EAGLE MOUNTAIN, Utah — No one can make little Mavie Canlas laugh like her daddy. When Carl Canlas makes funny noises for his 5-month-old baby girl, she bursts into giggles and watches his face for more.
Mavie is named for her two grandmothers, Maribel and Virginia. Both were strong women who survived kidney failure and cancer. Her name was chosen before her parents found out she would be facing her own health battle — one discovered in the womb. A diagnosis so dire the doctors first offered pregnancy termination as an option for the Canlas family.
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.
The 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 alone to what was supposed to be a routine ultrasound during her second pregnancy. 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.
Nothing could be done about it medically at the time. Grant was born May 14, 2010, and lived for about 33 hours in the arms 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 be 12 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.”
Hope for Mavie
Jerevie Canlas had an ultrasound at about 21 weeks into her third pregnancy when everything changed. The Canlases, who belong to the Eagle Mountain Utah Silver Lake Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have two young boys and were excited to have a girl. But the technician spent a long time looking at the baby’s heart and brain on that day last February. Jerevie Canlas has a background in human development, so she knew something was wrong.
Soon the Canlases learned their long-awaited baby girl Mavie had spina bifida, hydrocephalus, congenital diaphragmatic hernia and situs inversus. Spina bifida is a condition that leaves an area of the spine open and nerves exposed. The other diagnoses meant Mavie also had a hole in her abdomen and her liver and stomach were in reversed positions.
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.
Added his wife, jokingly: “And she’s been the boss since then.”
The Canlases found out about the fetal center. As they went to meet with the team of doctors and specialists, the Canlases first felt scared. In return, they received reassurance.
“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.
They discussed a surgery in the womb for spina bifida, but it ended up not an option because of the other diagnoses. So, two days after Mavie was born, she had surgery to close the hole on her back. She also has had a shunt placed in her brain and surgery for the hernia in her belly.
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 was the first patient to undergo open in-utero fetal surgery in the state of Utah. She had open myelomeningocele repair at 25 weeks gestation on April 6, 2021. 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.
Her mother, Alisha Keyworth Staten, told the Church News about it during a phone call from her home in Victor, Idaho. She remembers it was exactly 5:08 p.m. 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.
The doctor told them they could terminate the pregnancy if they wished.
“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 went to the fetal center. After substantial planning and coordination, the team of surgeons was able to correct the spinal anomaly in time to let it heal as Abigail grew in the womb. Staten remembers the operating room lined with people and equipment.
Staten remained on bed rest at the hospital in the care of the fetal center for five weeks, but Abigail had her own plans and had to be born via emergency C-section at 29 weeks 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.”
A year after the in-utero surgery, the Statens brought Abigail to be reunited with the team of surgeons this past April. 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.”
Faith and support through 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 said she felt her prayers being answered through the service of other people. “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 close family friend lost a young child in a car crash. And the Bonhams knew how to better help and serve their friends 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.
Service blessed Jerevie Canlas as well. 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 idea at all. 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 is not a member of the Church, but she has 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.”
A week after Abigail was born, Staten was looking at her baby and had what she recalls as 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. I just knew that everything was going to be OK. Was it going to be easy? 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. At 16 months old, she surprised her parents by getting onto her hands and knees to crawl. Then, while working with her physical therapist, she stood up on her own for the first time.
“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 said their family changed. “We are more compassionate. We are more involved with communities with disabilities. We will strive to be advocates for inclusion.”
Brad and Megan Bonham have been able to connect with some of the families whose babies were treated at the fetal center, both within the womb and outside.
“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.”