"Miracle Child" - Hanford High Student Hears Divine Message and Begins Recovery

Gale Metcalf

The following article is reprinted with permission from the Tri-Cities Herald.

They called Rachel Allen the "miracle child" at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco.

On Nov. 15, 1989, a massive hemorrhage raged through Rachel's brain. She was 12 at the time.

"They told us quite honestly we should not expect her to live through the night," said Rachel's mother Donna Pearson.

When she did, a massive stroke soon followed, completely paralyzing Rachel's right side.

For two weeks she went in and out of a coma.

"Your daughter will not die, but I cannot promise you what state she will be in," said Dr. Philip H. Cogen, Rachel's pediatrics neurosurgeon.

Today, Rachel, 15, is a spirited sophomore at Hanford High School where she involves herself in student activities. The visage of a life of paralysis is a memory, though she continues physical therapy.

In November, she was named Student of the Week for two consecutive weeks, an almost unheard of achievement.

She is an acolyte at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Kennewick where she attends with her mother, stepfather, Ray Pearson, sister Aomori, 4, and brother Kyle, 17 months. The family lives in El Rancho Reata.

Rachel has a limp. Her right hand still carries effects of the stroke but is improving. Her face, once distorted and drooping on the right side, radiates with picture-perfect features and a smile every day, all day, teachers say.

Faith, an abundance of prayers and a religious experience in Rachel's darkest hours produced her miracle, the Richland teen believes.

"Jesus may have visited her bedside," said her mom.

Rachel said, "The way I look at it, everyone was praying for me and they made such a racket, God said, "OK, I can't take her yet." "

Raised near San Jose, Calif., Rachel played softball and basketball in grade school. She threw the shot put and discus on the track team. There was no hint of a birth defect hiding in her brain.

"There was a cluster of tiny blood vessels which never fully developed," Rachel's mother said. "They were just off a main blood artery."

About 2 !/2 months before the vessels hemorrhaged, Rachel blacked out for the first time. About a month later, it happened again.

"As fast as she blacked out, she came back again," Pearson said.

Tests showed nothing.

That mid-November morning three years ago was one of her happiest.

"She was really excited," Pearson said. "She was going to a slumber party that night."

She didn't make it to the party.

The weakened vessels in her brain burst.

Stricken and lying near death in a hospital near her home, doctors told her family to expect the worst.

"That was the consensus of all the doctors," Pearson said.

The next morning, she was still alive.

"To our good fortune, there was a neurosurgeon who came to us," Pearson said. Two hospitals in the United States specialized in pediatric neurology, Rachel's family was told. One was 50 miles away at the University of California at San Francisco.

"He helped us with all the paperwork to get her there."

During a delicate procedure to stop the flow of blood from the ruptured vessels, Rachel had a stroke.

"It was near an area controlling her speech, her movement, her memory," Pearson said.

Rachel couldn't move her right side.

Wires ran from her body to a machine monitoring her condition. The hospital took the extraordinary step of letting Pearson sleep on a cot in Rachel's room as she went in and out of a coma.

One night in the darkened room, Pearson was awakened by her daughter's voice.

"I heard her say, "Mom." " Pearson said. "She was sitting up."

The room seemed to radiate with light although the lights were off, Pearson said. Rachel's monitor was setting off alarms.

"Rachel said: "Mom, Jesus is here and he wants me to go with him," " Pearson remembers.

"I said: "No, tell him you can't go. Tell him we need you, you can do more for him here, he can't have you. I love you." "

Pearson said Rachel turned away and appeared to speak in whispers to someone.

"She turned back to me with a big bright smile and said, "It's OK, he said I can stay." "

Rachel lay back, the room darkened, and the alarms on her monitor stopped. A nurse rushed in and asked, "Was the machine going off?"

Rachel said she remembers nothing of the experience, but doesn't doubt it.

"It was about at that point the recovery started," Pearson said. "Within a week her arm was moving, the leg was moving and the fingers were starting to have movement."

Classmates dedicated the 1989-90 yearbook at Christian Community School in Fremont, Calif., to Rachel, "for her strength in handling many setbacks and for just being who she is."

"I knew I was paralyzed, but I was optimistic about it," Rachel said. "I've kind of always tried not to be depressed. I guess it came natural to me, trying not to let myself get down."

Optimism came with her to Hanford High School when her family moved to the Tri-Cities in August 1991.

"She is a very warm, very outgoing, very caring person," said Deanna Lomax, head of special services at Hanford High School.

Rachel is in Lomax's study skills class.

"She has the capacity to take students who would not do the work on their own and have them work with her," Lomax said. "If I don't have time to work with kids, she'll stop what she's doing and help them and then go back to her own work.

"She comes in every day with a smile on her face...The teachers just love her," Lomax added. "She's taken this disability, turned it around and made it a positive."

Rachel now wants to be a physical therapist.

Her ordeal also has further deepened her faith.

"Spiritually, it's brought me closer to God," she said. "I try to spread the work of God to others without preaching. God is there, he's active and he loves us all."