Nobody believed Liu Fang, born with half a heart and abandoned in a village west of Beijing, would survive long after being adopted by a Baltimore County family. Even the Bartlinskis, deeply religious Catholics, expected the girl's lungs would fail even if her heart could be repaired.
Two years later, as the 5-year-old girl awaits a cardiac transplant, her parents, a Catonsville school and the family's parish are literally praying for a miracle. She is awaiting the procedure at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. The call could come any day.
If the girl, who now goes by Teresa, is strong enough to survive the surgery, her parents will ask the Roman Catholic Church to proclaim her healing a miracle to be used toward the declaration of sainthood for the late Pope John Paul II.
If a miracle occurs — it would apparently be one of just five investigated by the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 200 years — the incident would involve an inexplicable healing of her lungs. The Bartlinskis are working with church officials to document the medical and spiritual evidence, including morning prayers by the children at St. Mark School.
Her mother Ann Bartlinski said the family has been overwhelmed by the generosity of their community.
"We knew how sick she was," she said. "We did not want her to die as an orphan in China. We wanted her to know the love of a family.
"But once you bring her home, you want to do everything you can to help her. We've always said it's God's will. If that's God's will, to take her home to heaven, then that's God's will. We're prepared either way. God is good all the time."
Praying for help
Bartlinski said doctors across the country and four hospitals refused to consider Teresa for the heart transplant because her condition had caused significant damage to her lungs, making a recovery unlikely. She was diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a birth defect that prevents the left side of a child's heart from developing.
Dr. Joseph Rossano, medical director for heart transplantation at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said Teresa's heart condition is terminal, qualifying her for the highest urgency status for a heart donation. Despite the damage to her lungs, Rossano said the heart transplant is her best chance.
"It's a high risk procedure," Rossano said. "We're hoping it is going to offer her a longer life and a better quality of life than she has currently.
"This is really the only treatment option she has available."
Rossano took Teresa's case after several doctors reviewed her medical records, the Bartlinskis said. Her parents came away with the conclusion that her survival would take an act of God, because they were told she wouldn't live through a simultaneous heart and lung transplant.
On a recent day, the child — named for Mother Teresa, the late Catholic nun and Nobel Peace Prize recipient — finished stacking wooden blocks on the dining room table and bounded into the living room to play with her sisters. An oxygen line trailing behind her allows her to breathe, but leaves enough slack for her to move around the house. She'll turn 6 on Christmas Day.
She's one of five special needs daughters Ann and Ed Bartlinski have adopted from China since 2004. The girls join the couple's four biological children, three sons and a daughter. The couple said they've cashed in their retirement funds, exhausted their savings and gone into debt to bring the girls home, spending as much as $40,000 on each adoption.
Ed Bartlinski, a Pasadena-based chiropractor, said he also traded his four-day work weeks for six-day stretches. Ann Bartlinski stays home with the children.
The family relies on financial help from their church, St. Mark in Catonsville, and donations from strangers, including contributions from an organization, "Believe in Miracles," that a family friend recently founded to help pay for Teresa's medical bills. In addition to expenses covered by insurance, the family has out-of-pocket co-pays and deductibles to meet, Ann Bartlinski said.
They're also getting support of the spiritual kind. The children at St. Mark School have prayed for Teresa's healing every morning for two years.
The family made up prayer cards that ask specifically for the specific intercession of the late pope, who was beatified after the Vatican declared that a French nun had been cured of Parkinson's disease with his intervention. For Blessed John Paul II (as he is now known) to be named a saint, at least one more miracle must be ascribed to him.