A woman's pain suddenly departs, as if by miracle

DAN RODRICKS

December 26, 1992|By DAN RODRICKS

Do you believe in miracles or scoff at them?

"I believe in the power of faith," a friend said after I told him Sue Bradford's story.

"Absolutely," said a woman for whom I repeated the tale. "I BTC believe human beings have powers to heal themselves when medicine fails."

No one who heard this story in the last couple of weeks dismissed it as the loony imagining of a religious extremist. Instead, they accepted it -- made a leap of faith -- without ever hearing from Sue Bradford, who is very convincing, and bright, articulate and rational.

She has detailed notes to back up her story and, tucked away in the front hall closet in her house in Severna Park, two things she now uses only as evidence of her previous life: a steel leg brace, with a dorky brown orthopedic shoe, and a pair of stainless steel crutches.

This woman's story goes back 16 years -- to Sunday, Jan. 2, 1977.

At the time, Sue Bradford was a 31-year-old registered nurse. She and her husband, Dick, were up in Sparks, in Baltimore County, to visit a friend who was cutting and hauling logs to build a cabin. The logs had to be pulled up a slope so steep that Sue describes it as a "cliff." The men rigged up a block-and-tackle system using rope, a 10-inch pulley and two automobiles. They successfully pulled one of the logs up the slope. Sue helped by calling directions to signal the driver of one of the cars.

But something happened during the second attempt to pull a log up the slope: The 5-year-old daughter of the couple building the cabin grabbed the rope, hoping to take it for a ride.

As soon as she saw this, Sue pulled the little girl to a safe spot. Just then, the hook on the pulley snapped.

The pulley smashed against Sue's right leg with the force of an artillery shell, breaking bones and shattering nerves. The damage was so extensive there was talk of amputating her right foot at the scene of the accident.

Instead, there was surgery. And more surgery. And more.

Followed by 16 years of terrible pain. And consultations with between 25 and 30 doctors. And drugs called Darvocet, Advil, Theodur, Sinequan, Procardia, Elivil and Pamelor. The leg was put in long-term casts. She walked with a cane. Later, Sue had to walk with braces and crutches. She constantly had pain in her foot, leg and hip. She was unable to move the toes. Doctors described the pain as "exquisite."

By 1986, Sue's condition worsened. She was diagnosed to have "reflex sympathetic dystrophy," which affected her back and arms and hands.

"I was in constant pain," she says. "I had to wear a cast, including a night cast, 24 hours a day to prevent my foot from twisting out of place and causing more pain."

She developed an asthmatic condition, osteoporosis, respiratory infections. The pain was so bad in her right leg that its amputation was considered.

"But my doctor, who really didn't have a cure for me, said to buy time," Sue says. "Wait. Buy time. Wait to see if something happens."

Going into 1992, Sue Bradford was starting to worry about dying. The pain filled her body and her mind. "I couldn't walk five feet without stopping to breathe," she says. "I didn't feel I had long to live."

Sue Bradford is Catholic and, while she doesn't smother you with religion -- there isn't the slightest trace of zealotry -- she makes it clear that she always has been religious, faithful to her church and active in her parish.

Somewhere along the way, after years of ferocious pain, after having to leave her job and stay at home, Sue Bradford found a different way to pray.

It happened in August. She and her husband took a vacation drive to Canada. They drove to Quebec.

"I realized for the first time that my life was completely in God's hands," Sue says. "All this time, I had been praying for what I wanted, not what God wanted. . . . I asked him for peace and the strength to cope with my deteriorating condition."

She felt drawn to the magnificent Basilica of St. Anne de Beaupre. For more than 300 years, people have been making pilgrimages to this shrine, many of them seeking relief from physical afflictions. Sue Bradford, her husband and daughter arrived there last Aug. 12 in the early evening.

"I began to cry when I saw the crutches and braces [of people who had been healed] that lined two columns of the church," she wrote in an account of the day. "As I stood in front of the statue of St. Anne, I looked into her face and began to sob even harder."

She prayed for strength to face what she believed was the last painful year of her life.

"At that moment, I felt a tremendous draining from my head to my feet, as though something was being pulled out of me. I felt total peace and I knew that something wonderful had happened."

She knelt before the statue; she had not been able to kneel in almost 16 years.

She moved her toes and ankle for the first time in six years. She walked around the basilica -- no brace, no crutches, no pain. She could touch her foot and toe without wincing. That night, she had her first good sleep in six years, without the night brace to hold her leg steady. The deep ridges were gone from a toenail of her right foot. Her foot was no longer bluish, its color normal. She was able to take a shower by herself.

When she got back to Maryland, her doctor was shocked.

"I don't care how you did it," he said. "I'm just delighted."

He examined Sue's foot and leg and found no further evidence of reflex sympathetic disorder and discharged her. When she got home that day, Sue threw all her medications away. She put the brace and the crutches in the hall closet.

"I don't understand all that is happening and why," she says, "but it is an incredible feeling."

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