EAGLE MOUNTAIN, Utah — No one can make little Mavie Canlas laugh like her daddy. Carl Canlas’s 5-month-old daughter, Mavie Canlas, laughs at his funny sounds. She then watches his face and giggles even more.
Mavie is named after her two grandmothers Maribel (and Virginia) Both of them were strong, and both survived cancer and kidney failure. Her name was chosen before her parents found out she would be facing her own health battle — one discovered in the womb. Doctors first suggested that Canlas’ family consider termination of pregnancy due to the severity of the diagnosis.
But because of the generous gift from another family, the Canlases and other families have had the option of specialized fetal care — allowing their babies to survive and thrive.
Baby Mavie’s story is intricately connected with the story of a baby named Grant.
Grant Scott Bonham Fetal Center
On April 28, Brad and Megan Bonham helped cut the ribbon on the newly named Grant Scott Bonham Fetal Center at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital. The Bonhams’ $15 million endowed gift helped Intermountain Healthcare establish the first highly specialized fetal care center not only in Utah but in the Intermountain West area of the United States.
The center features maternal-fetal medicine specialists to support the expectant mother and family, highly trained neonatologists caring for newborns, and pediatric specialists to meet the baby’s needs before and after delivery.
And the name allows Grant’s memory to live on.
Megan Bonham went to an ultrasound alone during her second childbirth. But on Jan. 7, 2010, she received devastating news — her unborn baby boy had a kidney condition that meant he wouldn’t live past birth, if he even made it that long.
There was nothing that could be done medically. Grant was born May 14, 2010 and spent 33 hours in the care of his family.
“We felt heavenly angels in the room as he was born,” said Megan Bonham, a member of the Sandy Utah Hidden Valley Stake. “The same feeling of peace and heavenly angels ushered him right back to heaven.”
Grant would turn 12 in this year. In the years since his birth and death, medical advancements have made it possible for doctors to do more than ever to save babies’ lives — even performing surgery in the womb.
Originally, Brad Bonham said he did not want to publicize their gift to Primary Children’s Hospital nor have their names attached, “when really what we are trying to do is call attention to the amazing and quite frankly, miraculous work that these incredible doctors and nurses and administrative staff are doing at this fetal center.”
But as they talked it through, Brad Bonham said it felt like there would be “a little piece of Grant that continues to live on with each one of these kids that are saved. And we anticipate there will be thousands of kids over the years … I’m not sure of any other better way to honor the memory of our son than that.”
Jerevie Canlas was 21 weeks pregnant when she had her ultrasound. The Canlases are members of the Eagle Mountain Utah Silver Lake Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They have two boys and are excited to have a baby girl. But the technician spent a long time looking at the baby’s heart and brain on that day last February. Jerevie Canlas is a specialist in human development so she knew what was wrong.
Soon, the Canlases discovered that Mavie, their long-awaited daughter, had spina bifida. Hydrocephalus, congenital phragmatic hernia, spina bifida and situs irversus. Spina Bifida can be described as a condition in which a portion of the spine is left open and nerves are exposed. Mavie had another diagnosis: Mavie had a hole through her abdomen, and her liver was inverted.
Carl Canlas said they couldn’t think of having an abortion; they wanted to give their baby her time on earth, no matter how long the time frame.
“We thought it was our job to give her a body and we would accept her for whatever she is,” he said.
“And she’s been the boss since then,” joked his wife.
The Canlases discovered about the fetal care center. The Canlases felt first scared when they met with the specialists and doctors. They received reassurance in return.
“They gave us hope that this is something they do all day, all night. And they know what they’re doing,” Jerevie Canlas said. She was also grateful she didn’t have to travel to another state for care and be away from her husband and sons, nor worry about the medical costs up front.
The doctors discussed the possibility of performing a surgery in her womb to correct spina bifida. However, this was not possible due to other medical conditions. Mavie had surgery to close her back hole two days after Mavie was born. A shunt was also placed in her brain, and she had surgery to fix the hernia.
Through it all, Jerevie Canlas said she never felt like just another patient or number to the health staff — she felt like she was a part of the team and involved in the whole process.
While at Primary Children’s, she would see the fetal center sign on the wall with Grant’s name and she thought about what that meant for the Bonhams.
“For that family to share their story and to share their life, that’s big. It’s more than their financial contribution to the center, but more like, ‘This happened to us. And we’ve given what we can so that things could be better for your children.’”
Hope for Abigail
Abigail Rose Staten, a Utah woman, was the first to have open in-utero foetal surgery. On April 6, 2021, Abigail Rose Staten had an open myelomeningocele surgery at 25 weeks of gestation. The complex surgery to close the hole in her back — performed by a team from Primary Children’s and University of Utah Health — is only available at a few hospitals nationwide.
Alisha Keyworth, her mother, spoke to the Church News via phone from Victor, Idaho. She remembers it was 5:08 p.m. exactly on March 5, 2021, when she and her husband, Nick, got the confirmed diagnosis of spina bifida for their first baby.
“It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever heard, because, you know, you immediately think that you as the mother did something wrong that you caused this,” Staten said.
Their doctor advised them that they could terminate their pregnancy if they wanted.
“And I looked at him with tears in my eyes and I said, ‘God gave me this child for a reason. I’m its mother and it doesn’t matter what that’s going to look like. This is my child,’” Staten said. “And we’ve been fighting for her and advocating for her ever since.”
They then went to the fetal hospital. They were able to correct the spine anomaly with great coordination and planning. Staten reminisces about the crowded operating room.
Staten was kept in bed rest in the hospital’s fetal center for five more weeks. But Abigail had other plans and had to be delivered via emergency C-section at 29 week gestation. She received care in the University of Utah’s newborn intensive care unit until she was healthy enough to go home.
Primary Children’s and University of Utah Health worked in tandem to make sure the baby had everything she needed as she healed and grew. Staten said seeing the collaboration among all of the doctors and the two different hospitals “was phenomenal.”
“Looking back on things, I don’t regret any decision we’ve made,” said Staten. “Every decision we’ve made since finding out has been to benefit Abigail.”
The Statens brought Abigail back to the hospital one year after the in-utero operation. They also brought the team of surgeons. That same month, the fetal center was renamed with Grant Bonham’s name.
Staten was incredibly grateful for the Bonhams for sharing the gift with the hospital and sharing their son’s name. “I could never imagine the pain and then to take that pain and turn it into something beautiful,” she said. “It makes a huge impact for families and for children.”
Support and faith throughout the journey
Brad Bonham said when they came home from the hospital without their son in May 2010, they came home to a pantry full of food, their yard gardened, and a new tree planted in Grant’s honor from their Latter-day Saint ward members.
“It hurt so badly. But in that moment, it was like, God loves us, and He’s showing that love to us through this amazing service that others have done for us,” he said.
That’s the beauty of the structure of the Church, he said — people are there to help.
Megan Bonham stated that she felt her prayers answered by the kindness of others. “I think people just really listened to messaging from the Holy Ghost or from Heavenly Father and really stepped in and served. That is how I felt prayers being answered at the time.”
Still, the question of “why?” persisted for the Bonhams — why did they have to lose their baby? Six months later, a friend of the Bonhams lost their baby in a car accident. The Bonhams were able to help their friend in their grief.
“We felt that ability to empathize with these close family friends of ours. And that was the first time I realized we could really use this Grant experience for good,” Brad Bonham said.
Jerevie canlas was also blessed with the blessings of service. She was called to be a member of her ward’s Relief Society presidency a week before she learned of the gravity of her unborn baby’s situation.
“When I told my Relief Society president what was going on, she said, ‘We are going to rally behind your family.’ I have no idea why she picked me to be her counselor. I have no clue. When I learned of Mavie’s condition, I said to myself, ‘This is why I got called to serve in the Relief Society.’ Because the faith of the sisters and the ward is what’s going to get us through this. And they’ve been the most supportive people we’ve ever met.“
Staten isn’t a member or a devout Catholic, but she does have great faith in God. When she heard her baby’s diagnosis, she did feel shaken. “You just question, ‘Why?’ Why would God do this?”
But she said she and her husband, Nick, haven’t wavered. “We know that we just keep pushing through and trusting that there is a purpose. There is a plan. There is a reason. At some point we will understand that.”
Staten shared that Abigail was born a week ago. She said she was looking at Abigail and experienced what she called a “beautiful moment of clarity”.
“I was sitting in the NICU and I was just looking at her. She was still intubated, and I know we couldn’t touch her much. I just had this almost like an ‘aha’ moment that God had put a light in a fire and a flame within Abby to make a difference in this world,” she said. “Do I know what that’s going to be? No. No. No. However, everything is going to be OK.”
Abigail — or Abby Rose or any number of nicknames her parents have for her — had plenty to say in the background while her mother was on the phone. She surprised her parents at 16 months by crawling on her knees and hands. She was then able to stand on her own after working with her physical therapy.
“She is doing exceptionally well, given everything she’s been through, and we know that because things could be definitely worse,” said Staten. “That doesn’t mean that she doesn’t struggle, and that doesn’t mean that her dad and I don’t struggle with some of the hardships that come with having a child who’s not neurotypical.”
Jerevie Canlas used to anxiously stay up late reading about her baby’s condition, until she made a decision to step away from fear and lean into faith.
“My husband told me, ‘You have to stop. You have to stop looking at the medical journals, because it won’t change anything. This is when we leave it to the people who know the science and to God who knows everything.’”
Mavie still has more care ahead of her in her life, but cooing in her mother’s arms and laughing up at her father, those days seem easier to face.
Carl Canlas claimed that their family had changed. “We are more compassionate. We are more involved in the lives of people with disabilities. We will strive to be advocates for inclusion.”
Megan Bonham and Brad Bonham were able to establish contact with some families whose babies had been treated at the Fetal Center, both inside and outside the womb.
“It is just amazing what humans can accomplish,” Brad Bonham said. “This has to be a God-given power that has been given to us by very hard working, educated people that are driven to solve some of life’s greatest heartaches. We are very grateful for these people.”