Book Club Channel
The Angel Effect: Read an Excerpt
DiFrancesco felt that he was literally helped to his feet, and then guided on, "It led me to the stairwell, led me to break through, led me to run through the fire...There was obviously somebody encouraging me. That's not where you go, you don't go toward the fire." He covered his head with his arms, and literally fought through it. He believes the flames continued for three storeys. Only after he got safely through the debris, to below the flames, did he sense the angel leave. It had been with him for five minutes. In talking to him I was struck by the idea that everyday people caught up in crisis situations they weren't looking for or were in anyway prepared for can also be touched by something extraordinary when confronted by severe stress.
Then, following the publication of that book, hundreds of people began to step forward with their stories, accounts that do not involve high altitude climbs—I do still get plenty of those!—but intriguingly, often quite routine stresses, the sort of hardships that we all potentially face in our lives, when confronted by grief, physical and sexual assaults, automobile accidents, raging fires, bank heists, as well as a result of long illnesses, the pain of childbirth, the despair of alcoholism, and even in cases of persistent loneliness.
Others sent me testimonials handed down from loved ones, who had served in war or survived other personal calamities. They wrote to me from Australia, the UK, Spain, U.S., Israel, and they were men, women, teenagers, and seniors. Some of my friends and acquaintances also came forward to say it had happened to them. These stories are every bit as compelling as those of the explorers and adventurers. This phenomenon is universal; it can happen to any one of us.
And then it happened to me.
James entered our lives at 1:26 AM on Friday, June 15, 2007, three minutes after his brother Sebastian. Despite a diagnosis of hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a rare congenital heart condition first detected in an ultrasound, he declared himself a strong little boy, very much a fighter. He was fine when inside Marina, and indeed had thrived, surprising us by coming in at 4 pounds 9 ounces—two ounces heavier than his older brother.
He was a gorgeous baby. He looked normal, and in fact was normal in every other way, but basically James had half of a heart, as his left ventricle was severely underdeveloped. From the moment of his birth, the clock started ticking.
We had been trying to have a second for five years. After our first child was born, Marina's obstetrician said that if we wanted another we should not delay, that time was not our friend. But we were so overwhelmed by the demands of new parenthood that the thought of immediately having another child was set aside.
By the time we were ready, the ground rules had changed, and we needed fertility treatments in order finally, after much effort, to produce a pregnancy --twin boys. This was joyous news, but our happiness was soon tempered by the very serious diagnosis delivered by an ultrasound after five months.
Among the options presented to us was the selective "termination" of the second fetus, a procedure that would also have had a slight risk of jeopardizing the healthy child. Regardless, it was an unacceptable option for us both. We opted to see the pregnancy through, bracing for the trauma that lay ahead. We read everything we could find about the condition. We met with a couple who had a child with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, and whose son was doing quite well, given the severity of the medical journey he was on. The boy was in school. Looking at him you wouldn't know, they said. But we also understood that his was an exceptional case.