On September 5, 2018, 28-year-old Shannon Lapp faced death for the second time in her young life. The first was a few weeks after her birth in 1990 when she was diagnosed with a rare and fatal liver disease. An innovative medical procedure saved her at that time, but doctors weren’t sure if there was anything they could do for her a few months ago when she developed both acute liver rejection and meningitis. That’s why her family now refers to Shannon’s survival as “the miracle in room 106.”
During an interview with me on “Christopher Closeup,” Shannon’s mom, Kelly Ann Hickey Lynch, recalled getting the news in 1990 that Shannon had biliary atresia, a condition that would kill her without a liver transplant. Dr. Christoph Broelsch from Germany was working in Chicago, having gotten a grant from the government to perform living donor liver transplants for the first time in this country. Kelly Ann was a match for Shannon, so a portion of her liver was cut out and transplanted into her daughter.
During this stressful time, Kelly Ann relied on her Catholic faith and the prayers of family and friends. She said, “Shortly before the operation, I vowed to God that whatever He chose for Shannon’s life, Thy will be done. Whether He chose to leave her with me or take her to heaven, I would praise His name.”
Thankfully, Shannon survived and thrived as she was growing up. At age 11, she even created a ministry called Mychal’s Message to help the homeless. It was named after her family friend, Father Mychal Judge, the fire department chaplain who was the first person killed on the ground in New York City during the 9/11 terror attacks. (That ministry earned her a Christopher Award in 2011.)
Life went on for Shannon, largely uneventful from a medical perspective, but filled with the traditional circumstances of young adulthood: college, work, falling in love, and getting married. And in August 2018, Shannon and her husband, Jesse, even welcomed the newborn baby boy they were adopting into their home.
It was at that time of joy that Shannon’s health took a dark turn. She had been on anti-rejection medication all her life and got her blood tested every few months to make sure her liver was working the way it was supposed to. But in August, her blood work showed she was enduring acute liver rejection. She was admitted into the hospital in New York City for a multi-day treatment that doctors compared to chemotherapy “wiping out her entire immune system.” They warned her that it would take a toll on her body.
The treatments were going relatively well, however, until around 3:00 a.m. on September 5th. Shannon woke up in excruciating pain, at first in her head, then moving to her entire body. On the usual pain scale of 1 to 10, Shannon declared it a 15.
When Kelly Ann arrived, she was shocked at her daughter’s condition and how quickly she was deteriorating. She began posting prayer requests on her Facebook page, while doctors tried to figure out what was wrong.
Shannon said, “As the day progressed, it started to hit me…’Nobody really knows what’s going on. The pain’s getting worse. Nothing’s helping. This could be the end.’ The moment, I think, that was the scariest for me is when they came in and did an emergency spinal tap. They didn’t even have time to get in medication to numb the pain. It was the fastest thing I’ve ever seen happen.”
That’s when the word “meningitis” came up. When Kelly Ann asked doctors if Shannon was dying, they gave her a vague answer and couldn’t look her in the eye.
Though she could barely speak in a whisper, Shannon called her husband, who was racing to the hospital from Pennsylvania, and a few other loved ones because she believed she was dying.
Kelly Ann, meanwhile, was essentially watching her daughter endure an agony in the garden, so she tried to bring her hope by hanging pictures of her two-week old son in the room. Kelly Ann said, “The one thing that I knew I needed to do…was surrendering. I had done it 28 years ago in her liver transplant, and I watched what happened then and the peace that came and the doors that opened. [But] I fought it all day…because surrendering is truly trusting, believing. You don’t just say, ‘I surrender, Lord.’ No. You really must believe that you are surrendering to the point that He’s going to make a decision, and you are accepting it.”
It was around 5:30 in the afternoon when a priest named Father Ridley arrived, accompanied by a nurse named Mary. The priest had given Shannon the Anointing of the Sick the day before and wanted to check on her. He spoke to Kelly Ann for a while, then moved to leave when Kelly Ann heard a whisper from Shannon.
Father Ridley leaned in close to Shannon and heard her say, “I want to receive the Eucharist.” Kelly Ann said, “He was able to get the Eucharist on her tongue…and I said to her, ‘Just let it dissolve.'”
Father Ridley left the room soon after, and within about one minute, the miracle in room 106 occurred.
Almost instantly, Shannon finally experienced relief from her pain. She recalled, “When I asked Father Ridley to receive the Eucharist…it didn’t feel like it was a conscious decision on my end. It just came out, and I can’t explain it…I think that it came directly from God.”
In addition, Shannon had a vision that standing at the four corners of her bed were three especially holy family friends who had passed away, along with a saint: Father Mychal Judge, Police Officer Steven McDonald, Father Cassian A. Miles, and St. Francis of Assisi. “I could see the four of them, and I just knew that I was going to be okay,” she said.
Kelly Ann attributes Shannon’s survival to her receiving the Eucharist, as well as the prayers of others. She said, “People were on their knees in those moments. Those exact moments when this happened is when the rosary was taking place back home, and people everywhere, from all different denominations of faith, were on their knees praying for my daughter…It can’t be a coincidence.”
In addition, said Kelly Ann, “The following day, my husband asked two different doctors, one on the neuro team and one on the liver team…’Have you ever seen a patient develop aseptic meningitis’ – which is a very rare side effect of the medicine she was on, so rare that it’s not even listed anywhere – he asked, ‘Have you ever seen a patient develop aseptic meningitis have as quick of a turnaround as you saw my daughter have last night?’ Both doctors answered the same: ‘Never.'”
Shannon’s health has improved since that fateful day, and her liver numbers remain down. And though she never took life for granted, this experience has changed her perspective. She said, “It sounds cliché, but I think I hug people a little longer now. I cherish the small mundane moments. Even this morning, I was feeding my son and he was laughing at me and it was such a small moment, but it made me think back to that day and how, if I hadn’t survived, I wouldn’t have these moments…It has really put a lot of things into perspective for me and I’m very, very fortunate.”
Shannon’s love for her husband has also grown deeper because of how he reacted to this most challenging of circumstances. He was working full time, taking care of their son before and after work, and coming to the hospital to visit her. And when he thought she was dying, Shannon said, “he said he probably for the first time in his life started screaming in the car and begging God to let me live. This has tremendously deepened his faith, and it’s brought us so much closer.”
Both Shannon and Kelly Ann are also in awe of the sheer amount of people who prayed for Shannon’s recovery. Kelly Ann noted, “There’s no greater gift than when somebody says to you, ‘I will pray for you. I will pray for your daughter.’ And then they do it…I have at home what I call my prayer board on the fridge…I pray fervently when I put people on this prayer board. I don’t just say, ‘Yeah, sure. I’ll pray for you’ – and move about my day. That’s a commitment that I’ve just made. Other people did that for me. Other people stopped what they were doing and went to Mass and went to a rosary. One of my friends was having ice cream with her grandchildren at the beach, and she told me that when my text [about Shannon] came through, she stopped everything she was doing to pray for Shannon with her grandchildren.”
Shannon, too, appreciates everything that was done for her. She concludes, “I always knew I had a great community of friends and family and loved ones…[But] people stepped up in ways that I can’t even fathom. I had people that I didn’t even know, that I probably will never even meet, that sent me meals through a meal service. They sent me money to help pay for medical bills. They sent me gift cards so that my husband could go get us takeout so that we didn’t have to worry about cooking dinner. Somebody dropped off diapers because they knew that I probably couldn’t get to the store to get diapers for my child. And then on top of that, the prayers. Almost every time I go out, if I run into somebody, they bring up how they pray for me and they ask me how I’m doing, and that they had schools, had children, had people from literally across the world praying for me on that day, and even still. It blew my mind.”