MUMBAI, India – A 43-year-old Catholic nurse in India died on Christmas Day from breast cancer, two years after she refused her doctor’s advice to get an abortion, so she could begin chemotherapy.
Sapna Tracy, who already had seven children, refused to sacrifice the life of her child, giving birth to her daughter Philomena in December 2015.
“I visited the family on Christmas Day, the day she died, and her husband was carrying the baby in his arms, saying ‘Praise be to Jesus.’ Sapna stood for life. Sapna stood for being pro-life. She wasn’t afraid,” Archbishop Mar Andrews Thazhath, of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Archdiocese of Thrissur, told Crux.
The nurse lived with her husband, Chittilappally Joju, and her children, all under the age of 15.
Both had been active in various Catholic organizations as young people, and had been working with pro-life advocacy in their married life.
She worked as a nurse at the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi.
The Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy of Faridabad gave an award to the couple to honor them for their large family.
“This Catholic couple was inspirational in their witness of the Gospel message,” said Faridabad Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara.
He told Crux he personally baptized Philomena, as well as the couple’s previous child.
“In our Eparchy, since 2012, I have initiated that any couple having four or more children, the children will be baptized by the bishop,” Bharanikulangara.
Tracy’s husband has been telling the story of his wife to the people of India hoping it will provide an example.
“Tracy was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was in the third month of her eighth pregnancy. Doctors wanted termination of the pregnancy and immediate surgery to save her life. Friends and relatives too recommended that she go by medical advice. But she was determined not to agree to feticide. Doctors warned her that she would orphan her seven other children if she did not start treatment. She told the doctor, ‘Only I can give birth to this child growing in my womb. There are many good-hearted people who can take care of my seven other children’,’’ Joju said, according to The Indian Express.
Although the nurse allowed a mastectomy to be performed, she refused to allow the beginning of chemotherapy or radiation treatment until after Philomena was born.
“A few months after the delivery, she went for radiation and chemotherapy. She had a strong conviction that we should not end a life even if it endangers her own life. Giving birth to eight children and rearing everyone with her own salary, Tracy was a wonder in our Delhi neighborhood,’’ Joju said.
He said he fully supported his wife’s decision, and believes abortion is never justified.
“We consider life very precious. We have no right to terminate it. I had no qualms about backing her decision not to abort and start cancer treatment. We could not have saved two lives,” he said.
Tracey’s cancer had begun to spread to other parts of her body, including her lungs. Earlier this year, Joju took the family to Thrissur, their original home in Kerala state.
Joju said the couple prepared their children for her death: “There is no room for despair.”
Bharanikulangara told Crux he traveled to Kerala for the funeral.
“Sapna leaves behind Joju and eight children, and the presence of a bishop would bring much consolation to the family,” he said.
Thazhath also attended the funeral, along with Father Dheeraj Sab, leader of the Swanthanam Community in Delhi. Joju is involved with the Catholic society, which cares for the elderly and sick.
The story of Tracy has captivated the people of India. A television program describing her decision was on air at the time of her death.