A Father's Prayer

Actor Dennis Quaid recalls his return to faith and how prayer miraculously saved his children's lives.

- Posted on Jul 22, 2011

Dennis and Kimberly Quaid

There are some roles as an actor you are just meant to play, and for me the part of Tom Hamilton in the movie Soul Surfer was one of them. Tom’s the father of surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost her left arm in a shark attack at age 13.

I was so drawn to their family’s powerful story—and powerful faith—that I took the role without even reading the script.

It turned out Tom and I are a lot alike. We’re both fix-it dads. Most fathers are. You want to jump in there and fix everything when your kids are in trouble. You want to get rid of whatever’s hurting them and make things all right again.

But the aching truth is that you can’t always save your kids. Sometimes, as Tom discovered with Bethany’s accident, you’ll find things are out of your hands. It’s a helpless feeling, one I know all too well, and a lesson I’ll never forget.

In November 2007 my wife, Kimberly, and I, after years of trying and repeated miscarriages, had twins. A healthy boy and girl, Thomas Boone and Zoe Grace. We were so elated—and so grateful to have our prayers answered.

Our babies were 12 days old, still so tiny I could carry one in each hand, when Kimberly noticed a sore on T. Boone’s umbilical cord and a red irritation on Zoe Grace’s finger.

“Do you think we should call the doctor?” she asked. Maybe as a new mom Kimberly was being extra-careful, but neither of us wanted to take any chances. Our pediatrician said we should take them to the hospital.

It turned out they had staph infections and they were admitted to get IV antibiotics. Routine for newborns, the hospital assured us.

Still, Kimberly and I didn’t want to leave our babies alone for one minute. We had waited so long for this blessing that we dreaded having them out of our sight. We spent the night in the hospital.

The twins looked okay the next morning. I watched a nurse put something in their IVs. We asked what it was and she said it was a blood thinner used to prevent clots. More routine.

By evening we were both exhausted. Since the babies seemed to be doing fine, we went home to get some rest. At 9 p.m. we were sitting in the living room when Kimberly said, “Something’s not right with the kids.” She had this awful feeling that they were dying.

“They’re in good hands,” I said, trying to calm her. I even called the hospital to make sure. I was put through to the nurse on duty in the neonatal ICU. “How are our kids?” I asked.

“They’re fine,” she said.

Neither of us slept well. At 6 a.m. we went back to the hospital. We were stopped at the door to the NICU by the pediatrician and the head nurse. We could see doctors clustered around our babies. What was wrong?

A mistake had been made, we were told, a terrible mistake. Instead of giving our kids a pediatric blood thinner, the nurse had administered the adult version, which is 1,000 times stronger. They were supposed to get 10 units.

Instead they got 10,000. Not once but twice! The massive overdose turned their blood as thin as water. It wouldn’t clot at all.

We made our way into the room. There was blood oozing from any place our babies had been poked or prodded, seeping through bandages. A doctor tried to clamp off T. Boone’s umbilical cord and blood spurted out. It was the most frightening thing I’d ever seen.

One pediatrician said the same accidental overdose had happened to six infants at a hospital in Indianapolis. They were given multiple doses of the adult-strength blood thinner by mistake. Three of them didn’t survive.

A chill went down my spine. God, please, we can’t lose T. Boone and Zoe Grace! Not after all we’ve been through. Please…

By that point in my life, turning to prayer was second nature to me, instinct almost. It wasn’t always, even though my spiritual foundation had been laid early, during my growing-up years in Houston.

I had one of those great American childhoods. We lived on a block with dozens of kids. All you had to do was go outside and give a Tarzan yell and we’d all get together to play ball or ride bikes.

My mom’s dad was a Baptist preacher, and my brother and I grew up going to Sunday school. My mom was deeply rooted in her faith and she passed it on to us.

But I left all that behind when I got bit by the acting bug and moved to California. I did some pretty crazy things. Eventually I quit partying and returned to faith. I became a real seeker. I read my way through every spiritual book I could find.

When I came back to the Bible, the book I knew from my granddaddy’s preaching, the parts that touched me most were the words in red, all the stuff that Jesus said. Maybe that’s why the parable of the prodigal son hits me so strongly. I’ve lived the story. I’ve been both the wayward son and the stay-at-home brother.

Standing there in the NICU, watching doctors and nurses frantically working on our twins, I had a whole new understanding of the story of the prodigal son. This agony of love and fear and helplessness…this must have been how the father felt, worrying, wondering if his child would ever come back to him.

Our babies were in a lot of pain, crying restlessly. They wouldn’t settle down no matter how Kimberly and I tried to soothe them. The hospital staff had given them an antidote to the blood thinner, but would it work? Would it save them?

“Please don’t take these babies,” I asked God over and over. “We worked and prayed so hard to bring them into this world. Please let them live.” I’d come to believe that God has a plan for all of us. But what could be his plan here? What good would come of this tragedy?

I was angry too. Where were the hospital’s safeguards? How had something like this happened? We’d been right there in the room when the nurse had added the blood thinner to the twins’ IVs.

Wasn’t there some warning label on the medicine, something that would have alerted her that it was an adult dose? Especially since this had happened before with fatal consequences?

Doctors and nurses came and went from the room. We stayed, hovering over our babies’ Isolettes. We wanted to keep our crisis private. When you’ve been an actor for as long as I have, you become wary of the media’s prying eyes. But somehow the news got out. It was all over the web.

After 41 hours T. Boone and Zoe Grace stabilized. Their blood was coagulating. They could sleep comfortably. A neurologist and other specialists checked them out and determined that their brain and motor functions were normal.

Twelve days after our ordeal began they finally came home from the hospital. But we would not rest. Kimberly and I began to do research and to talk to people. Medical mistakes in hospitals were far more common than we’d ever realized.

Tens of thousands of lives were lost each year due to human errors that could have been prevented with safety lists and double- and triple-checking, or shorter shifts for exhausted healthcare workers. Those babies in Indianapolis shouldn’t have died.

Within weeks we started a foundation for safer healthcare. Anything to make certain a disaster like the one we faced never happens again.

We also discovered something unexpectedly wonderful. Because news got out about the twins’ ordeal pretty much as it was happening in real time, it turned out that those 41 hours we were at their bedside in the NICU, a lot of people we didn’t even know were adding their prayers to ours.

Even now, more than three years after the accident, Kimberly and I will be out to dinner and a perfect stranger will come up to us and say, “I was praying for your babies.”

“Thanks to you,” we’ll say, “we have two miracle kids.” I know it was the power of prayer that saved them.

I love to go into their room at night, these kids whom I used to carry one in each hand, and watch them sleep. I can see now how God’s plan worked in their lives. Because of them and because of our speaking out, new safety procedures have been put in place. Lives have been saved because of these two little children.

I’m still a fix-it dad, even though I know there are many things that I won’t be able to fix, things that are too big for any human being to handle on his own.

Those times I have to trust in a higher power, the ultimate fix-it dad, the Father whose abiding love for us all—whether we’ve strayed from his path or stayed—is spelled out pretty clearly in those words in red in the story of the prodigal son.   

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