A Very Unusual Treatment

When Dr. Kathi J. Kemper asked her colleagues to pray for a patient, she got some surprising results.

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Later in the talk, I was discussing prayer as a therapeutic option and asked how many people had ever been asked to pray at a medical meeting before. About three out of 400 people raised their hands. Then I asked how many would be willing to do it again and about 85% raised their hands. That was a very interesting response from physicians who were at an evidence-based medicine conference.

And what happened?

The girl did very well. I came back to the hospital to see her afterward, and her father told me he'd talked to the neuro-radiologist who said it had gone more smoothly than other times they had done this, that the group in the procedure room was in tremendous harmony, and that things flowed very smoothly and there was not a single complication.

And her recovery?

At the point when I was taking care of her she was completely paralyzed on her right side from the stroke. She couldn't move her right arm or her leg at all. She came back to see me several months after her discharge. She was walking, and she arm-wrestled me with the hand that had been previously paralyzed. And she won. A pitiful commentary on my fitness level I suppose, but she was really proud of herself and was regularly arm-wrestling her dad and her big brothers and anybody else she could take on. It was great fun for her. Her parents were very pleased and grateful.

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What impressed you most about this experience?

I don't know whether the event was as much an indication that prayer worked as an indication that physicians were willing to pray for someone they didn't know and do it again, even though they didn't know what the outcome was. I thought it was a very interesting commentary on how much we are--or are not--evidence-driven, and how much we do things because they feel right to us or make us feel better in some way.

Did you get any feedback from the physicians who prayed?

Yes, it was interesting. People often give you nice feedback after you give a presentation, but after that talk, half a dozen people wrote me letters or called to find out how this girl had done. Again, I think that's unusual. Often in a medical lecture, we present the story of a patient or several patients and use their stories to illustrate some principles in medicine or something we can learn from. But I'd never been asked how a patient was doing in follow-up. After this one, however, where people felt as if they had participated somehow in her care, they really felt connected and wanted to know how she had done.

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