"Rewriting the Myths, Redefining the Realities"
by Homer Page
For eight years, Martha Urbina gasped for air. As simple a task as putting on her shoes caused her to lose her breath. If she vaccuumed her floors, or prepared dinner for her family, or went shopping, she would be bedridden the next day. She could not leave home without a portable oxygen supply. Her family feared for her life. Her doctors held out little hope, but she never gave up, and today, she lives a normal, healthy life.
As a rule, we do not believe in the miracle of healing. Persons with disabilities are especially skeptical. We who have a disability go about our lives with a minimum of self-pity and regret. We resent those who cannot imagine anything worse than living with our disabilities. We have been told that if we will just have faith, God will heal us. We understand that sentiment to be a denial of our basic worth as we are. So, we usually treat stories of miracle healing with skepticism and hostility.
I am blind. When I was a child, I was taken to an Evangelical Faith Healer named Brother Freeman. I was not healed, although my family and I had faith. Afterward, we felt exploited.
Those of us who are religious believe that we can give witness to our faith through living a dignified and independent life. We would be happy in most cases to be free from our disabling conditions, but we do not believe that will happen, and we know that if we dwell on it, we will never make a life for ourselves. False hope for a medical or faith cure robs us of real hope which can give us the strength to build good lives as persons with disabilities.
It is with this background clearly in mind that I met with Martha Urbina. Martha speaks and moves very quickly. She is upbeat and energetic, open and uninhibited. She is forty years old, married, and the mother of three daughters. She and her family live in southwest Denver. Martha is an intense woman. She is optimistic, generous, and honest. During the Easter weekend of 1999, she received the blessing of healing.
Martha and I met for lunch. She wanted to tell me her story, so I listened with some initial skepticism. She grew up in El Paso, Texas, where she met her husband, Ray, and started her family. She was a young, normal, happy wife and mother. Then about nine years ago, she developed Eosinophilic Granuloma, a serious, irreversible, rare lung disease. It changed her life.
Martha knew that National Jewish Hospital was a renowned center for the treatment of lung and respiratory diseases. She and her husband uprooted their lives and moved to Denver. The hospital treated her and stabilized her disease. She took steroids, a common treatment for lung diseases, and participated in state of the art treatment. She was placed on oxygen and, as the years went by, she became more and more dependent on it.
Martha didn’t complain. At times, she used a wheelchair. Still, she found time and energy to volunteer at her daughters’ schools. There were things that she and her family could not do, such as camp in the mountains. Yet they remained positive.
Her daughters worried about her. Angelina, the oldest, told a friend that she did not know if her mother would see her graduate from high school.
Each year breathing became harder. In 1998, her doctor spoke to her about a lung transplant, but she didn’t want to undergo such a procedure. She decided that if it became necessary, she would refuse.
In the fall of 1998, Martha saw a segment on a television news magazine program about a girl named Audrey Santo. She made up her mind that she would go to Worcester, Massachusetts, and visit Audrey.
Audrey Santo is a teenager who has been silent for more than a decade, never moving. On August 9, 1987, three year old Audrey Santo fell into the family swimming pool. However, she was rescued and seemed to recover. Medical personnel on the scene transported her to a nearby hospital where an overdose of Phenobarbital caused her to go into a coma. In a few weeks, she woke from the coma, but could not communicate or move. She has never recovered.
Professional health care providers told Audrey’s parents that they should put her in an institution. Instead, they kept her home so they could supervise her care.
Over the years, Audrey’s family heard reports of miracle healings of persons who came to be near Audrey.
In 1993, tears of oil began to appear on the statues and pictures housed in the chapel the Santo’s set up in their garage. The Santo family believes that the miracles of healing, and of the oil, are manifestations of God working through Audrey.
The Santo family provides the public with limited access to Audrey. Visitors may come only by appointment, and letters written to Audrey are read to her. The oil is made available on request to those wishing to be anointed with it, and money is not accepted for the visits or the oil.
The family reports that at times, the marks of the crucifixion of Christ appear on Audrey’s body. They find the healing, the appearance of the oil, and the stigmata to be unexplainable miracles. The family believes that Audrey’s suffering has meaning because it is connected to the suffering of Jesus.
The Catholic Church has been cautious in recognizing the authenticity of the events associated with Audrey, but Bishop Reilly of Worcester has blessed the work that is occurring through Audrey. There is a continuing investigation being conducted by the Catholic Church, and the family welcomes the scrutiny.
During Holy Week of 1999, Martha, her husband, and her two youngest daughters Christina and Virginia, drove from Denver to Worcester, Massachusetts. They had not made an appointment. They didn’t even know Audrey’s address. When they arrived in Worcester, they checked into a motel and Christina began to call local churches to find an address. After several calls, she got an address and a phone number. Martha called Audrey’s home and spoke with a representative of the family. She was told that she could not see Audrey. There is a process for getting an appointment, and, in fact, it takes up to two months to see her. Martha was devastated, but she did not give up. Finally, she and her family were permitted to pray in the chapel.
Martha, Ray, and the girls talked with Mary, the spokesperson for Audrey’s family. Mary then took a cotton ball, dipped it in oil, and rubbed it on Martha’s forehead and chest. That was all that happened. Martha and her family left the chapel and went back to their motel where they spent the night.
Since they were near New York City, they decided to visit the Statue of Liberty. While visiting the statue, Martha needed to use a restroom. She took her oxygen mask off and walked a long two blocks. She felt no ill effects from the exercise. This was a surprise to her. Her husband took note, but no one remarked on her unusual strength.
The family returned to their car and began the long drive home. Near St. Louis, Martha decided to remove her oxygen supply. Her daughters were frightened, but she did it anyhow. She has not used the oxygen again. Outside St. Louis, Martha confirmed that something miraculous happened to her. Since then, she has lived as a normal forty year old woman lives, except that she will never feel exactly “normal” ever again.
When Martha got home, she contacted her friends and relatives to tell them of her blessing. At first, no one knew what to think. They were skeptical and feared that Martha would experience a relapse, and that her heart would be broken. But as the weeks stretched into months, those close to her began to relax and trust that she really has recovered.
She did things with her family that they had not done in years. They went camping. She took a job at a chiropractic clinic. The family got more involved with their church. Martha began to do volunteer work. She hiked with a friend. Her life filled with the activities of a healthy, middle-aged woman.
I listened to her story in amazement. I found it incredible, yet I believed her. I didn’t understand what had happened, but I believe that on Good Friday, she was very ill, and on that day, she prayed in the chapel at the home of Audrey Santo. Three days later, she was able to live the life of a healthy person. I asked her if I could meet her family and some of her friends. I also asked to speak with her Vocational Rehabilitation counselor and her doctor. She was excited for me to speak with everyone who could testify to the truth of her account.
I went to her home and met her husband and daughters, her sister-in-law, a friend of many years, and a new friend whom she met at the clinic where she worked. They confirmed her story.
Martha’s daughter, Christina, spoke of growing up with a mother who was severely disabled. She warned her mother when they went to Massachusetts that she should not get her hopes up too high. Then, on the way home, she watched her mother breathe without oxygen while she slept, and Christina touched her to confirm that she was still alive.
Martha’s husband, Ray, works as a building contractor. Ray told me of his amazement when Martha walked for two blocks without oxygen at the Statue of Liberty. He is happy beyond words to have his wife healthy again.
Sandy Taylor has known Martha for over eight years. Her daughter, Christa, and Martha’s oldest child, Angelina, have been friends since the Urbina’s moved to Denver. Sandy never knew Martha when she did not need oxygen. She is certain that Martha’s health has been restored.
Martha’s sister-in-law, Sukie, is an Evangelical Christian. She doesn’t believe that healing can occur in a Catholic tradition, but she acknowledges that something has changed in Martha’s life. She does not deny that Martha is healthy.
Kerry Vu works with Martha. She did not know Martha when she was ill. She confirms that Martha works with energy and endurance. Kerry says that Martha’s health appears to be normal. On the day that I met with Martha and her family and friends, she and Kerry had gone for a hike in the mountains. Kerry is a runner and she pushed Martha. Martha had to stop, but she quickly recovered and felt no lasting effect from the high altitude exercise.
I wanted to confirm Martha’s healing experience with professional service providers who had worked with her for a number of years. I wanted to talk to her Vocational Rehabilitation counselor and her doctor in particular.
Martha’s VR counselor is Mike Cline. I have known and worked with Mr. Cline for over twenty years. He is a knowledgeable and stable professional. I knew that he would be objective and give me an honest answer. Martha, a client of the VR program, was required to have medical examinations to establish that her disability was severe enough to make her eligible for VR services. Mr. Cline is familiar with her records.
I spoke with Mike Cline, and he told me that he is usually quite skeptical of so called “miracle healings”, but he saw Martha since Good Friday, and her condition is very different. She is living without her oxygen supply, and she is active. When he first saw her after her visit to the home of Audrey Santo, she was at the end of the hall dancing with obvious joy. He doesn’t understand what happened, but he believes that something major has changed in her life.
Dr. Brown is Martha’s physician at National Jewish Hospital. He treated her for a number of years. Dr. Brown says that Martha’s experience of her disease has significantly changed. “Her underlying condition has not changed,” he says. “But her symptoms have largely disappeared and she feels much better. Isn’t that what counts?”
Dr. Brown says that the illness which Martha has seldom shows improvement. He cannont explain her improvement, but he is hopeful that the symptoms will not return.
An honest observer cannot fail to acknowledge that Martha’s health has improved dramatically since her visit to Audrey’s home. Her doctor confirms it, and her family gives thanks for it. When an irreversible disease is arrested, and there is no medical explanation for it, people must take note.
I do not have a religious or a scientific explanation for Martha’s recovery. I don’t know why she has improved so much. I believe Audrey Santo played a crucial role in giving Martha back her health. Sometimes miracles cannot be explained, only accepted. In this case, it is tremendously important for us to acknowledge the value of the life of a severely disabled young woman. How many persons give to others as much as Audrey Santo does?
Audrey is a severely disabled person. To all appearances, she does not communicate with her world, yet, she is at the center of events that change the lives of many persons. I can’t help but wonder, what if her family had institutionalized after her tragic hospitalization? Would she have died? Instead, they valued her and cared for her, and their love has been rewarded. To me, Audrey’s story confirms that there are no throw away children.
Prior to Good Friday, 1999, Martha’s life had meaning, primarily to her small circle of family and friends. Now, her life is of interest and significance to a much larger number of persons. Martha is not unusual, except that in spite of a decade of bad news, she did not give up hope. Audrey and Martha together give testimony to the reality of care and hope.We are committed to the affirmation of the dignity and the value of each human life. That is especially true with regard to our most vulnerable brothers and sisters. We choose to look at the story of Martha Urbina, not as a story of miraculous healing that benefits a single person, but rather as a story of the triumph of hope over despair. Martha’s story calls each of us to a life of less cynicism and egotism. It requires us to put aside our protective defenses and open ourselves to a more trusting and hopeful life. It promises that such affirmation will not be trampled in the dust of twenty first century technology and selfishness.
The story of Audrey Santo reminds us that any of us can be great. It is risky to discount anyone. The severely disabled child who brings healing to her fellow beings is valued and loved. And maybe, just maybe if we care and hope and love enough, we, too will be touched by a miracle.
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Copyright 2002 A&H Publishing Corporation