Editor’s Note: Each month on CatholicDigest.com, senior writer Lori Hadacek Chaplin will share a true story of faith in her new Everyday Miracles column. Do you have a story for a possible future column? Email editor@CatholicDigest.com.
During the nearly 30-minute period when 19-month-old Joy Loboda’s heart stopped beating, her father, Matt Loboda, was mystically transported to heaven. He, his wife, Kristin, and his mother-in-law were in the backseat of the detective’s car on the way to the hospital when Matt closed his eyes in prayer.
He told Catholic Digest, “All of a sudden, I wasn’t in the police car. I was in this white room, and it was bright, warm, and peaceful. I didn’t see the Father’s face, but I knew that I was in the Father’s presence. I said to him, ‘I know that she is your daughter, but she is mine, too. And this is not the time,’” Matt recalled. “I didn’t bargain with him or try to make a plea deal with him.”
Then Matt opened his eyes and saw that he was back in the car. Even though all logic told him his daughter was dead, he felt certain God would give her back to him. “I did not waiver for a moment — it was a grace. I was rooted in the truth that not only was she going to live, but that she was going to flourish,” he said.
“I don’t see Joy,” yelled Kristin to her older children, as her eyes scanned her parents’ 2-acre property. Immediately, the Lobodas and their extended family frantically raced around looking for the 19-month-old. As the minutes passed and there was still no Joy in sight, Kristin started to hyperventilate thinking that someone had taken her baby.
The Lobodas, from Tampa, Florida, were visiting Kristin’s parents in Phoenix to celebrate New Year’s 2017. Their four children and nephews and nieces were playing Frisbee golf, and the adults, including Matt, were conversing and watching the kids. Little Joy was standing near her siblings when Kristin stepped away for a few minutes to transfer Joy’s car seat from a car to their van.
When the family realized that Joy was missing, they spanned out looking for her. On the property is a fenced pool, which was not on anyone’s radar because no one had been swimming in it. Matt was most concerned about the koi pond. Around and around he circled the pond “looking between the shadows and fish for Joy.” For a moment, he felt relief when he didn’t see her, but then he heard an inner voice tell him, “Run to the pool!”
At that exact moment, Kristin had the same thought. She told Catholic Digest, “I was running toward the pool, [and] I started screaming, ‘She’s in the pool!’” As Matt sprinted there, he could see her still body floating in the water. He leaped over the 5-foot fence and dove into the pool.
Meanwhile — like in the scariest nightmare — Kristin was frantically trying to open the gate to get inside the pool area. “My 9-year-old nephew let me in just as Matt was pulling Joy’s stiff body out of the pool. Matt, who had been a lifeguard for many years, began CPR, and I was at her head praying and praying,” Kristin recalled. “My brother Nathan was with us, and he was cheering Joy on saying, ‘Come on baby girl! I know you can do this! You can fight!’”
When Sgt. Ronald Bryant from the Phoenix Police Department arrived on the scene, his 19 years of law enforcement experience told him it was too late for Joy because her tiny body was stiff and her skin tone was blue. “I was convinced she had passed, but I had to try everything I could [to save her].”
On arrival at the hospital, a nurse escorted the Lobodas to a meeting room. Kristin thought to herself, “This is the room where they’re going to tell me that my baby is dead.” Even so, Kristin was not going to give up hope until she heard the words spoken out loud. At this point, she didn’t know Matt had had a supernatural experience.
“They brought in a counselor, detective, social worker, and policeman. I thought, this doesn’t look good,” Matt remembered. “But then I thought, No she’s going to be fine. That had to be grace.”
The doctor entered the room and gravely told the Lobodas that their baby had a heartbeat, but there was only a “slim chance that she is going to live, and if she does live; she’s going to be a vegetable,” recounted Matt, with undisguised emotion.
Filled with relief, Kristin threw her arms around the doctor and thanked him profusely. “From that moment on, we were moving forward,” she recalled.
Seeing Kristin’s devastation, Matt’s heart hurt for her. “She was broken — a shell of a person.”
The first day-and-a-half in the hospital were the most painful for Kristin. Joy was in a medical coma, and Kristin felt like part of her had died with Joy. She blamed herself for Joy falling into the pool. Feelings of guilt and grief lay like a dark shadow over her soul.
On the second day of Joy’s hospitalization, Fr. Ignatius Mazanowski, FHS, Kristin’s brother, celebrated Mass at Joy’s bedside while Kristin cradled her baby in her arms. Seeing the raw pain in his sister’s face, Fr. Mazanowski stopped in the middle of his homily and told his sister, “A lot of time we think that the healing of the heart can take months or years, but it actually can be quick. You need to forgive yourself.” His words opened the floodgates.
As Kristin sobbed, her family prayed over her. “I made a conscious decision to stop feeling guilty, but I honestly didn’t think it was going to make a difference,” she said. But after the Mass, Kristin felt a supernatural strength come over her, making her feel like a new person.
During Joy’s second night in the hospital, Matt stayed overnight in her room. He was half asleep in a chair next to Joy’s bed when he overheard a doctor tell the nurse, “She’s posturing; that’s a sign of brain damage.”
As soon as the doctor left the room, Matt jumped out of his chair, cradled Joy’s head in both his hands, and prayed, “In the name of Jesus, I command any and all brain cells that may have been damaged to restore themselves right now.” As he prayed those words, he experienced a hot tingling sensation in the front and back left part of his brain. “I just took it as confirmation that God was answering my prayer.”
God directly answered Matt’s prayers. Joy is thriving, and she’s almost completely healed. On May 22, Joy celebrated her second birthday with her family and some of the doctors and emergency responders who played a part in her miracle.
Not everyone gets a miracle
Moms and dads have written the Lobodas telling them about how they have lost a child. Some of those parents question why Joy got a miracle, but their baby did not. Kristin sometimes feels survivor’s guilt when faced with these parents’ pain. “That’s the question of life: ‘Why do some people get miracles and some do not?’” she said. “It doesn’t mean that God loves me more. It’s because he has a plan.”
Added Matt, “I didn’t merit any of this. I think that we have such a merit-based take on the world for success and also in the spiritual life. It’s a trap to fall into. I am not special; I just love the Lord because he loves me so much. I know that he wants that with every person.”
Have prayer intentions?
Visit Pray for Joy’s Facebook page.
A special musical tribute
Click below to see Joy’s Coming Back music video by Catholic singer and songwriter Amanda Vernon.