In 1979, Bonnie Christie was ecstatic. She and her husband were going to grow their young family. Her life, she thought, was perfect.
Until one day four months into her pregnancy.
“All of a sudden I had to go to the doctor for an emergency and I started hemorrhaging,” she said. “At that point, he found out I was carrying one. He said, ‘You miscarried one and you’ll miscarry the other in a couple of weeks.”
Bonnie was devastated. For a month, she waited for the inevitable.
“At five months, I was 20 weeks along, and I just kept saying, ‘This doesn’t feel right,’ and I went into labor,” she explained. “I had three days of shots in my hip trying to stop the labor, but after the third day the doctors said, ‘We’re not going to stop the labor, the child is going to be born, and the odds that she will make it would be two percent.”
At just 20 weeks, baby Angela was born at one pound, ten ounces.
“Her body was the length of my hand. Her foot was the length of my forefinger to the first joint. Her head was the size of a pool ball, and her skin was like tissue paper, so every time they moved the monitors [on her body] they took her skin with it.”
As if the odds weren’t stacked enough against Angela, ten days later, when she was just one pound, seven ounces, she needed heart surgery.
“No equipment was made for that size baby,” Bonnie said. “Dr. [Alfred] Tector was the doctor that did the heart surgery so he used his own fingers and he told me the size of the artery he was operated on was the size of an uncooked spaghetti noodle.”
Angela’s chance of survival was now one percent. But she did survive and, over the next few months, even thrived, though by a year of age she was still wearing newborn baby clothes. She was small for her age those first few years, but by age six had caught up to her peers and has suffered no long-term health problems.
Today, she’s eternally grateful that her mother didn’t give up on her despite nearly impossible odds.
“I feel grateful,” Angela said. “She fought to save my life and I really don’t have any words other than ‘Thank you for not giving up on me.’”
Angela Knapp is a walking miracle, a testament to the indomitable spirit of life and she and her mother are telling their story in the hope that it will inspire other mothers to choose life even when they feel as though the odds are stacked against them.
“Even when you’re given a two percent chance, a one percent chance, there’s still hope and a beating heart is a human being,” Bonnie said.
Last week, Illinois became the latest state to allow abortion up to the point of viability, which is generally defined as 24 weeks of fetal development, without such a procedure being medically necessary. Illinois’ new law states that before 24 weeks, a woman isn’t just allowed to have an elective abortion, but has a fundamental right to one.
This is considered the most permissive abortion law in the country, going even farther than New York’s law, which prompted widespread outrage when it was enacted earlier this year.
These laws presume that babies like Angela can’t possibly survive outside of the womb and thus can be legally killed, but this ignores medical reality.
A 2017 study of extreme premature births at 11 medical centers in the U.S. published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 20 percent of babies born between 22 and 24 weeks survive without neurological impairment. At 24 weeks, the survival rate jumps to 32 percent.
Survival is still unlikely, but survival is possible if life is given a chance. Dramatic advances in medical care in the nearly 40 years since Angela’s miraculous survival have significantly altered the concept of viability, but even when Bonnie was told that her daughter had absolutely no chance, it was still a chance she was willing to take.
“There was no other option,” she said, “it was your child and you just don’t throw it away because it might be ill. We had doctors telling us that she was going to be the most unhealthy child growing up, that she was going to have so many medical problems but we said, ‘Oh well. That’s it, that’s our baby and you don’t just toss her out.’ Here she is, she’s 39 now and she’s the healthiest one of the family.”
“I’m living proof that you can survive at 20 weeks,” Angela said.