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To the Heart of the Matter

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Peter and his "best buddy" brother Isaiah help Jesus carry His Cross on Eden Hill.

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Peter was born on the Feast of the Archangels. Saint Michael in particular keeps special watch and protection over Peter.

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Peter as an infant had to undergo three major open heart surgeries.

By Melanie Williams (Feb 6, 2017)
Running around the living room as a superhero, fighting "bad guys" with his toy sword, making forts and jumping on beds, Peter Dunn seems like a typical 5-year-old boy. He goes to pre-school and loves playing with his siblings. No one would know he only has half a heart — that he needed three surgeries to survive his first two years of life, and underwent another last November.

In 2011, Kerri and Mark Dunn of Foster, Rhode Island, had been happily married for 11 years. The two high school sweethearts had five healthy children. When Mark, a firefighter, and Kerri, a stay-at-home mother, learned she was expecting a sixth, they decided to pick out a boy and a girl name. If the baby were a girl, they would name her Maria Faustina. If the baby were a boy, he'd be Peter.

At their 20-week ultrasound, they found out their baby was a boy. What they didn't expect was that he had a severe and rare congenital heart defect called Hypo-Plastic Left Heart Syndrome.

Distraught, Kerri turned to prayer. "God, how will I do this? How should I be praying?" Very clearly she heard in her heart: "Do not offer Me your anxious petitions. ... Pray as you always do, coming to Me every day. I know what you need. You don't even have to ask. Just trust in Me. To Me, this is small."

From that day forward, Kerri turned to the prayer that had brought her comfort for many years: "Jesus, I trust in You." Her devotion to Divine Mercy began in high school. When she was stressed, her mother would direct her to go sit in the church. Kerri usually knelt before the Image of Divine Mercy, which brought her solace. How freeing those words were that are inscribed at the bottom of the image: "Jesus, I Trust in You."

Weeks before Peter's birth, Kerri held on to those words.

Knowing Peter would need immediate surgery, doctors delivered him on Sept. 29, one week before his due date. Peter looked healthy. But he wasn't. He was transferred to Boston Children's Hospital and attached to heart monitors and IVs to keep him alive until he could undergo his first surgery. Kerri and Mark had a few days to hold him. It had been love at first sight. Those days were filled with many tears, as they knew they might lose him.

At five days old, Peter underwent the first and most challenging of his open-heart surgeries. The following morning was Oct. 5, the Feast of St. Faustina. Kerri awoke and said a prayer. "Good morning, Faustina!" she prayed. "Happy feast day! While you are celebrating up there today, could you please say a prayer for my boy Peter? You know that I would have named him after you had he been a girl, so I believe that still makes him special to you."

That day, Kerri and Mark visited Peter in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit. Swollen and sedated, he was connected to monitors and a breathing machine. Chest tubes were draining blood and fluid from around his heart. Kerri and Mark placed a Divine Mercy Image over his bed. One of the doctors was so surprised to see how well Peter was doing, and that brought great hope to Kerri and Mark.

But no sooner had the doctors left his bedside than the machines connected to Peter started sounding alarms. He flatlined. Peter was dying.

Kerri and Mark were escorted out of the room. In the waiting room, crying, they prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Kerri pictured herself handing Peter over to the Father. She did not ask for Peter's life; rather, she asked for God's will, aware that the closing prayer of the chaplet says let us "not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy Will, which is Love and Mercy itself." Kerri felt at total peace.

A doctor came out looking grim. He told Kerri and Mark that they could not revive Peter, but they were going to put him on a heart and lung machine with the hope it would allow time for his heart to build up strength to beat on its own again. There were no guarantees.

After the doctor left, Kerri and Mark continued the chaplet. Soon another doctor came in and said that they did not need to put Peter on the machine after all. His heart had begun to beat on its own again! Even though his brain had been deprived of oxygen during the cardiac arrest, brain scans showed no brain damage. Against all medical odds, he would have no physical and cognitive delays.

The Dunns believe they witnessed a miracle wrought through St. Faustina's intercession.

Not that life has been without its challenges. Peter underwent two more surgeries in his first two years of life to complete the procedure of rerouting the blood in his heart so it could function as if it was a whole heart. He has a slow heartbeat due to the scar tissue from all his surgeries. On November 14 of last year, Peter had a pacemaker inserted into his chest to keep his heart beating if the scar tissue ever would cause his heart to stop beating.

As he runs around with his dragon wings on, fighting bad guys, Peter has a heart for Jesus and Mary. His favorite color is blue — because it's Mary's color, he'll say. Kerri taught Peter to say, "Jesus, I Trust in You" when he takes his heart medication every day. That way Jesus gets His Heart consoled. One of his siblings even recently referred to Peter as their medicine, because "he always makes us feel better."

"Peter's life has taught me the great lesson of trust in God," Kerri says. "I have learned that all I can do is trust his little heart to Jesus. I know with all that I am that I can have complete reliance upon the Father's care."

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Michele - Feb 7, 2017

God bless this sweet, sweet boy and his family! Their trust in Jesus is so strong. I must continue to have as strong a faith as this family.