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Healthcare Professionals at the Feet of The Divine Mercy

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Nurse Marie Romagnano, founder of Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy, opens the conference on April 7.

Photo: Chris Sparks

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Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, talks Mary, Jesus, and a spirituality for healthcare professionals.

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The United Nations Pilgrim Statue of Our Lady of Fatima, brought to the conference by Marian Helper and custodian of the statue Judy Studer, stands at the right front of the conference room, the heavenly nurse aiding the work of the Divine Physician, whose Divine Mercy image is on the podium.

Photo: Chris Sparks

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Sr. Nazareta Maleta, OLM, addresses the priority of personal conversion before we try to solve the problems of others.

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Some of the speakers: from left, Nurse Marie Romagnano; Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC; Dr. Bryan Thatcher; Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC.

By Chris Sparks (May 7, 2014)
Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy are celebrating their tenth year of annual conferences, bringing together the best of the Divine Mercy message and devotion with the best practices of total patient care. We'll be updating this story throughout the Conference.

Over 150 healthcare professionals gathered April 7-8 for the 10th annual Divine Mercy Medicine, Bioethics, & Spirituality Conference at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.

Father Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, the provincial superior for the Marians in the United States and Argentina, described the conference as a unique event, offering an integrated vision of care for the whole person, bringing together spirituality and medicine.

To order the DVD recordings of the Conference (Product Code DNC14, Price $35.95 plus postage and handling), call 1-800-462-7426. Please allow 7 to 8 weeks for delivery.

View our photo gallery of the conference.


5:30 05/08/14 Update
The panel has ended. Bishop McManus offers a blessing on all religious articles. Next: Mass with the bishop in the St. Joseph Chapel on campus to close out another successful conference.

4:45 05/08/14 Update
The panel commences: (in seating order, left to right) Dr. Ron Sobecks, Nurse Marie Romagnano, Dr. John Howland, Fr. Mark Yavarone, Bishop Robert McManus, Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, Dr. Scot Bateman, Dr. Helen Jackson.

The bishop introduces the topic: Faith and Reason in Service to the Sick and Dying.

Some quotes:

Bishop McManus: "Patient autonomy or human autonomy is always seen in relation to God."

"Each of us have extraordinary dignity simply because we are made in the image and likeness of God."

Fr. Yavarone: "Sometimes people just want to do something to help the person they love so much, and sometimes if it's something they can't treat like dementia, taking control of the dying process can make them feel like they're helping ... I explain to them that we are there to comfort the person to heal the person, and if we can't, to make them as comfortable as we can ... we are not there to hasten the dying process ... we do not take life and death into our hands."

Dr. Howland: (on whether or not to use feeding tubes) "Just remember the last time you went without food or water for 24 hours" when considering not using them.

Nurse Romagnano: "God does what God wants, and we are by being at the bedside, by praying for a patient, whether in person or remotely, we are the presence of Jesus. And we're praying for healing, if that's what God wants."

Dr. Sobecks answers a question on the vocation of healthcare providers.

Fr. Kaz gets a question about praying for patients who have died. "Pray, whether before death or after death. God includes everything. He knows what that person received."

Dr. Bateman passes along wisdom from a medical student, who recommended "praying in" and "praying out" of each encounter with patients.

Bishop McManus fielded a question on whether priests will be preaching on euthanasia. He emphasized the responsibility of the Church to educate and evangelize wherever she can.

Dr. Jackson is handed a question about the present culture of hooking up.

Father Mark gets a question on invincible ignorance.

Dr. Howland gets a question about British healthcare professionals being restricted from their practice if they refuse to dispense certain forms of contraception. He acknowledges the very serious difficulties looming for faithful Catholic healthcare professionals, but emphasized, "We win either way. God's kingdom wins in the end. So don't give up hope."

Nurse Marie fields a question on the role of nurses in initiating palliative care.

Dr. Sobecks handled a question on healthcare providers who do not have an understanding or regard for a patient's belief in redemptive suffering.

Dr. Bateman answered a question about having Divine Mercy prayer teams prepared to respond to "Code Blues." Nurse Marie brings up the Prayerline offered through the Marian Fathers and EADM's prayer teams around the world.

3:30 05/08/14 Update
Nurse Marie commences her talk. She's sharing the founding story of Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy: how 9/11 inspired Marie to form Nurses for Divine Mercy. At the first conference in 2005, Dr. Helen Jackson told Marie, "You're not leaving the doctors out of this!" and so the doctors came in.

She's explaining the people most involved in Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy, including Marians Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek and Fr. Seraphim Michalenko. And she's explaining why the conference focuses on bringing spirituality together with healthcare: because human beings are psychosomatic unities; that is, we are all both body and soul.

True healing, says Marie, demands treating the whole person.

She's emphasizing the importance of asking specifically for a Catholic priest when calling for spiritual support for dying patients, and the vital necessity of procuring the Anointing of the Sick for Catholic patients in dire straits.

She recommends placing the Divine Mercy image on the bed of severely ill patients, if the family is amenable.

Marie shares a number of the special speakers from past conferences and talks about present initiatives, including the ongoing success of the Nursing with the Hands of Jesus booklet, meeting and interviewing the recipients of the beatification and canonization miracles of St. John Paul II, and a number of future projects.

She closed with 2 Cor 6:1-4 and "Jesus, I trust in you."

3:15 05/08/14 Update
And Fr. Kaz is the next speaker, as well, talking about the spirituality intrinsic in the nursing profession. He spoke of the sheer variety and weight of the ordinary tasks of a nurse, saying, "What happens to a person under great pressure? Only one particular path: becoming diamonds; becoming saints."

He spoke of the works of mercy inherent in nursing and healthcare, saying that Jesus had promised that such work would ensure entry into heaven on the last day (see Mt 25:31-46).

Father Kaz said, "If someone asked you, 'How can I know you are a Christian nurse?' what could you tell them?"

Father Kaz greets the bishop from the stage before the organizers get set up for the panel discussion.

Bishop Robert McManus, local ordinary for the diocese of Worcester, arrived and took his place with the speakers midway through Fr. Kaz's talk.

3:00 05/08/14 Update
Fr. Kaz leads the Divine Mercy Chaplet, starting off with some intentions that had emerged throughout the conference.

1:30 05/08/14 Update
Fr. Mark Yavarone, OMV, is up.

He explains that when the conscience is properly formed according to the truth, to listen to conscience is to listen to God. However, if the conscience is badly formed or not formed at all, then listening to our conscience can lead to shipwreck.

"Your view of conscience is largely going to be determined on your view of freedom," explained Fr. Mark.

"Many people think of God, religion, and the Church as something that restricts your freedom," said Fr. Mark, but if you properly understand freedom as the ability to do good and flourish rather than simply the ability to do whatever you want, God becomes the source of all true liberty.

If freedom equals autonomy, conscience determines moral truth.

If freedom means the power and privilege to do good, conscience recognizes moral truth that's already there.

He's citing St. John Paul II's encyclical letter Veritatis Splendor fairly extensively, especially paragraphs 58 and 62

"It is the 'heart' converted to the Lord and to the love of what is good which is really the source of true judgments of conscience." (Veritatis Splendor, 64)

On the problems of embryonic stem cell research: "Each human individual is an individual to be loved, not an object to be used for some other purpose." Adult stem cell research and use in medicine, however, is generally morally permissible and should usually be supported.

On in vitro fertilization (IVF): some of the moral problems with IVF include the killing of "spare" embryos; the right of every child to come into being through the conjugal love between their parents; the moral questions caused by the freezing of "spare" embryos (over 400,000 in the US alone); and the increased risks of health problems in both mothers and children as a result of the procedure.

On euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide: "Imagine going into the hospital, looking around at your doctors, and knowing that they'll try to help you up to a point, and then they will try to kill you."

1:00 05/08/14 Update
The first speaker after lunch is Sr. Nazareta Maleta, OLM, a member of St. Faustina's order.

"The Holy Spirit transforms us from within." She's emphasizing that caregivers must be personally transformed by God's grace and brought into line with goodness and right order themselves before they can properly be helpful to others.

She's sharing a number of testimonies from people who experienced God's healing mercy and had their lives brought back into order.

She quoted: "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection." (Col 3:12-14)

She's celebrating the meekness and humility brought into a person's heart and soul by welcoming merciful love.

"Real mercy costs, but the more we positively deny ourselves, the more the Holy Spirit can act."

"Every time God's merciful love passes through our hearts and hands, we receive mercy," said Sr. Nazareta. "Jesus promised whatever we did to the least of our brethren, we do to Him. Jesus is then present in both people: the person who practices mercy and the person who receives mercy. Actually, we always receive much more from God than what we give. We can be administrators of God's mercy to our patients."

Nurse Marie Romagnano is explaining that the sisters are always a welcome part of the Healthcare Professionals conference each year.

11:30 05/08/14 Update
Father Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, is speaking on Divine Mercy, leading off with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) and his text in Spirit of the Liturgy on the role of images in the Christian religion.

He discusses the sacramental symbolism of the red and pale rays of light flowing from the Heart of Jesus in the image of Divine Mercy, saying that the red ray represents the blood of Christ given to us in the Eucharist and the pale ray represents the water flowing from Christ's side that signifies the waters of baptism.

The prayer "O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of Mercy for us, I trust in You" is so very powerful, Fr. Seraphim explained, because "we are calling on the most powerful feature of God's redemption" of us all: His own self-sacrifice. Jesus' self-gift at Calvary is the "supreme act of love."

Father Seraphim continues to draw out the many Scriptural allusions in the image. It shows Jesus as the High Priest who has entered the Holy of Holies on the day of Atonement to offer the sacrifice to God in reparation for the sins of the people. Now, Jesus returns from the dead, saying, "Peace be with you," or all is well. God has forgiven your sins. He has accepted the sacrifice, and all is forgiven. Saint Faustina refers to the image as a throne of mercy from which God's mercy shall be distributed, which means the image is like the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant.

"Faith is the flower; trust is the fruit," said Fr. Seraphim. "You do have to work [according to] the word of God in order to say you believe in it."

Father Seraphim ends to a standing ovation.

10:30 05/08/14 Update
Dr. Ron Sobecks, author of Divine Mercy, Triumph Over Cancer, is up again. He's talking about building a great healthcare team, both for medical care and in service to Christ through faith treating the spiritual ills of the world.

Dr. Sobecks compared the importance of the presence of healthcare professionals from a range of disciplines on a healthcare team to the importance of the Church Triumphant, Militant, and Suffering in the form of the clergy, consecrated religious, and laity in serving the mission of evangelization, salvation, and sanctification of the entire world. He spoke of the immense care used in preparing for major medical interventions such as a bone marrow transplant, and said, "If we prepare so much for a bone marrow transplant, how much more should we prepare for handling the medicine of our salvation," for attending Holy Mass and receiving the Eucharist?

He's doing a fantastic job of drawing parallels between the mission of the "field hospital" of the Church, to use Pope Francis' term, and the medical hospitals and other facilities where conference participants work. Spiritual direction is like consulting a medical expert. Learning the Scriptures and the wisdom of the magisterium and saints is like consulting the relevant medical literature. The preparation of the Mass is like preparing for a major medical intervention, with each stage of the liturgy like the careful choreography in a hospital.

"Those with the gift of faith have a priceless treasure that needs to be spread," said Dr. Sobecks, "and we cannot neglect the tremendous need of others even though they have tremendous worldly wealth."

"We have to be wide open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit."

"We work as a team in the medical community, and we have to be open to do so as well in our lives of faith."

"Different threads, as they're interwoven, they become stronger and stronger. God weaves us together to become elegant tapestry, beautiful to behold."

Dr. Sobecks is reiterating the importance of spiritual direction, allowing an outside expert to help us guide our discernment, assist us to be honest with ourselves and see clearly what is going on in our spiritual lives.

9:30 05/08/14 Update
Dr. John Howland, president of the Worcester Guild of the Catholic Medical Association, is up. He's presenting "MOLST: A New Approach to End-of-Life Care."

MOLST is an acronym for "Masschusetts Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment." Dr. Howland said, "One could think of them as a living will with teeth." It's a doctor's order, formulated in collaboration with the patient. A health care proxy trumps MOLST/POLST.

There's controversy over MOLST/POLST, especially in Catholic circles. Dr. Howland cites the following:

2012: Presentation at the National Right to Life convention raises concerns about POLST.

2012: Bishops of Wisconsin issue statement cautioning about the dangers of POLST.

2013: Catholic Medical Association issues White Paper highly critical of POLST.

2013: Pro-Life Healthcare Alliance opposes POLST.

"So much of what's happening in end-of-life care has its roots in the culture of death," Dr. Howland says, though he made clear that "MOLST is not all bad."

He said that, personally as a Catholic physician, he wouldn't recommend MOLST for most patients, but if it was used, it should be in conjunction with a Health Care Proxy; care needs to be taken in considering each item; and don't use Part F: "No Artificial Nutrition/Artificial Hydration." But all such decisions should be taken in consultation with your physician, a trusted spiritual advisor, and trusted family.

Dr. Howland quotes St. Robert Bellarmine: "He who desires to die well must live well," and recommends his audience read St. Robert's book The Art of Dying Well, as well as St. John Paul II's Salvifici Doloris (On the Christian Meaning of Suffering) and Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life).

9:00 05/08/14 Update
Day two dawning. Dr. Bryan Thatcher, founder and director of EADM, is first speaker of the day.

A few thoughts from Dr. Thatcher at the outset:

Faustina wasn't just asked by the Lord to do deeds of mercy. She was commanded by Jesus to do deeds of mercy...

Do all out of love. God is love.

If you're doing things out of love, you're on the right track.

When people look in your eyes, they need to see the face of Jesus.

Dr. Thatcher is giving a run down of the many problems facing humanity and the world today (the troubles in Ukraine; the kidnapped Nigerian school girls; persecution of Christians; partial-birth abortion in the West; etc.), pointing back again and again to Christian love, self-sacrifice, and mercy as the answer.

He cites Diary, 300:

"Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy."

Dr. Thatcher urges his audience to turn to their helpers in the communion of saints to ask for help for themselves and the needs of their patients. Among those mentioned: St. Dr. Giuseppe Moscati, the "holy physician of Naples," who tried to humanize the field of medicine ("He's got office hours in heaven"); St. John of God, a patron of nurses, who said, "All things pass; only good works last"; St. Maximilian Kolbe, patron saint of drug addicts and heroic martyr of charity; St. Augustine, patron of those with sexual problems, doctor of the Church, and one of the great fathers of western Christendom; St. Margaret of Cortona, penitent, who served as a nurse.

"We're all called to be saints," Dr. Thatcher concluded. "Remember there're real people in those [hospital] rooms. Simple, simple kind gestures."


5:00 05/07/14 Update
Bioethicist Fr. Mark Yavarone from St. John XXIII National Seminary addressed the key distinction between true freedom and the personal liberty to do whatever a person wants, pointing to it as the key source of many distortions and problems in healthcare today. He quoted the former abortionist and founder of NARAL Dr. Bernard Nathanson, who was once asked what he thought was the source of all the attacks on life. Dr. Nathanson responded, "It was the perversion of autonomy...If you elevate autonomy to a deification status, then people are going to make choices which are irrational."

Father Yavarone said that this elevation of autonomy over every other consideration, even life itself, explained the extreme reactions pro-lifers garnered when they prayed outside of abortion clinics. Once you privilege choice over life, explained Fr. Yavarone, then it's less intolerable to society to kill people in those clinics than it is for people to oppose choice in any way whatsoever.

Nurse Marie Romagnano, founder and director of Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy, presented a case study to the participants: Santiago, a married man, who was stricken out of nowhere with a fatal disease ten days after the baptism of his infant daughter. She, Father Kaz, and Father Seraphim encountered Santiago while in Bogota, Colombia, for planning meetings for the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy (WACOM). They were invited to pray at his bedside in the hospital by a friend of the family. The Marian fathers administered the last sacraments, and it quickly became apparent that the patient was not long for this world.

Nurse Marie had to pause several times to collect herself as she recounted the extraordinary faith, hope, and love shown by Santiago and all his family as they prayed the Divine Mercy chaplet and performed other acts of devotion to Jesus, The Divine Mercy.

"I just remember thinking, 'How is it possible for us to be there at the right time?'" Marie recalled. "We fly from the US to Bogota for some meeting, and somehow we're there at the right time." She concluded that because Santiago and his family had loved the Lord while all was well, the Lord saw fit to send them special emissaries of His great mercy when all went downhill.

Fr. Kaz closed out the day with a discussion of the many ills and disorders facing the world today. He acknowledged that medicine is often more concerned with proximate causes than with ultimate or root causes, but said that everyone in the world today was sent by the Lord to these people at this particular time. He pointed out that worldviews which last for generations have real wisdom into the way human nature works, and said that the Judeo-Christian worldview had demonstrated the truth of its insight into human nature and the world by its remarkable survival for milennia. He recommended paying heed to the prescriptions of the Ten Commandments as a means for diagnosing the ills of modern society and obedience to God's law as the prescription for healing the world, all while trusting in Jesus, The Divine Mercy, when we fail to live up to that law.

"Can you ever be rejected by God? Never," said Fr. Kaz. "There's never a moment [in this life] when God says, 'You've gone so far away, there's no forgiveness for you.' That's not a Christian truth. That's not a Christian God."

3:30 05/07/14 Update
Father Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, former vice-postulator for the cause for canonization of St. Faustina, spoke to the participants about the power of the Divine Mercy Chaplet in light of Pope Francis' promotion of the message and devotion. After praying the Angelus in St. Peter's Square on Nov. 17, 2013, the Pope recommended to pilgrims a "spiritual medicine" called Misericordina. "There is a rosary, with which you can pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy," said the Holy Father, offering "spiritual help for our souls and for spreading love, forgiveness, and brotherhood everywhere." The Marian Fathers have brought Misericordina to the United States as Mercycardin.

Father Seraphim discussed the priestly role of every baptized Christian, which calls them to unite their prayers and spiritual sacrifices with the Eucharistic sacrifice offered by the ministerial priests of Jesus to God the Father. He explained that the power of the Chaplet derives from its very explicit connection to the Mass, saying that the formulation "I offer you the Body and Blood, soul and divinity, of your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ" is directly related to the terminology used at the Council of Trent to define the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Fr. Seraphim shared with participants some of Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC's treatment of the connection between the chaplet and the Mass in a portion of the recently released book 'You Did It to Me.'

Father Seraphim was followed by Dr. Ron Sobecks from the Cleveland Clinic, who gave a very insightful talk on spirituality for healthcare professionals. He pointed out that a healthy personal spirituality will offer healthcare providers methods with which to enhance performance and healthcare delivery, especially since the human person is both body and soul. To treat a person according to their spiritual needs will only assist the treatment of their physical needs.

He emphasized that every person involved in a patient's care, right down to the guy who cleans the rooms, is important to the healing work of healthcare. He quoted a chaplain at his hospital, calling such unsung participants in healthcare the "Josephs" — often silent, perhaps cast into shadow by those in the forefront, but still indispensable.

Fr. Seraphim led everyone in the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy at 3 p.m.

12:00 05/07/14 Update
Dr. Scot Bateman discussed the difficult end-of-life decisions so often faced by families and healthcare professionals in his talk "Turning Off the Vent: Preparing the Family, Patient, and Staff."

He methodically took his audience through an array of ethical, medical, and spiritual questions facing them in assisting families when making heart-rending end-of-life decisions for their loved ones, using the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)'s Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services to guide his reflections.

"Withdrawing the vent or pulling the plug tends to have bad connotation," said Dr. Bateman. "There is a way to talk about this and refer to our own Catholic faith."

A number of the presenters were available to sign books at different times during the day. Several Marian priests were present to provide participants access to the Sacrament of Penance both days of the conference.

10:30 05/07/14 Update
Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, celebrated the opening Mass of the conference and led off the day's speakers with a presentation on "The Blessed Virgin Mary: The Heavenly Nurse and the Care of Our Patients."

He shared some great quotes from Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen on doctors and nurses from Life is Worth Living, then developed his discussion around the notion of Jesus as the Divine Physician and Mary as the heavenly nurse assisting God. Fr. Calloway held up Jesus and Mary as the ideals, the models for all healthcare professionals in their vocations of care.

He recommended his book Under the Mantle for those looking to see his points developed more fully.

Dr. Bryan Thatcher, director of Eucharistic Apostles of Divine Mercy, spoke next on science and faith. He cited an array of Eucharistic miracles and miraculous healings which present the rational mind with evidence of a transcendent God. Discussing such incidents as the Eucharistic miracles at Orvieto, Lanciano, and Buenos Aires, as well as the miraculous cures of Maureen Digan and Fr. Ron Pytel (the two cures which secured St. Faustina Kowalska's beatification and canonization respectively), he reminded conference attendees of the words from the Diary of St. Faustina:

Tell souls where they are to look for solace; that is, in the Tribunal of Mercy. There the greatest miracles take place [and] are incessantly repeated. To avail oneself of this miracle, it is not necessary to go on a great pilgrimage or to carry out some external ceremony; it suffices to come with faith to the feet of My representative and to reveal to him one's misery, and the miracle of Divine Mercy will be fully demonstrated. Were a soul like a decaying corpse so that from a human standpoint, there would be no [hope of] restoration and everything would already be lost, it is not so with God. The miracle of Divine Mercy restores that soul in full (Diary, 1448).

Be sure to check back for more updates! To order the DVD recordings of the Conference (Product Code DNC14, Price $35.95 plus postage and handling), call 1-800-462-7426. Please allow 7 to 8 weeks for delivery. For the proceedings of past conferences, please go here.

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Be a part of the discussion. Add a comment now!

Carol - May 8, 2014

As I pray for wisdom when working with children in the occupational therapy field I sometimes feel I'm not making a difference.Especially when children have behavior issues ie: hit, spit , throw things etc. Any suggestions for us therapists?

Marie Romagnano, RN, Founder Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy - May 12, 2014

Love is always the best remedy in these situations, you cannot expect to have the answers, but love prevails in patient care especially in these circumstances. I always pray to the Holy Spirit to guide me.

1 Corinthians, Chapter 13: 4-8
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated,d
5it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,e
6it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.f
8 Love never fails.

HPDM - May 16, 2014

praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet before work, asking for the graces to be the presence of Christ to these children, and to the parents. you are his hands and feet. Children, especially on the autism spectrum, can be challenging, but so much good work can be done, and to many of your parents, you are a blessing, helping their children. sometiimes you do not see the fruit of your work right away, but, trusting in The Lord, know you are making a diffference in their lives.
I have a 25 year old son, who is on the spectrum, and is driving and working a regular job. i pray every day for all the wonderful therapists who assistted my son, on his journey, they are angels.
May The Lord bless you in abundance, for all of your good works.