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home : features : parish life

2/22/2018 9:00:00 AM
Parish prayers go all-out for groundskeeper's grandson

When Sarah Schwartz of Holy Trinity parish in Hudson/Germantown found out her nine-week-old son, Lincoln, had spinal muscular atrophy type 1, her first thought was, "My son is going to die."

SMA type 1 is a chromosome disorder. Most babies with SMA are unable to swallow properly and are prone to choking on their saliva. Muscle movements are difficult, and many are unable to walk or sit up on their own. Most children diagnosed with the disorder have a life expectancy of 18 months.

"It broke our hearts," Mrs. Schwartz said.

For five weeks, baby Lincoln stayed in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Albany Medical Center. Nurses and neurologists constantly monitored his breathing and checked his lungs.

Forty minutes away, at Immaculate Conception Church in New Lebanon, parishioners gathered each week for a Mass dedicated to baby Lincoln. They prayed for his health, for his future and for his family.

Praying for them
The Immaculate Conception community has never met Lincoln or his parents, but the baby's grandfather, David Schwartz, is the parish's building and grounds coordinator. Everyone at the parish knows the groundskeeper.

So, in the words of Rev. John Close, pastor, the parish vowed to "put 100 percent into prayer" for the struggling infant.

"That is where I get my strength, 100 percent," Mrs. Schwartz told The Evangelist. "To see that there's so many people that care for my little boy....It's completely restored my faith in humanity [and] in God."

When Lincoln was just two weeks old, Mrs. Schwartz and her husband, Brian, had noticed something wasn't quite right with him. They already have three healthy boys: Reilly, 13; Jaden, 11; and Bradley, seven. Mrs. Schwartz saw that something about Lincoln wasn't like her older sons: He wasn't moving his arms and legs much, and they appeared limp.

At four weeks old, after ultrasounds and blood work, Lincoln was diagnosed with SMA type 1 and immediately admitted to Albany Med.

"My first reaction was, 'This [doctor] is crazy,'" Mrs. Schwartz recalled when she heard the news. "Then the heartache came, because I think I'm going to lose my child."

David Schwartz said finding out about Lincoln's diagnosis was "devastating." But his parish immediately began praying on the baby's behalf.

Father Close has dedicated one Mass a week to praying for Lincoln's health, and a group of women meet after Mass to pray the Rosary -- typically an hour of time -- for the baby.

Immaculate Conception has already collected $180 in donations for the Schwartz family and is organizing a fundraiser to help with medical bills and a new van necessary to carry Lincoln's monitors and equipment when traveling.

"This parish, when they are aware of a need, they come at it with full force," David Schwartz explained.

Parishioners have been approaching him, he said, to ask for updates on baby Lincoln's health.

"It's amazing to see so many people who don't know us personally do this," Mrs. Schwartz said. "It's wonderful."

Small miracles
After Lincoln was diagnosed, Mrs. Schwartz created a Facebook page called "Lincoln Strong" to keep friends, family and community members updated on the baby. Through the page, friends and strangers have made financial contributions and donated hot meals to be delivered to the three Schwartz boys at home, who were watched by Sarah's mother.

"People I don't even know come up to me in stores and ask me questions, saying, 'I read your stories online,'" Mrs. Schwartz noted.

The entire experience has "opened my eyes to miracles," she said.

It's also made her appreciate simple things that are so difficult for her son, like breathing or coughing: "Just seeing what he goes through, it opens my eyes up. It's a totally different world."

Mrs. Schwartz is optimistic about Lincoln's future because of the prayers from the community, and because of a new drug called Spinraza that is used to treat SMA. Even after just a few weeks on Spinraza, Lincoln is raising his arms, moving his elbows and pulling his legs away when his feet are tickled.

Lincoln was doing so well that he was able to go home on Valentine's Day. Mrs. Schwartz said she was excited, but also nervous about not having medical staff at hand in case something goes wrong.

Lincoln at home
"I don't want to walk away for even two seconds, because I'm worried that, in those two seconds, that's when something bad will happen," she said.

Reilly, Jaden and Bradley were extremely excited to see their baby brother. All three help take care of Lincoln by checking his heart rate on a monitor.

Each day, Lincoln receives a variety of treatments for functions his body is still too weak to do. He has a cough-assist machine that forces air into his lungs and mimics a coughing sensation to clear his lungs, treatments to break up mucus in his lungs and a BiPap machine to help him breathe. Mrs. Schwartz is hopeful to see Lincoln meet all the milestones of a typically-developing baby.

While the Spinraza is giving Lincoln the strength to grow, Mrs. Schwartz said she is getting her own strength from prayers and support.

"I want everybody to know that every single one of their prayers and support and everything helped more than I can explain," she said. "Knowing that people are still good out there in this world, and the love they have for my little boy, it's a feeling so hard to explain."

(For updates on Lincoln or to make a donation to the Schwartz family, visit www.facebook.com and search for "Lincoln Strong" or contact Immaculate Conception parish at 518-794-7651.)

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