The miracle of baby Faith

Published: February 22, 2006 | 3590th good news item since 2003

The prognosis couldn’t have looked more grim in September when Renea Poppel, who was three months’ pregnant, was critically wounded in a Metra derailment on Chicago’s South Side.

The Sept. 17 accident left Poppel, 25, battling for her life in Northwestern Memorial Hospital in a drug-induced coma. She had suffered a broken neck, pelvis and arm, as well as traumatic brain injury. Chances that her unborn baby would survive appeared slim.

But as her mother kept vigil at her bedside for the last five months, Poppel started to improve. A month ago she gave birth to a 3-pound girl named Faith.

Within the last week, Poppel has started to talk.

Though she slurs her words, Poppel managed to tell a court-appointed official this week that she wanted her mother to have custody of the baby, who is scheduled to be sent home Wednesday, her attorney said. Cook County Probate Judge Jane Stuart granted Poppel’s mother, Geraldine Edmonds of Dolton temporary custody Tuesday.

“God has worked it out,” Edmonds said through Dan Kotin, an attorney representing Poppel and Edmonds.

While the last five months have been a struggle for Poppel and her family, including her 3-year-old son, her improvement and her daughter’s birth have buoyed their spirits and even moved veteran trial lawyers.

“The whole story is really incredible,” said Michael Cogan, a lawyer who was hired by Faith’s father in the fall to sue Metra on behalf of the unborn baby.

That’s especially true because many people thought Poppel didn’t have a chance. Some even advised that the pregnancy should be terminated. But Edmonds refused.

“There were many who thought that Renea wasn’t going to survive this,” Kotin said. “I think there were many more who were convinced that her young unborn baby didn’t stand a chance.

The episode began on a sunny September Saturday when Poppel boarded a Rock Island District Line train that was scheduled to arrive at the LaSalle Street Station at 8:45 a.m. Poppel was en route to her job at Kaplan University, Kotin said.

She was a little more than three months’ pregnant at the time and had plans to marry the baby’s father, Pelsa Agnew, also the father of her 3-year-old son, according to court records.

Everything changed at 8:36 a.m. when the northbound train sped through a crossover near 48th Street. The train was traveling 59 m.p.h. faster than the 10 m.p.h. speed limit, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the crash.

The train went off the tracks, killing Jane Cuthbert, 22, of Oak Forest, and Allison Walsh, 38, of New Lenox. Scores more were injured and taken to hospitals.

Of the survivors, none was more severely hurt than Poppel.

While others left the hospital in the days and weeks after the crash, Poppel remained at Northwestern, clinging to life. Word spread around transit circles that she might be brain dead. Others simply said her prognosis was grim. And, court records showed, medical officials were concerned that drugs given to treat Poppel could harm the baby.

In the ensuing months, Poppel had two surgeries on her arm and suffered fevers and other complications. But in the third week of January, court records show, she gave birth to Faith by an emergency Caesarean section.

Attorneys involved with the case say it is too soon to determine whether Faith will have any long-term disabilities. Court records show she has clubbed feet.

“There are some problems,” Cogan said. “But she looks pretty darn good, and the family couldn’t be any more excited.”

The good news continued.

Poppel emerged from the drug-induced coma a few weeks ago but had been able only to open her eyes and look around. In the last week, Poppel, who is at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, became alert and started answering yes or no to questions and sometimes giving one or two-word answers, court records show. Officials now say she could be discharged as soon as the end of next month, according to court records, although she suffers cognitive deficits such as insufficient abstract reasoning skills.

In an interview Sunday, court-appointed official Ellen Douglass asked Poppel where she was. Poppel, the records show, responded, “At the hospital. Getting rehab.” Poppel also told the official that she had two children and recently had given birth to a baby girl.

She also gave the final OK on her child’s name, Kotin said. The family had been fluctuating between Faith and Victoria. Poppel chose Faith Victoria.

With Faith, now 4 pounds 10 ounces, scheduled to leave the hospital Wednesday, Douglass asked Poppel who should take the baby home. Poppel chose her mother, though she also said she still intends to marry Agnew, who visits her in the hospital. When Agnew and Poppel are married, Poppel expects to live with him and their children, Douglass wrote in her report.

Douglass first met Poppel on Oct. 17 at Northwestern, when she was non-responsive.

“I found the ability to communicate with Renea nothing short of a miracle,” Douglass wrote.

Published in Kids & Teens, Miracles
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