Syracuse (WSYR-TV) - This Sunday at the Vatican, two women with roots in Central and Upstate New York will be canonized and hundreds of Catholic pilgrims are on their way to witness the celebration.
One of these “Saints Among Us” is Mother Marianne Cope, a Syracuse Sister of St. Francis who founded St. Joseph’s Hospital and spent the last 35 years of her life caring for the dying lepers in Hawaii.
The Church credits her with two miracles – inexplicable medical healings attributed solely to prayers to Marianne. After Kate Mahoney’s miracle recovery
was affirmed by the pope, Mother Marianne was Beatified. If one more miracle could be attributed to intercession of now Blessed Marianne Cope, she would be eligible for sainthood.
Little did anyone know that as the Beatification ceremony was taking place in Rome in May of 2005, a woman was deathly ill in a room at the Syracuse hospital founded by Mother Marianne.
Sharon Smith had a bad reaction to an anti-rejection drug she was on for a kidney transplant. She developed pancreatitis with severe complications. Tissue throughout her abdomen were being ravaged by infection.
When Dr. Tom Certo operated, he found most of the upper part of her gastrointestinal tract, an organ known as the duodenum had been destroyed.
“It's a tubular structure and it essentially lost the front half, as if you'd opened up a pipe and folded it in half. You're looking at the bottom half of the pipe. The top half is gone, almost like looking inside the ribs of a canoe,” said Dr. Tom Certo. “I'd never seen this before, number one, or frankly, ever heard of it. And so I thought her chances for survival were extremely limited at this point.”
“He explained to me that I wasn’t going to make it,” Smith said. “I had this hole that he couldn’t fix. He said he couldn't close it, couldn't repair it. There was no way. So, he said, I don't know how long you have, but you don't have long.”
The next morning, Certo consulted with experts at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
“They said they'd only seen this a couple of times in their history and all those patients had died,” Certo said.
“I was in tears. I said, ‘Well, okay. I guess so. Thanks for what you did.’ And I don't know what else to say. I just sat there kind of quietly and thought about, you know, what was to come,” she said.
“What was to come” was something Smith could never have dreamed. Providentially, at St.Joseph’s Hospital, certain people, including one stranger, began to enter her life the night before doctors were going to remove her respirator.
“One of my really good friends was in the waiting room that evening before they were going to take that tube out in the morning, and some lady, I don't even know who she was, told my friend, ‘Take this prayer and pray for your friend. This is Mother Marianne Cope's prayer. And it might help her.’ So my friend Carol De Pietro came in. Of course, I'm still unconscious, and she prayed the prayer for me and in the morning when they took the respirator out, I started breathing on my own,” Smith said.
Despite the stunning development, her infection remained. Vital tissues were gone and the prognosis was still grim.
On her 59th birthday in late July, Smith was briefly allowed some fresh air outside St. Joseph’s, surrounded by family and friends who fully expected it would be her last birthday.
But other people crossed Smith’s path too, including one whose presence also proved to be providential.
“Betsy Long, she gives communion in the hospital. And that evening, she happened to be in the hospital, visiting a sister that was there, her and Sister Michaeleen and she had met me from giving me communion, and that's when she said to Sister Michaeleen, "I want you to see this girl, you know, I think maybe you know we should help her,” Smith said.
“This person in bed did not look alive,” said Sister Michaeleen Cabral. “There were tubes going in and out every orifice of her body. So I asked the gal who was sitting by her bed, ‘’Is anyone praying to Mother Marianne?’”
The prayers were happening, but Sister Michaeleen took another step. She obtained a packet of soil from Mother Marianne’s gravesite in Hawaii and pinned the packet to Smith’s hospital gown.
Then the sister prayed for a miracle.
“I prayed for a miracle. That Mother would intervene,” she said. “I prayed at the time and said, ‘Mother, this person really needs your intervention.’”
The prayers to Blessed Marianne continued through the summer and into the fall.
For months, Sharon had been fed and drained by tubes. But now, Certo noticed at first slow and then shockingly fast improvement.
“We took that drain out and in fact, she closed that entire leak overnight. What was left of the leak,” Certo said, “came in the next morning and she wasn't having any drainage out where the drain used to be. So, that was very surprising. Medically inexplicable? Well it was to me. I don't think any of us would've expected, you know, three liters, two liters, three liters of fluid coming through this drain site, to just stop overnight."
“We did an upper GI series to see how this all looked, and nothing was leaking out any holes any more,” Certo continued. “It had literally shut the fistula overnight, and actually more dramatic than that was, given all the extensive damage we'd seen in the operating room, when you looked at her X-rays, this area of her bowel, it looked pretty much like nothing had ever happened to it. So that was very surprising.”
“So, he says, I want you to order something to eat. Anything you want. Mind you, I hadn't eaten for nine months. Truly, what goes in went out, it didn't go anywhere you know. What did you order? Ham and cheese on rye, with milk,” Smith said.
By January, after nine months in the hospital, Smith was released into rehab. A month later, she was home in Chittenango. By summer of 2006, a year after she should have died, Smith was strong enough to travel and take a vacation in Canada.
Smith’s record of recovery was sent to a top pancreatic surgeon in the US for his review.
“He felt very strongly there was no way this patient should've survived, healed all this the way she did in his opinion, as well, it was a miraculous recovery,” Certo said. “It's not my business to decide what a miracle is, or isn't. I have no other explanation for how she survived all of this, and I don't have trouble believing it was a miracle because I can't explain it any other way.”
Dr. Richard Hehir, who also reviewed the case, recalls how Smith’s problems started.
“She was a kidney transplant patient. A transplanted kidney is a pretty fragile organ. I mean how that survived, is just beyond explanation to me,” Hehir said. “I was convinced it was prayers. Yes. To Mother Marianne and all the prayers that all the other people said.”
The Vatican agreed. Smith’s recovery is an inexplicable medical miracle - the second miracle attributed to the intercession of Mother Marianne Cope.
Smith will be in Rome to present a relic of St. Marianne to the pope.
Her best friend, Pat Pilon, will be right there with her.
“This is God showing the world that a miracle in today's world will still happen if you believe,” Pilon said. "She was chosen. And I don't know why. But I'm grateful. And you know Marianne had something to do with it. Absolutely…have no doubt.”
“I'm just shocked. I just never felt it would be me to have a miracle,” Smith said.
She is convinced that her healing was indeed miraculous.
“I do believe it, yes. I have no question at all. It's something Mother Marianne and God had to talk about to save me,” Smith said. NewsChannel 9’s Dan Cummings will be at the Vatican to cover the Canonization. Look for his reports starting Thursday on NewsChannel 9.