Doctor is baffled and patient overjoyed by 'miracle cure' after visit to shrine

March 18, 1993|By Angela Winter Ney | Angela Winter Ney,Staff Writer

Nobody knows quite what to make of it.

Severna Park resident Sue Bradford, a familiar sight around St. John the Evangelist Church with her leg brace and crutches, went to Quebec in August and came back well.

Exactly what happened can be debated, but this much is certain: The 47-year-old nurse suffered from a miserably debilitating condition that had not responded to multiple surgeries and other treatment.

The last time Dr. William Smulyan, a Baltimore orthopedic surgeon, saw the woman he had treated for 16 years, she was in "a holding pattern with a significant degree of impairment," he said.

When she returned from a Roman Catholic shrine in Canada, her illness was gone.

Said the surgeon: "As a physician with training in what is felt to be scientific thought, and as a non-Catholic, I found this to be a most fascinating resolution."

To celebrate what many are calling a miracle, Mrs. Bradford's parish is holding a healing Mass Sunday afternoon. Part of the celebration will include an opportunity for others to be prayed over for spiritual, emotional and physical healing.

Associate minister Father Lawrence Wadby says the congregation has "seen Susan's physical problems for years, and we want to celebrate this instantaneous healing with a Thanksgiving Mass."

The Bradfords have attended St. John's for 23 years. Mrs. Bradford has been president of the parish council.

In 1977, she and her husband Dick were visiting friends who were building a log cabin in northern Baltimore County. A pulley hauling the logs snapped and smashed Mrs. Bradford's right leg, breaking the bones and shattering nerves.

She developed a rare nerve disease called reflex sympathetic dystrophy. The symptoms were relentless pain and increasing disability that spread to her arms and hands until she couldn't even hold a pencil. She developed asthma and osteoporosis.

She walked with difficulty, using crutches and wearing a leg brace. She slept only a few hours a night. The slightest turn of her foot would break bones.

She quickly developed resistance to each pain-killing medication. Doctors considered amputating her leg, but feared she would not be able to wear a prosthesis.

By August of 1992, Mrs. Bradford had adjusted to life with pain but began to fear she was dying. Breathing had become hard work. Her body seemed about to break down.

She planned what she thought might be a last family vacation with her husband and their 25-year-old daughter, Kelly.

Near Quebec, Mrs. Bradford visited the Basilica of St. Anne de Beaupre. For more than 300 years, people have made pilgrimages to the shrine, a site of reputed miraculous healings.

Her husband and daughter helped Mrs. Bradford walk up a ramp into the church. When she saw abandoned crutches and braces lining the sanctuary, she began to sob.

She felt embarrassed, she said, but the tears kept coming. She prayed: "Whatever your will is, I accept it. Give me the peace to deal with it."

And then, she said, she felt this "pulling from head to foot, as though everything was being drained out. And then total peace."

Mrs. Bradford took off the heavy orthopedic shoe. Her foot looked normal; it felt warm. The bluish color was gone.

She put on her daughter's sneakers and walked around and around the basilica with her family, all three weeping. Later, they made their way out of the church, this time down dozens of steps. Her husband carried her leg brace. He daughter carried the crutches.

Two months later, Mrs. Bradford, a woman who had not been able to put the slightest pressure on her leg without breaking bones, came in third in a 10-mile race.

What happened?

The Roman Catholic church takes years to investigate alleged miracles, but John Evelius, an attorney and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Catholic Review, is conducting his own investigation. He has interviewed Mrs. Bradford, perused her medical records and talked to doctors.

"I am personally convinced it is a miracle," says Mr. Evelius. "Honestly, it sounds beyond the medical explanation of things when the physician who treated her for 16 years has no explanation."

Skeptics might assume the cure was psychosomatic. Mrs. Bradford, a registered nurse who had tried everything from acupuncture to biofeedback to ease pain, acknowledges the power of mind-over-matter. "But if I could have done anything to help myself earlier, I would have," she said.

Perhaps the disease had simply run its course. Medical literature indicates that, given enough time, reflex sympathetic dystrophy can respond to treatment and disappear, Mr. Smulyan said.

"But she had done the variety of supportive measures, including multiple operations, and they had not worked," said the doctor.

"I am not at all capable of telling you why she was essentially in a stable condition of impairment when she went into that church, and why it changed so dramatically when she walked out."

He said he is certain that Mrs. Bradford is not imagining her previous condition or her recovery.

Before she went to the shrine, despite all the treatment, "she really had not improved," he said. "She had swelling, pain, postural abnormality and asthma. When she came back to see me, she could walk unassisted, the swelling was gone, and I could put my hands on her surgical wounds. There was a dramatic change in the appearance of her leg."

Mrs. Bradford calls her "healing" a gift, a sign.

"It's a symbol that God is alive and well and just waiting to be asked into your life," she said.

Her physician has no means of being certain what happened.

"Who knows the true definition of mind over matter and faith over science?" he asked. "All I can say is, I'm thrilled."

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