnancy and the delivery would be life-threatening for Anna. But they told the doctors in no uncertain terms that terminating the pregnancy was not an option, and would not be discussed. This is what it means to be deeply and authentically pro-life.

As a clergy family in a mission parish, and with Matushka Anna (as Orthodox priest wives are called) having to quit her job to go on full bed rest due to the high-risk pregnancy, the Harringtons had very little money. A friend of their started a GoFundMe to help defer the costs of caring for Irene. [1] People all over the country, including more than a few readers of this blog, responded with extraordinary generosity.

The Harringtons moved back to their home state of Washington last fall. Irene has been receiving medical care there. Tonight, the Harringtons posted this update on Irene’s condition to the GoFundMe site:

We are sorry for the long lapse in updates but we have been waiting to complete some major appointments so we can more accurately update our wonderful supporters. Irene has been busy growing and really has benefitted in many ways since our move. She has her own corner in the living room where we keep a medium sized mirror at ground level. This has really improved her ability to use both sides of her body as the mirror allows her to see and activate her right side. She also loves to look at things in the mirror including any new treasures or fashion items she has found. She is getting good practice at wearing her glasses but continues to have vision difficulties and limitations. We have started having home visits from an occupational therapist and will start having appointments with speech, physical, and vision therapist as well.
Since our last update, Irene has had serval major appointments including MRI and 3D CT scans. Having the current scans have allowed her team to see how to proceed in treating Irene’s condition. Some of the issues that were shared so far include the discovery of what is actually inside the growth that covers her right eye area. It appears that it is a type of teratoma that includes tooth, bone, tissue, as well as part of her pituitary gland and another gland that belongs in the brain. Her right eye never developed but instead behind that growth is a very large cyst which is taking up a lot of space. Up to this point, the cyst has been beneficial and allowed the eye socket to grow without the aid of surgical spacers. However, that time may be coming to an end and the cyst will likely need to be removed. This will prove difficult. There are many irregularities with her her brain formation and skull. In addition to her MRI, a 3D CT scan showed us the severity of her spinal scoliosis. It’s a complicated case. Although her spine curvature continues to worsen as she grows the Pediatric Orthopedic surgeon would like to allow her more time before any surgical intervention. However, because of the severity, surgery is the only possibility to help correct her spine. We’re just buying a little more time before we begin that process. She will see a pulmonologist regularly to ensure that lung function will not be impacted on her affected side as she continues to grow. The good news is that the MRI gave a more detailed view to reveal that she has no tethering of the spine. Now we wait. Specialists and Surgeons continue to meet about her case with the new information to decide how to proceed. It was really upsetting to see the scans. It’s hard to see how deformed and different things look on the inside. It is a stark reminder that she is truly miraculous and she continues to be as she grows and develops physically and cognitively.

We wish we knew more about how things will progress and it is always hard to hear about how difficult and complicated Irene’s situation is. The specialists continue to say her case is “unique”. We are reminded, how blessed we are to have her in our lives. She is a light of love and laughter and is constantly reminding us of the tender mercies that God has showered upon us. She is full of God’s grace. Irene will often come running through the house to our table at dinner time when she hears the Lord’s prayer, crossing herself and bowing making it very difficult to keep a straight face. She loves it when dad lays on the floor so she can climb over him, a brief moment of attention to dad, as she tags along closely with mom at all times. Anna’s health is wonderful. She has had good reports from her doctor and is busy continuing to pour her energy and time into all of Irene’s needs, coordinating her therapy, and all of her medical visits. We will continue to update you as we get new information. As for now, please know how much we love you and appreciate your prayers for our little family.

If you are so moved, please give what you can to help this little girl and her family [1], who continue to be an incredible witness to life.

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#1 Comment By Gerry On July 15, 2017 @ 10:31 am

I am happy for them that this turned out so well given how bad the situation could have been and I wish them well in the future.

I am not pro-abortion but I fundamentally object to the idea that this represents being “deeply and authentically pro-life”. If mother and child had died as was feared, how pro-life would that have been?

The one situation where there should be an unequivocal exception is where there is a true danger to the mother’s life. As the Savita case in Ireland shows, there are times when it is morally wrong not to do an abortion. I’m not saying that was the case here but it is not a straightforward moral decision and it is not virtuous to let a woman die

#2 Comment By Tim On July 15, 2017 @ 11:05 am

Thanks, Rod.

#3 Comment By Deacon Nicholas On July 15, 2017 @ 11:48 am

Thanks, Rod, for the update and the needed uplift amidst the madness.

#4 Comment By Fiestamom On July 15, 2017 @ 12:18 pm

What a little cutie. I will offer prayers for her at Mass and Adoration.

#5 Comment By Forester On July 15, 2017 @ 12:55 pm

I’m not at all questioning the choice this couple made, but it takes some contorted thinking to call this pro-life, when there’s a life-threatening risk to a mother of three. Pro-fetus, maybe.

[NFR: Your use of “fetus” to describe a baby shows why you can’t understand the choice they made. — RD]

#6 Comment By CMPT On July 15, 2017 @ 12:58 pm

Although I had forgotten the child’s name, I had been thinking of her recently. I wondered how she was doing so this update is welcome and timely.

I also wondered about all the other families who have children with severe illnesses, but without well-publicized GoFundMe campaigns or who weren’t able to move to states that had expanded Medicaid under Obamacare. I wonder how those families are faring particularly as the President and Congress push to cut hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicaid and also effectively eviscerate the ban on pre-existing conditions.

I think the most deeply and authentically pro-life thing a person could do today is call or write his/her Senator and urge a vote against the repeal of Obamacare. It’s great to give money to this and other GoFundMe campaigns, but most children’s families don’t have the kind of social network to launch a well-publicized campaign. More importantly, the amount of money raised through these campaigns is just a drop in the bucket compared to the medical and financial needs these families have.

There exists a real opportunity to relieve suffering on a grand scale. It’s an opportunity to do more than make small or symbolic donations to people we know and like. We should

#7 Comment By CMPT On July 15, 2017 @ 12:59 pm

*We should take advantage of it.”

#8 Comment By Birch Tree On July 15, 2017 @ 1:18 pm

Thanks for letting us know the update! I donated $100 (so to keep it anonymous, have changed my name here)

#9 Comment By Bernie On July 15, 2017 @ 1:21 pm

Rod, they for the update. They remain in my prayers.

#10 Comment By WillW On July 15, 2017 @ 3:32 pm

Has Matthew found steady employment? Not asking in a smart aleck way, just curious.

#11 Comment By Andrew On July 15, 2017 @ 4:01 pm

Prayers for this lovely little girl and her family.

It’s distasteful to politicize these situations, I know, but is it the ideal solution when a family needs to rely on online crowdsourcing (GoFundMe) to get necessary medical care for their little girl?

Do conservatives see this as the ideal solution? As a good solution? As an acceptable stopgap until something better arises in our society?

I ask this without rancor; I’m interested to hear responses from my conservative brethren.

#12 Comment By Potato On July 15, 2017 @ 4:09 pm

Medical treatment for this baby is going to cost millions of dollars. Very few families could afford it and this isn’t one of them.

I want to say that I unequivocally support all efforts to pay for this, and I believe that government should get involved. Any efforts to take care of all such cases by voluntary donations alone would be way too hit and miss.

I do not understand the mindset of anyone who would be willing to let this kid die to save taxes.

#13 Comment By Mister Pickwick On July 15, 2017 @ 4:49 pm

Her smile brightened my day.

#14 Comment By Anne On July 15, 2017 @ 5:15 pm

Cute story about the crossing herself and bowing. Toddlers don’t get near the credit they deserve for making us laugh despite virtually anything, and everything. Bless her.

#15 Comment By JonF On July 15, 2017 @ 6:20 pm

Thank you for this update., When I was down there for WPW last month I meant to ask you if you knew anything about Fr, Matthew and his family, and stupid me, I let it slip my mind.

#16 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 15, 2017 @ 10:30 pm

The Harrington’s are entitled to make their own decision, because there is no government agency, process, or functionary I would trust to do so, and they are certainly shouldering heroically the responsibilities they undertook. But it doesn’t sound like things are going well at all. This sounds like all the reasons I would have chosen to terminate such a tangled pregnancy gone very much awry.

Nevertheless, Irene is here, and I agree with Potato that we should not let the child die to save taxes. In fact, if pro-life advocacy prevails upon most pregnant women with similar or worse difficulties to carry their pregnancy to term, we should allocate all the millions of tax dollars necessary to care for each and every one of them.

#17 Comment By Erin Manning On July 15, 2017 @ 10:47 pm

What a sweet smile! Will continue to pray. St. Lucy, pray for us!

I don’t want to take this thread off topic, but the Savita case Gerry mentions above is more complicated than the narrative that an abortion would have saved her life. The real problem was the serious delays in treatment and the failure to diagnose the life-threatening sepsis until it was already at a point where Savita’s life was in grave danger with or without the abortion. See here:


#18 Comment By Potato On July 16, 2017 @ 12:27 am

Thank you Siarlys, well said. I too might have terminated the pregnancy, especially since the mother had three other children already, and risking her death feels unfair to me. Nevertheless one cannot but admire this family and the choice they made. Thank God Anna did not die, which could very well have happened.

This country is well rich enough to care well for all its citizens, and in such a way that they do not have to beg publicly on the internet or otherwise. And so they need not worry. Perhaps the Army could deny itself a few missiles or something if funds run short. It is fine with me if my taxes go up to protect babies like this one, and I cannot readily imagine anyone who would come out differently.

They exist however, and not just in the halls of Congress. There was a case I saw recently on the internet of a toddler born with a catastrophic heart defect, who was saved by a series of delicate and expensive surgeries. When the mother put his picture up on her blog she was met with posts from people who said that it was too too bad that he had not died before he cost everyone so much money. These posts were not in the majority, far from it, but that there were any is a disgrace.

Beautiful child. But if she were ugly (is any baby this age ugly?) I would say the same.

#19 Comment By BlairBurton On July 16, 2017 @ 6:30 am

“I wonder how those families are faring particularly as the President and Congress push to cut hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicaid and also effectively eviscerate the ban on pre-existing conditions.”

I had been thinking about this family in particular with all the threat involving cutting back on federal money for healthcare.

Many people fail to realize that Medicaid contributes significantly to the welfare and quality of life of the disabled, like this little girl. Medicaid helps not just the poor, paying for needed services that no health insurance, including Medicare, does and which the vast majority of families cannot afford on their own. If they haven’t already, this family will certainly need Medicaid’s help for their daughter in the future. No private charity, whether religious or secular, and no fund raising campaign however generous its donors, can provide all those resources. And this child, this family is one of many who are out there and need help.

#20 Comment By Forester On July 16, 2017 @ 10:17 am

[NFR: Your use of “fetus” to describe a baby shows why you can’t understand the choice they made. — RD]

I used the medical term for an unborn baby. No offense intended. But my question still stands: how is this pro-life? Obviously they chose to prioritize the infant’s life over the mother’s. If they had chosen to prioritize the mother’s life, wouldn’t that also have been pro-life? Thorny question, I know, but we use these words and concepts as cudgels against each other, and you seem to be suggesting that the pro-life option here is clearly to have the child, regardless of the life-threatening risk to the mother, which supports the pro-choice argument that “pro-life” means “anti-woman”.

[NFR: Had they chosen to terminate the pregnancy to save the mother’s life, I don’t think a soul would have judged them. (And in the childbirth, the mom very nearly died; she bled out completely three times.) What is heroically pro-life about their decision, at least in my judgment, is that they would not under any circumstances be responsible for the deliberate taking of an innocent life — not even the life of a child who is severely disabled, and who will require special care for the rest of her life. My respect and admiration for the choice this husband and wife made is boundless. Had they chosen otherwise, again, I would not have judged them. — RD]

#21 Comment By John C On July 16, 2017 @ 2:06 pm

Good to hear that this family’s choice worked out well for them. In such a difficult case, involving life-threatening medical risks to a mother of 3; the little girl’s future quality of life and pain levels; the millions of dollars of costs and insurance; the religious faith of the parents; and so on and so forth: well, in such a difficult, unique case, it’s as clear as day that the decision upon what to do should rest 100% with the family themselves, along with the medical advice from their doctors.

Is this not a reasonable position?

Would it be acceptable for an outside 3rd party to force the mother to have an abortion, against her wishes? Of course not – that’s barbaric.

Would it be acceptable for an outside agency to force the mother to carry the pregnancy to full term, in spot of life threatening medical dangers, against her wishes? Of course not – that would also be barbaric.

This is the pro-choice philosophy: that the family themselves make the choice, and nobody else. The choice they decide upon is their own business and nobody else’s. This is as it should be, especially in a medically unique, challenging case like this one.

Freedom is baked into the DNA of Americans and into our constitution. Personally I find it bizarre that our freedom is curtailed and oppressed in this most personal and difficult of decisions, and that unrelated 3rd parties seek to force their opinions into the situation.


#22 Comment By grumpy realist On July 16, 2017 @ 2:49 pm

Would like to point out that if we do go over to “block grants” for Medicaid, it’s very likely that states will have to pick and chose which suffering victim they support. If the same amount of money can be used to provide treatments for 100 sufferers vs. one very badly disabled baby and the money is limited, we all know where the money will be sent. (Which is why block grants stink).

#23 Comment By Erin Manning On July 16, 2017 @ 3:24 pm

Forester, I can’t answer for Rod, but as a Catholic the principle is this: it is always wrong directly and intentionally to take the life of an innocent human being. Both the unborn child and the mother are innocent human beings, and it would be wrong to kill one deliberately in order to save the other.

There are situations–rare, but the exist–where in the treatment of some maternal disease (such as cancer) it is known that the unborn child may, or even will certainly, die. The principle of double effect (which is rather complicated) applies here: if the bad effect (the death of the child) is not directly or intentionally sought and the good effect (cancer treatment) does not require the direct and intentional death of the child it is morally permissible to treat the cancer anyway. (Granted, many women in this circumstance still choose to give birth first and then begin cancer treatment, but that is not seen as mandated in any way.)

It is different when the “treatment” suggested is to kill the child on purpose in an attempt to save the mother. If a mother and child are both trapped in a burning building, the mother does no wrong by escaping even if she cannot get to her child to save him; but if the mother deliberately tosses her child into the heart of the fire so she can get out more quickly unencumbered by the burden of a helpless infant I think we have a different view of the situation.

#24 Comment By CMPT On July 16, 2017 @ 3:59 pm

Rod: “And in the childbirth, the mom very nearly died; she bled out completely three times.”

I obviously don’t know if Anna Harrington’s case is an example of the advancements discussed in the link below, but there have been some amazing advances in reducing the number of women who bleed to death during childbirth.


“My respect and admiration for the choice this husband and wife made is boundless. Had they chosen otherwise, again, I would not have judged them.”

How does this not make you pro-choice?

[NFR: What? This was an EXCRUCIATING situation, one of those save-the-life-of-the-mother decisions. — RD]

#25 Comment By CMPT On July 16, 2017 @ 4:39 pm

[NFR: I’m going to cut this conversation off here. I can’t talk about my friends dispassionately. — RD]

#26 Comment By Thomas On July 16, 2017 @ 5:17 pm

Good for them and the baby I just donated. I think people miss the mark. They are pro life so they took the only course where both could live. I am a parent and to save my child I would risk death every single time. Praise to God for the example they set for all pro life people

#27 Comment By Forester On July 16, 2017 @ 7:31 pm

Thanks, Rod and Erin. I understand better now.

#28 Comment By mrscracker On July 16, 2017 @ 8:12 pm

What a sweet precious baby. And how sad to not just leave it at that and wish her and her family God’s blessings and providence .

#29 Comment By Samuel On July 16, 2017 @ 10:00 pm

Re Erin Manning:

I’ve known women who suffered from pre-eclampsia and other complications during their pregnancies. In one case, the complications were so severe that the recommendation from the doctors was to induce birth immediately. Now, this was a VERY premature delivery, meaning that it was all but given that the baby would not survive. Nonetheless, the doctors delivered the baby just as they would in any other delivery, and made every effort to save him before he sadly passed away.

Ever since hearing about this case I’ve wondered what pro-lifers with views similar to Erin would think of it. Since the death of the baby was all but guaranteed due to how premature he was, was it a case of deliberately taking the life of the unborn child to save the life of the mother, and therefore morally wrong from a Catholic perspective? Or is it morally justified, since the baby was actually delivered and all efforts were made to save him?

#30 Comment By Potato On July 17, 2017 @ 9:58 am

One of the difficulties with the seemingly endless abortion debates is that people often hop instantly to extreme cases. “What if the pregnancy is the result of a father raping his eleven year old daughter?!?” “What if the mother will immediately die absent an abortion?!?” “What if the baby developed without a brain?!?” and so forth.

Lawyers say, hard cases make bad law. What we mean by that is that extremes like these, which are not at all representative of the real difficulties of ordinary real life, can (and usually do) lead us all into making all kinds of bad decisions.

I think we can agree that the Harringtons’ situation is one of those hard cases. If I say, as I did say, that in that event I would seriously consider aborting the pregnancy, that does not mean that I would support an abortion by a married woman of a perfectly normal baby merely because an additional child would inconvenience her. Am I making sense here?

Most cases are not hard cases. Most cases are easy cases, where the right answer is perfectly clear.

Anyway, the decision was up to the parents. Given that the other candidate for decision-maker would be “the government,” leaving it up to the parents certainly sounds appropriate. (One of the difficulties of collective payment for health care is the temptation of “the government” to intrude itself into decisions where one alternative is much more expensive than the other one.)

The parents chose an heroic course dictated by their pro-life convictions. I admire this intensely, and I think we should all collectively see to it that the resultant baby gets all the medical care she needs, at public expense. (Political opinion inserted there!)

Fortune or Providence favored them, and neither mother nor baby died. This is good reason to rejoice, and I’m willing to leave it at that.

#31 Comment By mrscracker On July 17, 2017 @ 10:04 am

Samuel says:

I’ve known women who suffered from pre-eclampsia and other complications during their pregnancies. In one case, the complications were so severe that the recommendation from the doctors was to induce birth immediately. Now, this was a VERY premature delivery, meaning that it was all but given that the baby would not survive. Nonetheless, the doctors delivered the baby just as they would in any other delivery, and made every effort to save him before he sadly passed away.”
One of my daughters suffered from this & had an emergency C-section, but thankfully she & the baby survived. My granddaughter was in the NICU for a week but all went well.
Without knowing all the details of the case you relate, I couldn’t say for sure but as I understand Catholic teaching, efforts to save a mother’s life in a crisis like that are the primary intention, the too premature arrival of the baby would be a secondary effect. Sort of like removing a cancerous womb can result in a secondary, unintended death of an unborn child.
In neither case is the death of the child the first thing sought. And generally-certainly with toxemia-both patients, mother & child would perish if no action was taken.
Hopefully someone better versed in ethics can explain, though. But that’s my attempt.