Miracles Continue: Mother Seton still intercedes for those in need today.
On July 6, 1975, Mary Porter’s 21-year-old son, Jim, sustained a massive brain injury in a motorcycle accident. The doctors gave the family no hope of Jim waking up from his coma. After reading about Mother Seton’s upcoming canonization in the Cleveland Catholic Universe Bulletin, Mary felt a close relationship to this new saint who as a mother had experienced the death of two of her daughters. Mary had already buried two of her seven children – Patty, at age 7, and Hal, at age 20. The family was devastated after Jim’s accident.
Upon arrival at St. Mel School as a new principal, and hearing about Jim’s accident, S. Pat Newhouse gave Mary her Mother Seton relic and initiated the prayers of the St. Mel school children from Jim’s recovery.
During the month of Mother Seton’s canonization, Jim’s right eye, which had been irreparably damaged due to brain trauma, was miraculously healed. Later that month he also recovered from a very serious staph infection. In early October Jim awoke from his coma and today, at age 60, is still singing the praises of Mother Seton’s intercession on his behalf. As he always tells everyone, “Mother Seton is the best friend anyone could ever have.”
The following is Mary Porter’s account, “Hey, You, You’re a Mother!”:
For some reason known only to God, the shrine of Mother Seton does not seem as oriented to healing as some other North American shrines. Still St. Elizabeth Seton has continued to help mothers and their children after her canonization no longer necessitated asking, “Is this cure a miracle?”
Here is the detailed testimony of one of those healings, written by the grateful mother, Mary Porter, in June 1977, when the family still lived in Lakewood, Ohio. It was first printed in a now defunct periodical of the Daughters of Charity.
On Sunday, July 6, 1975, at 11:30 p.m. my 21-year-old son, James, was riding home on his newly purchased motorcycle when a car that had been parked at the curb pulled out in front of him. Jim’s bike smashed into the car, sending Jim soaring 30 feet in the air. He landed headfirst onto the street.
The impact forced brain tissue through his skull and out through his right ear, inside the helmet he was wearing.
The neurosurgeon, Dr. David Lehtinen, told us Jim had sustained a massive brain injury, both sides of the brain had hemorrhaged massively, and parts of his skull on both sides of his head had to be removed to allow for the tremendous brain swelling that ensued.
“I was working on a dead man,” the surgeon said, “working only for survival.”
Thanks to the prayers of over 70 young people and relatives who gathered at Lakewood Hospital emergency room that night, Jim did survive the operation. Minimally. His brain remained swollen, heartbeat and temperature were out of control, breathing needed mechanical aid, and seizures shook his body. He sank into a deep coma and his healthy, uninjured body started wasting away.
The atmosphere at the hospital was pray for his death. The staff worked hard to keep Jim alive, but I think it was only because of our deep belief that a miracle could, would happen. As sincerely, as kind as they could – including the neurosurgeon and other consultant – they insisted that even if Jim could come out of the coma, nothing but existence in a vegetable state was possible for him.
Nothing more medically could be done for our son. He was merely being kept alive. After only three weeks in the Intensive Care Unit he was moved to a regular hospital room and removed from the extraordinary life-sustaining devices of the Intensive Care Unit. There was no discussion about “let him die” at this time, but I knew this was the feeling. Jim continued to hang on to life.
On September 3, 1975, Jim had to be moved to another facility for long-term care, Highland View Hospital, in Warrensville Heights, Ohio, about 30 miles from our home. At this time we were told again by Dr. Lehtinen that in his opinion our son would never wake up.
As a family we were devastated. We had already buried a 6-year-old daughter, Patsy, 12 years before; and when Jim’s tragedy happened we were just recovering from the death of another son, Hal, aged 20, who was killed in another automobile accident two and a half years before Jim was struck down.
Physically, mentally, emotionally, and yes, spiritually, we were exhausted. We went through the motions of living, but my husband and I, and Jim’s two older sisters especially, were just empty shells traveling those 60 miles every day to pray over that comatose skeleton …
We ranted and raved, and screamed and cried and stormed at an unjust God – and relented and repented and begged His Son, His angels and His saints to have pity on us and our half-dead, half-alive son. But the pain continued.
On September 8, 1975, I read in our diocesan paper, the Catholic Universe Bulletin, about some woman, an American, who’d had five children and was going to be canonized on Sept. 14. Another saint. I, we, had prayed already so much, to so many, to intercede for us, and we were still hurting. Oh, God, the hurt!
But this Elizabeth Seton was the mother of five. Surely she could feel my feelings if anybody could. She knew the trials and suffering involved in raising a family. She would know my agony. …. Wouldn’t she? Hey, you! Mother Seton! You know I’m dying inside. You know how desperate I am. Don’t you? Please, can’t you help me? Please, Elizabeth Ann Seton! Please help me! Please, please, please, God, work another miracle through this new saint of yours. Let her glory be even more, God. Please give her a miracle for her canonization day. Come on, God! Come on, Mother Seton! You can do it! … Won’t you?
My tears soaked that September 8 newspaper. Elizabeth Ann Seton, first American saint, help my child. Mother Seton, help my child. Every page of the diary I was keeping about Jim’s ordeal, from September 8 on, has this brief prayer scribbled at the bottom of the page – Mother Seton, help my child.
On September 12, when I arrived once again at Highland View, I found our neurologist Dr. Patawaran and an eye specialist buzzing around Jim’s bed. Through the brain trauma his right eye had been irreparably damaged. If he woke up, ever, from the coma, that eye as the organ of sight would be useless, since the cornea, iris and pupil were plastered together in one layer. Our doctor, another ward doctor and the eye specialist, were amazed and mystified. Dr. Alan Moss, the eye doctor, declared that some kind of “spontaneous remission” had taken place: the eye was healed. At the bottom of my diary’s Sept. 12 page it reads: “M.S., keep working.”
September 14, 1975 [diary]: He was aware. Seemed to hear us. Attentive, concentrating. Was he?
September 16: Got relic of Mother Seton from Sister Patricia Newhouse, principal at St. Mel’s. This is too much! M.S. is the founder of her Community and they’re teaching at our school! Diary reads: Left relic over his bed after I rubbed it all over Jim’s poor head. New strength in neck and spine! Lifted his head and body completely over on his side by himself. A spastic kind of movement, without intent, but his head did not flip-flop like a rag doll as it had done all these months if not supported!
September 22: Staph infection worse. Mother Seton, clear his infection – please.
September 23: High fever, ear draining all night, pus and fluid.
September 27: Brain swelling gone! Was this the reason for fever and draining? Thank you, St. Elizabeth Seton!
September 30: Mother Seton, bring him sight and hearing.
October 2: Holy God, we praise Thy Name! Staph infection gone, disappeared … completely! He is awake! He is aware of us in the room, seems to be able to see something straight ahead. Mother Seton, intercede. Mother Seton, thank you! … Give him comprehension. Please, God. Please.
October 12: Thank you, God. Thank you, Mother Seton. Jimmy very awake … a look of knowledge or understanding in his eyes. Or is it recognition? The dull, vacant, robot stare is gone. Holy God, we praise Thy Name!
October 14: Very, very awake! Tongue moving in and out like an infant. Ready to eat food. Thanks, God, Mother Seton, and everybody!
[Thirty-five years later, in 2010, his older sister Sharon recalled that, although he was being fed through a nose tube, she put a tiny bit of a Reese’s peanut butter cup to his lip. Her comatose brother grabbed her arm and pulled it to his mouth, wanting more! She told the doctors and the next day he was in a wheelchair when she arrived.]
October 16: He’s trying to communicate! When I talk to him he forces air out of the trach. He is truly awake, knows I’m there and is answering me. Mother Seton, you are something else. You are a miracle-worker!
Highly skilled doctors believed Jim would never wake up, the staph infection would never yield as long as he lived, and if he ever regained consciousness, he would be blind in the destroyed eye. But when this writer spoke to Mary Porter, mother of eight and a freelance writer herself, 12 years after Jim’s accident, he was alive and well, had held various jobs and was able to share the physical work of the farm he lived with his family near Erie, Pennsylvania. If his vision was not 20-20, he still had the use of both eyes.
Once he began regaining physical health, Jim was able to start functioning mentally, says S. Patricia Newhouse. This Sister of Charity of Cincinnati not only organized prayer for him, but is the one, Mary Porter said, who “brought our devastated family back to life.” S. Pat retired in 2008 but busy working with seniors in Okemos, Michigan, keeps in touch with the Porters. She still talks of Jim’s highly successful volunteer work with children in the school where she was principal when he was retraining himself following the massive brain injury.
“How the kids loved him,” she recalled to the writer. “A case in a thousand,” says his original neurosurgeon. Sharon recalls that every one of her brother’s doctors, not just his neurosurgeon, agreed. Jim’s waking up and being capable of being brain retrained (although he could remember how to fix your carburetor, Sharon says, he had to learn his ABCs from scratch) the doctors found beyond any human explanation. “They called it,” says Sharon, “a miracle.”
Mary Porter’s grateful assessment of her son after recovery, “He is slightly slow normal. We know he sustained a massive, killing brain injury; strangers cannot tell.”
All the medically unexpected improvements which began with the strange “putting back together” of his mashed eye, his mother emphasizes, “took place within the first month of Mother Seton’s canonization! And usually as I specifically requested them.”
“Why did our prayers go unanswered until I became aware of her existence?” the mother muses in her written account. “Did God pick us to spread her fame? Or was it, as I believe, she heard the awful anguish in my cry: ‘Hey, you, you’re a mother!’”
They might agree his case was a miracle; still doctors predicted a life span of no more than 15 years for James Porter. Yet almost 40 years after his brain-shattering accident, the miracle recipient, pushing 60, was alive and well, although lonely, having outlived both his parents. With aging, he has developed short-term memory problems and lost his driver’s license, a blow to anyone living in the country. But his sister Sharon points out that Jim’s memory loss is by no means completely disabling. For one thing, he still plays weekly competitive team pool, and he is still the best player on his team. Out in the Amish-dominated, relatively isolated northwestern section of Pennsylvania, 25 miles south of Erie, with not a whole lot to do within walking distance and no buses, Jim does his best to keep busy. He helps the farmer across the street who has 100 cows or joins his retired brother-in-law, Sharon’s husband, in puttering in his garage. When he can get a ride he likes to attend weekday Mass. This is no easy task. This is not Catholic country. For instance, there are only two Catholic schools in the large county, 100 miles apart, and no accessible Catholic high school. Sharon’s older children were educated in Catholic schools in Cleveland, Ohio. Her youngest child, Billy, now married with three children, went to Catholic school in Pennsylvania too – but only by riding four buses.
The Porter siblings do not forget Mother Seton. And she does not forget them either, it appears to those of us who do not believe in coincidence. The Catholic school Billy took all those buses to was named for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. In front of it is a huge statue commemorating the American Mother.
Some things are too deep for a lot of words: to this day, when Jim accompanies Sharon somewhere that necessitates passing the school, as soon as the statue of Mother Seton comes in view, he blesses himself, grins, and chuckles, “There she is! There she is!”