Melissa Villalobos was critically ill and in danger of losing her unborn child. Then she turned in desperation to her ‘spiritual father’
On the morning of Wednesday, May 15, 2013, David Villalobos left his wife, Melissa, asleep in bed as he dressed quietly then left their Chicago home to catch a flight to Atlanta on an unavoidable business trip.
He had asked her the previous evening if she would like to be woken to say goodbye but she had declined. Her doctor had told her to take strict bed rest and to move as little as possible because of severe complications with her pregnancy.
When she did finally wake up she found herself lying in a pool of blood.
Melissa was bleeding because the placenta had become partially detached from the wall of her uterus and blood that was meant to nourish her eight-week-old unborn child was escaping through the tear.
An ultrasound scan had also identified a sub-chorionic haematoma, a blood clot on the foetal membrane that was by that time almost three times the size of the child.
Doctors could treat neither mother nor daughter. They fully expected Melissa to miscarry and warned her that her own life might be in danger from a haemorrhage. She had to be ready to call 911 at any time.
From the intensity of the flow on the morning of May 15 she knew that she was in trouble, so she arranged a simple breakfast for her four children – aged one to six – while she considered her options. Afraid the children might see the bleeding, she gave them clear instructions to stay in their seats at the kitchen table “no matter what”.
“They started eating their breakfasts and I thought ‘I need to be in private right now, I need to try to lay down and see what I can do to stop this’,” she told me.
“So I decided to go upstairs to my bathroom in our master bedroom. I went upstairs and I closed the bedroom door and I went in the bathroom and closed that door as well. I didn’t want the kids to sneak up on me and see the trauma. I knew that if I closed the doors I would hear them opening the doors before they saw me.
“By now, I had made things worse by going up the stairs,” she said. “That was a really bad idea going up the stairs. I was on the floor, I was weak and exhausted. The bleeding was worse than it had ever been and I thought ‘I need to call 911’.”
Melissa’s earlier fears about who might look after her children if she was rushed to hospital faded into insignificance as she confronted the prospect of dying on her bathroom floor.
But then she realised that she had left her phone downstairs. “I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “I probably wasn’t carrying it around because of the stress of all that was going on and also because my husband was flying to Atlanta and he would have been the one I wanted to call.
“I thought, ‘Oh no, I can’t get up at this point and go downstairs and get the phone.’ So my next thought was I could scream for one of the children to come up and ask them to go get the phone but I knew that I couldn’t scream.
“I knew that the amount of force I would have had to exert to scream through two closed doors all the way down to the kitchen would have been tremendous and the situation was so delicate.
“Because the bleeding was so heavy I didn’t know if the placenta was hanging by a thread, and that I had done more damage by going upstairs … I didn’t know if that scream would have ripped the last thread off the placenta and killed me instantly. I didn’t want to scream because I didn’t know if it would be my last scream.”
Instead, Melissa paused in the hope that her children might soon leave the kitchen to look for her, but the silence from downstairs left her nervous. In the midst of her desperation, Melissa said: “Please, Cardinal Newman, make the bleeding stop.”
“Just then, the bleeding stopped completely. It was just flowing very rapidly and then came to a sudden, complete stop,” she recalls.
Astonished, she climbed to her feet and said: “Thank you, Cardinal Newman, you made the bleeding stop.”
“Just then, the scent of roses just filled the air,” she recalled. “It was a powerful scent, it was so intense. It was more intense than if you went to a garden, or a store and smelled roses. I inhaled the smell of the roses and thought, ‘Wow!’
“It lasted for several seconds, it felt like a while, then it stopped and I said, ‘Cardinal Newman did you just make those roses for me?’ I knew he did and thought, ‘What a great gift.’ Then he made a second blast of roses up there. I thought, ‘Thank you Cardinal Newman.’
“Just then I realised I was OK and the baby was OK. I knew the baby was fine. I just couldn’t imagine that Cardinal Newman would stop the bleeding [and then after that] the baby wouldn’t make it. I knew in my heart that she was fine.”
Melissa said her recovery was so thorough that she “jogged” down the stairs to look for her children and found them still obediently in their seats, as she had instructed them.
She said: “At this moment I was filled with such gratitude and joy because I knew the baby was OK, I was OK and my children were OK. We were all OK.
“I sat down at the kitchen table with them and as soon as I sat in the chair I said, ‘Thank you Cardinal Newman,’ and just then the scent of roses filled the air in the kitchen. This was the third time and the final time of the roses. As it filled the air I inhaled their beautiful scent.”
Later that day Melissa went to hospital for another ultrasound scan which revealed that the placenta had healed perfectly. Nor – to the astonishment of medics, some of whom later gave evidence to the Church investigation into the healing – was there any trace of the haematoma.
Melissa had been debilitated for more than a month by a dangerous condition, but returned to life as an “active mom” straight after her healing, carrying and playing with her children, pushing them on swings and running with kites.
On December 27 of that year Melissa gave birth to Gemma, who arrived at the very healthy weight of 8lb 8oz.
Gemma is now a five-year-old girl and Melissa has since given birth to two more children, the first of whom was baptised John Henry.
The miracle was the second required for Pope Francis to recognise Cardinal John Henry Newman as a saint, and Melissa, David and their seven children will be at the canonisation ceremony in St Peter’s Square in Rome on October 13.
Melissa already considers Cardinal Newman as the patron saint of her family.
Although she grew up a Catholic in St Louis, Missouri, and always enjoyed going to Mass and praying the rosary, she discovered Newman only as an adult, through a programme called Cardinal Newman at 2000 on EWTN, which she was watching while doing her ironing. She was struck by the palpable “admiration and affection” the guests on the show held for him.
Her interest developed and in 2011 David came home with two Newman prayer cards, one of which Melissa placed in the master bedroom and the other in the living room.
“I thought his expression was so modern in the sense that he looked as if he might live today and that he was listening to me,” she said. “As I passed the picture in the house in 2011 I would talk to him. I seemed to have this constant dialogue with him and would pray to him for all kinds of needs.
“I was aware that I was possibly becoming annoying to him. I knew he was a genius and here I was just talking to him as a regular person.”
Melissa soon began to read his works, and said she “fell in love with his brilliance and him as a person”, and particularly enjoyed reading his letters because they revealed Newman’s cares for ordinary people.
“He is like a spiritual father to me,” she says. “He is a guiding light to help me to live a holier life and to learn about the faith. He explains Jesus in a way that is simple yet profound … he helps me to know Jesus more accurately.”
Melissa says that every day she still finds it “amazing” to know that she was cured miraculously at Newman’s intercession.
“I am in awe that such a holy and brilliant man such as Cardinal Newman would help me and I am extremely grateful,” she adds. “I feel that my prayer to him was like his motto, my heart speaking unto his heart. We are very close … I love him with my whole heart.”
Simon Caldwell is a freelance journalist