Daniel J Vance

Stacy Picard of Knoxville, Iowa, thought having a fifth child would be easy. ‘The first couple children you worry about something going wrong, but after that you don’t even think about the possibility of a disability,’ said 30-year-old Picard in a telephone interview. Due this June 20, she learned only several months ago that her next child would have spina bifida.

The Spina Bifida Association website calls spina bifida, which affects about 70,000 Americans, ‘the most common permanently disabling birth defect.’ It occurs in the first month of pregnancy when the spinal column doesn’t fully close and usually leads to some type of permanent paralysis.

‘Initially, we were shocked,’ she said. ‘But after having time to process the news, we were able to think it through. Fortunately, (husband) Joel and I have known several people raising children with disabilities.’

It was this familiarity with disability that helped them digest the news. ‘And every one of these people (with disabled children) said having a child with a disability had been the biggest blessing that could have happened to their families,’ she said. ‘That may be to them, but it sure doesn’t feel like a blessing (to us) right now.’

The ages of the other Picard children are 7, 6, 3, and 1. Their child due June 20 will be called Isaiah.

Just this February, a friend from church told the Picards of a National Institutes of Health study program at Vanderbilt Medical Center, in which surgeons were operating on children with spina bifida inside the womb before birth. Several years ago, this kind of experimental operation made world news when a photo from one showed the hand of an unborn baby grabbing a surgeon’s finger outside the womb. Picard has been chosen for the program’s ‘control’ group, meaning Isaiah won’t be operated on while in the womb, but after a full-term, c-section birth.

So on or about June 20, Vanderbilt Medical Center surgeons in Nashville, Tenn., will close the hole on baby Isaiah’s lower spine, and install a brain shunt to stem hydrocephalus. Also, Isaiah will have club feet, and bowel and bladder challenges.

Picard said, ‘If my husband (who is a pastor) is uptight, he isn’t letting it show. He has strong faith and reassures me we don’t need to spend time worrying because this is part of God’s plan.’

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