Seraphina Harrell, the little girl whose story went viral after her surrogate mother refused to have an abortion, has died just weeks after celebrating her eighth birthday.
According to her obituary, Seraphina died at Boston Children’s Hospital on July 15 following “a combination of complications from a needed surgery and infection.”
Back in 2012, Seraphina’s surrogate mother, Crystal Kelley, learned that the child she was carrying would have severe birth defects. At the time, Kelley was about halfway through her pregnancy. According to CNN, the couple who hired Kelley offered her $10,000 to terminate her pregnancy. After refusing, Kelley moved from Connecticut to Michigan, where the law would appoint Kelley as Seraphina’s legal parent.
Once Seraphina was born, the Harrell family adopted her with Kelley’s consent.
At the time, there was no standard for what would happen for surrogates should a fetus show abnormalities. Now, the surrogacy industry makes sure that couples and surrogates agree on how to handle scenarios like Kelley’s.
Seraphina was born with heterotaxy syndrome, which caused internal organs like her stomach to be out of place. She also had multiple heart defects and two non-working spleens, as well as holoprosencephaly, a brain malformation where the organ fails to divide into distinct hemispheres.
Rene Harrell, Seraphina’s adopted mother, told CNN that Seraphina lived a “very meaningful and happy life” despite her physical disabilities and multiple surgeries. Harrell calls Seraphina the family’s “heart and soul.”
“What I heard over and over from so many of her doctors was they could never imagine that someone with Seraphina’s level of need could do as well as she did or be as joyful as she was,” said Harrell. While Seraphina couldn’t talk nor walk, she communicated through American Sign Language (ASL) and mastered using a wheelchair.
“For the eight years she lived, she had a full life,” her father, Thomas Harrell, told CNN. “She had a lot of joy in her life and gave a lot of other people joy in ways that sometimes weren’t expected.”