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It Was Prayer. How Else to Explain It?
Tens of thousands of pilgrims visit the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., each year. This is the latest in a series in which we ask a Shrine visitor what brings him or her here:
By Joan Korman
This is the true story of my sister, Linda Banks.
It was July Fourth weekend in 2011 when we had driven down from New York State to go to my eldest sister Linda's party in Hillsboro, Va. She was determined to have everyone there for a get together in spite of not feeling well. My husband and I arrived for the weekend and I did what I could to help her out.
It was the first time all six siblings had been back together since the death of our father in January 2006. Our mom had died in late June 2005. I was looking forward to seeing everyone again, but this time for a happy family occasion. While there, I mentioned to my sister Linda that I was going with a couple of friends to the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., a week or so after I would get home. She lit up and ran to take a picture down of the Divine Mercy image down off a wall where it was hanging in her home. She knew the story of St. Faustina and told me how she would love to visit the Shrine in Stockbridge someday.
Linda had been hospitalized on June 15 after vomiting blood. She was diagnosed with a bleeding ulcer. She had been diagnosed the previous year with an H. Pylori ulcer. But this time the ulcer was huge and they were afraid to take a biopsy for fear it would cause even more bleeding. They discharged her after several days and sent her home with some medicine to help heal her up. On July 7, she was to go in for another endoscopy for a biopsy.
Several days before I left with my friends to our pre-planned visit to the Shrine, Linda's biopsy results came in. She called to tell me she was diagnosed with Stage II, non-Hodgkin's B Cell Lymphoma. The area that was all red turned out to be a tumor, and she had two lymph nodes involved as well. She was told it was an aggressive form of cancer and needed to get chemotherapy as soon as possible. I was devastated to hear the news. I promised Linda I would say prayers for her at the Shrine. Multiple prayer chains were sent out via all my family and friends. These prayers were continued and expanded to other groups over the months to come.
I arrived with my two friends, Karla and Valerie, to the Shrine on either Tuesday, July 19 or Wednesday the 20th. We got arrived just as the Rosary was starting. Karla leaned over to tell me we should visit the side chapel of St. Faustina after the Rosary and before Mass started. She had been to the Shrine before and knew the routine. At St. Faustina's side chapel I prayed at the altar (as did my friends) and submitted a written request in the book there for St. Faustina to intercede to the Lord on the behalf of my sister.
At the end of the Mass, Karla told me to wait until everyone else went up to kiss St. Faustina's relic so we could go last and speak with the priest. She told me she was going to ask the priest to bless my sister through me. After blessing me, the priest mentioned the other side altar when he heard my sister had cancer. It was set up with a statue of St. Peregrine, the Patron St. of cancer. I believe it was no coincidence this temporary altar to St. Peregrine was set up at the time of our visit. We went to pray for him to intercede to the Lord for Linda. After that, we visited the gift shop. I looked for something I could send to Linda. I found a St. Peregrine card with a relic on the back and purchased it along with a rosary, the Novena booklet, and several other items.
I called Linda when I got home and told her how beautiful the Shrine was and that when she got better she should drive up to see it with me. I sent her a get-well card with the St. Peregrine card inside it. When she got it she called to thank me and to tell me how very special the card was to her.
Linda had her Med Port installed on July 28 with her first course of chemotherapy on Friday, the 29th. Instead of feeling better from the chemotherapy, her pain grew increasingly worse over the weekend. By Sunday when I called to talk to her, she was in so much pain she could hardly talk. She had to go get a blood test on Monday morning. By Tuesday morning her doctor called because her red blood count was critically low and she needed to go to the emergency room immediately to get some blood transfusions. On her way to the ER she experienced excruciating pain. She was given four blood transfusions over the course of the day to get her blood count up to a safer level. By evening, she had stabilized somewhat and was finally resting more comfortably.
By Wednesday morning, Aug. 3, however, her pain could not be controlled by medication. A CT scan given that morning showed a hole in her stomach. Her blood pressure was very low, yet the surgeon decided he had to do surgery on her stomach. The family agreed, and that afternoon at 2:30 p.m. the surgeon removed 75 percent of her stomach (including the two involved lymph nodes). They had a hard time keeping her blood pressure up during Linda's surgery even though her oxygen levels were kept up throughout the surgery. Apparently there was a hole behind the tumor he needed to repair. It must have shrunk from the chemotherapy and left a hole between the wall of the stomach and her abdominal cavity. Because of the chemotherapy drugs she had received, she was very weak. The surgeon told family members there could be possible brain damage due to Linda's low blood pressure levels. The surgeon told us later he was very surprised she had even made it through this surgery alive. In spite of his reservations, Linda had made it through, but she was in a very weakened condition.
Linda was transferred into the ICU. She was stable for a couple days, until Friday, Aug. 5, when her sutures began to fail. She began bleeding out, and the staff could not stop the bleeding. The chemotherapy drug had compromised her immune system and was preventing her blood from clotting. Her platelets were very low, too. They called the immediate family, and one of the nurses told them Linda only had a 1 percent chance of survival. I got a call from my sister Kathleen while I was out for dinner. She told me Linda was dying and the doctors didn't expect her to live through the weekend. I rushed home to pack then drove down to Virginia. I was very distressed, so I called my friend Karla and asked her to pray the Rosary along with me while I drove alone that night from New York. She kept telling me to trust in the Lord. That was the message God had given St. Faustina. I drove straight to the hospital, only stopping to get gas along the way.
I arrived in the early morning hours, and Linda was still alive. I was told the bleeding had stopped. They had given her a lot of whole blood that day, and they were still trying to build up her platelet levels. This actually became a major problem for several weeks requiring lots of whole blood and/or platelets. They were keeping her in a drug-induced coma as she was on a respirator. The nurse came out at 4 a.m. to report Linda had stabilized. Each moment that went by I thanked the Lord. All the while I continued to pray and ask St. Faustina and St. Peregrine to intercede for her.
Linda pulled through. We were not allowed to see her until 8 a.m. She had all kinds of tubes in her arms to keep her alive. She also had lots of antibiotics to help keep her from getting sepsis. Sepsis can cause sudden death. She was stable now. Not only was her body trying to recover from the surgery, but also it was still trying to recover from the chemotherapy. The effects of the chemo on her white blood cells had peaked over the weekend but they were still far from normal. We were elated she had survived and was now stable.
On Aug. 13, there were indications she was not healing properly. She was experiencing leakage into her abdomen. In addition, she had developed significant yeast infections throughout her body as a result of being on mega antibiotics to keep her from getting sepsis. Her surgeon wanted to perform a second surgery on her stomach to repair the leakage. He also needed to do a tracheotomy because you can only be temporarily on an oral respirator. With the tracheotomy they could wean Linda off the respirator easier, and they wouldn't have to tape a tube to her face where the tissues were breaking down. The family agreed, and she was taken back into surgery. This time she was given a 30-40 percent chance of survival. When the surgeon went to take out her sutures in surgery, the entire area opened up immediately without him even having to pull them out. She was not healing at all. He cleaned her out as best he could and inserted special clamps and an extra drainage tube so they could monitor her healing better. The new surgery clamps would allow her body to heal from the inside out. She sailed through this surgery with no problems. Her surgeon later told us he was surprised. He didn't think her body would be able to handle a second surgery in her weakened condition.
Within days of her second surgery, Linda had water flowing out from areas in her body where they had removed old tubes in her arms. Her entire bed was getting wet from all the water draining out of her body. That same week one of the nurses turned her over while they were working on her and her tracheotomy tube fell out. She was still not healing. She had only shown progress in one area where she was beginning to breath more on her own with minimal assistance from the respirator. The bad news was she was not responding to any commands nor did her eyes focus on anything when they opened, which was rare. She was also fighting some kind of infection. An EEG scan showed she had brain activity but it was not as robust as a normal scan would be.
A family meeting was called for Friday, Aug. 18 to discuss the state of Linda's health. The surgeon, oncologist, and ER physician were in attendance along with two nurses, Linda's immediate family, my sister Kathleen and her husband Larry. The doctors reiterated it was possible Linda could have acquired some brain damage during the first surgery due to her low blood pressure levels even though her oxygen levels were being monitored the entire time. They told the family to prepare themselves for the inevitability she would not survive. At best in her present condition, she could last a week or so. The doctors were recommending removal from life support. However, it was only that morning Linda's living will was found under her bed after searching for it throughout her ordeal. It was brought to the meeting to share with the physicians. In her living will she had requested that two doctors would need to confirm brain death prior to removing her from life support. Because of her wishes, the immediate family wanted to wait and see if she would heal some more before removing her from the respirator. It was at this meeting that my sister Kathleen told the doctors, "If God wants to heal my sister I know He can because with Him all things are possible."
Kathleen had been coming to see my sister when she could. She lived an hour away. She provided the rest of us with daily updates on Linda's condition. While there, Kathleen would bring in some holy oil blessed by St. Padre Pio. She would place some on Linda while she prayed. She would also sprinkle holy water around the room whenever she visited.
Three days after the doctors meeting, Linda began to heal. Our prayers were working. This was another time we were able to breath a sigh of relief. We believed she was finally healing.
Our joy lasted for another week or so. The doctors remained concerned because Linda would not wake up from her coma. They had reduced her sedatives and were only giving it for perceived pain. She was not waking up. She was still in a deep coma. There was some concern she would remain in this comatose state. There may have been some brain damage. Our prayers continued daily. We had prayer chains going across the country. This emotional roller coaster was taking a toll on all our family members and friends.
On Aug. 23, there was a major earthquake in the Washington, D.C. area that shook the entire area. The quake epicenter was not far from Linda's hospital. The very next day Linda opened her eyes and looked around. This time she made eye contact, but only briefly. My sister Kathleen was with her when it happened. She told the surgeon when she saw him in the hall, and he could not believe it. Linda was coming around. She was very weak and extremely tired. I drove down again to see her as I have worked in the past with head injured and comatose patients as a speech-language pathologist. She was healing very slowly, but she was healing. Within days of wakening she could just barely squeeze a finger when asked. She was physically drained just to do that. My intuition told me from her responses she was going to have at least some functional abilities due to her good responses to simple commands. I still didn't know about higher brain functioning. And we still didn't know if she could talk. They were not going to remove her respirator until her stomach healed up. There was still a threat of a third surgery as she still had drainage coming from her tubes and a fistula had formed. Her surgeon postponed the surgery due to her weakened condition. He was hoping it would heal on its own.
By Sept. 5, she was strong enough for the ventilator to be removed, and she was able to breathe on her own. She also received a feeding tube so she would no longer need to rely on an IV for nourishment. In addition, she began receiving some therapy. Since she was improving daily, she was released from the hospital on Friday, Sept. 28, and was sent to a rehabilitation hospital in Alexandria, Va. That following Monday her potassium levels were revealed to be critically low. She was transported to a local ER. After three days there, she was transported back to Loudoun Hospital where her original doctors practice. By Nov. 7, she had her tracheotomy removed and was soon able to talk on the phone. She was transported to another rehabilitation hospital until she was finally discharged on Dec. 23. She required a hospital bed and still could not climb any stairs for several months. By April 2012, she was well enough to have the hospital bed removed, and she could go out for her physical therapy. Linda continues to go for physical therapy to remediate a hip contracture formed from being in bed so long. She also sees her surgeon for regular visits to monitor a hernia that formed after the type of surgery she had.
Every day I prayed to St. Faustina and asked her to intercede to our Lord for my sister Linda. I now believe Linda went through a symbolic cleansing. She had bleed and shed her own water as Christ did on the Cross. It was this same loss of Christ's blood and water that was revealed to St. Faustina, as depicted in the image of Divine Mercy. I believe God used the earthquake to wake her up. The fact she survived all of these onslaughts on her body was a miracle. She had overcome and pulled through all the setbacks and impossible odds in spite of the doctors' negative prognoses. I knew by mid-summer if Linda survived we would definitely have to visit the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy when she was able to travel. I told her every time I spoke on the phone when she was awake after she could talk or hear me or whenever I was there to visit. It became my mantra to will her back to health.
On my way driving home from one of my many trips that summer, I saw a bright double rainbow in western New York that followed me on all sides of my car. I have never had a rainbow envelope me such as this one did. It appeared to be following my car as I drove. It was so entrancing I had to take several pictures of it. I came to believe this was a sign from God that Linda would live and be all right. I put my trust in the Lord not once but multiple times before my sister was completely out of the woods.
Another incident happened when my sister Nancy came to visit Linda from Phoenix, Ariz., early in August when she was extremely critical. After being with Linda for a week, she asked God to give her a sign that it would be OK for her to go back to Arizona. By the end of the week, she had her sign: Linda's eyes were fluttering and Nancy believed she would be healed.
I know God performed the miracle that saved my sister. All our prayers had worked. The doctors were amazed she survived — and with no significant damage. At this time, Linda is free from cancer. Her doctors claim it is possible she was cured from it as well. I believe St. Faustina, St. Peregrine, and possibly even St. Padre Pio, all interceded due to our prayers for Linda. She gets stronger every time I see her.
Linda was finally able to visit the Shrine of The Divine Mercy on Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012, which was also St. Faustina's birthday. While there, we visited the gift shop before the services began in the Shrine. Linda purchased the Novena booklet, a rosary, and many other items. Once the Mass was over, I asked my sister to wait until everyone else had gone up to the altar so that we could speak with the priest about her miraculous recovery. He suggested we write it up and send a testimony of this miracle to the Shrine. This letter is that testimony. Since getting the Novena booklet, Linda tries to pray the Divine Mercy Novena daily around 3 p.m.
My trust is in the Lord.
Joan Korman lives in Niskayuna, N.Y.