How we met…
Kathy: We met when I was 15 and he was 16.
Tony: Yea, we were high school sweethearts, and now we’re 40 years married!
Kathy: I think the best part of the story is that when I was 15 I moved five houses down from him. We moved in the summer, in July, and my older sister one day said we were going out to look for boys. I was sort of indifferent to the idea. So as we’re heading out, we stop on our porch and my sister ran inside for something before we left. When she went in, I saw him riding down. When she came back I told her she’d missed the cutest boy!
So, eventually, we started going together. We went together for about five years and then got married. Incredibly, him living five houses up from me meant that our children grew up with their grandparents living five houses apart! It was sort of confusing for our oldest because he thought that you have to marry someone in high school and that the parents had to be all close together, haha! There were lots of little miracles about us meeting.
HOW WE CAME TO MEDJUGORJE:
We’re from Laytonsville, Maryland, it’s about 25 miles north of Washington DC. We first came to Medjugorje in 2004. We had heard about it for many years, Kathy’s mom and dad came in 1984 with the Priest who married us. The pictures Kathy’s mom has from the hill looking out of the village are amazing – there’s no shops, just stone houses.
Kathy had wanted to come for a long time, finally, in June or July of 2004, we made the trip! We came with her parents and our youngest son, Brad. We stayed with the visionary Ivan, we’ve always stayed with him. Once we saw that he was hosting pilgrimages we thought it would be pretty incredible. During that initial trip, only eight total pilgrims were staying at Ivans, so it was very special. We were able to be at the apparitions in a very small and intimate space every day. They had little benches and during the apparition, Our Lady came so close, I mean she was just right there – it was amazing.
We have three kids, and when we came, only one of them was married at that point. When we first came, other than Brad, our other children didn’t want to come. They said it was far and they had heard about the war in Bosnia. We really wanted our kids to come, so we went up to the statue on Apparition Hill and really cried and prayed to the Blessed Virgin, telling her how much I wanted my whole family here. Ivanka (pilgrim guide) always says to pray with the heart. When we got home, the two that said they didn’t want to come asked when we were all going together! Prayer is powerful. So the next year we came with all of our children and their spouses, or spouses to be.
Tony: Our youngest son, who we came with first, he was dating who would become his wife and she was always very worried because every time he went to Medjugorje he comes back and telling her that he was thinking about being a priest. That didn’t sit well with her at all. But, they ended up getting married, all three of our kids are married now and we have ten grandchildren! God has blessed us… you know how they said if you give, God will give you one hundred times, well, it’s a thousand times for us!
They all go to Church, all the babies have been baptized, and all the children are preparing for first communion. Five of the grandbabies have even been here!
One year, between family and friends, we had 15 of us come on pilgrimage and stay with Ivan! Medjugorje has been with us for a long time. We’ve always believed in it and always prayed for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin and her intentions.
Fast forward to 2019, I became very ill. I had had the flu in February of this year and about three weeks later when I was working at home, I noticed when I got up from working that my back was hurting and my legs were incredibly weak. As the night wore on I was progressively getting worse, to the point were when I went up to bed at about 11:30 that Friday night, I barely could make it up the stairs.
Kathy is a physician and she was on call, so she had to go into the hospital to deliver babies. I took some Advil, thinking it would help with the back pain and therefore my legs. I woke up about 4 am and my back pain was gone. I thought that meant my legs were probably okay so I tried to get up out of bed to test my legs. I got up and collapsed to the ground. It took everything I had to pull myself up back into bed, I had no strength in my legs.
I called Kathy, she called Brad. He came over and brought me to the hospital where Kathy was at. My blood pressure was off the chart. My initial reading was 240 over 120. Kathy suspected Gian Beret syndrome and told Brad to have the doctors work me in that direction.
Miraculously, when I was admitted to the hospital, a brilliant neurologist, who had previous experience treating this syndrome, administered the medicine on the first night, thinking it could be Gian Beret. Finally, they confirmed is was Gian Beret syndrome. That was a miracle.
At this point, his legs weren’t working at all. They could feel, but he couldn’t move them. He couldn’t even rollover. Also, there was about a 95% loss of strength in his arms, so he couldn’t lift anything. If he wanted to turn, he would call all the nurses to help turn him.
I was frightened beyond belief. I was asking myself what life would be like if I never walked again. That’s when we started the prayers. Kathy called the family, they were praying for us. She called Ivanka who has been our friend and tour guide here in Medjugorje, and she was got in touch with the visionary Ivan. Ivan, during the next Apparitions, personally brought me to the Blessed Virgin. So the prayer went out to all the people we have met here in Medjugorje and many more.
Since we’ve been here, people have been telling us “we heard about you and we’ve been praying for you.”
I could feel the power of that prayer and the graces almost right away. I soon believed I would walk again. I was nervous, the doctors weren’t completely clear about a timeline. They said it can vary. 6 months to a year means you’re doing pretty well. However, quickly I was gaining strength like I couldn’t believe.
I left the hospital after 6 days and went into a rehab hospital. I was only there for 3 1/2 days and became very ill again. My sodium levels tanked. Normally you should be around 140, I was around 117. That meant that I was sort of semi-conscious. I tell people there is an 18-hour gap in my life now where I remember nothing. I just remember getting violently ill one night and the next morning at 9 am I’m in the emergency room and they’re doing chest rubs on me to bring me back. I spent the next four days in the ICU before returning to the rehab hospital. I lost all the strength I’d gained in that short period.
When I got back in that rehab hospital it was like “I WANT TO WALK UP APPARITION HILL… that’s what I want to do!” We had already scheduled this pilgrimage in January. I didn’t even know if I was going to be able to come on the trip. But, back in rehab, things began to again progress very quickly. The doctors and especially the physical therapists mentioned they had never seen patients with Gian Beret rehabilitate this fast. Initially, I took 12 steps with a walker, but, before I knew it, I was doing 100 steps, then 200, I was looping the gym all the time. By the end of April, they discharged me from the Rehab hospital to home. I was on a walker and in less than 2 weeks I was on a cane. Finally, by the end of May, 2 1/2 months after the initial onset, I was walking on my own. I knew we were coming to Medjugorje, I knew I was going to make it up Apparition Hill.
Two things to mention are that Tony was able to come home for a few hours on Easter. He was able to get a 4-hour pass, pending his health, to head home. When they decided he was doing well enough, he was determined to be home on Easter.
Kathy had the whole family over, we always do an Easter egg hunt with the grandchildren. I just sobbed when I walked into the house. I’d never been away from home for that length of time, even in college I would come home on weekends. Just to come to the house and see everyone, you could feel God’s love carrying you, it was amazing.
When I finally came back to work, it was June 24th, the feast day of John the Baptist, and the anniversary date of the first Apparition in Medjugorje! It was surreal.
We were so thrilled to come here since 2004 we’ve only missed 2 years and this has been an amazing trip!
11 years ago I left one medical practice and decided to start my own. I felt like our Lord and our Blessed Mother were saying “go out on your own.” It was a scary thing, but I said it was all for the glory of God! We have Bible passages up and we have a lot of women that come in and mention how amazing it is. You can talk about God if you want in our practice. I even pray with the women before surgery. It’s been very special and very, very near and dear to my heart.
Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. In just the last 5 weeks I had 2 surgeries just before we’d come here.
Everyone has been encouraging me to take a break and give up my practice. They tell me that I’ve given enough. However, I just love what I do! I get to evangelize, hand out rosaries, and pray for people. So asking what I should do has been my prayer this time here in Medjugorje.
I talked to our chaplain, Father Michael, and he shared with me how he loved preaching at the two parishes he served in. However, in recent years, he’s lost his preaching voice. I went to confession with Father and told him what I was hearing from everyone. I said, “Father, your story meant a lot to me, because you loved what you did, but you can’t anymore. I also love what I’ve done and what I do. I love taking care of these women, but, with this going on, I think our Lord is saying it’s done.” He asked me if I had peace about that. I said, “yes, I do, here.”
Before this trip, I was crying with my oldest son, telling him I didn’t know how I was going to give up my practice. Father Michael assured me that if I have peace here, in prayer, then you know because Jesus gives peace.
When you come here, you hear what God wants you to do. He gives us that so as we journey in our lives we know we’ll be guided and protected by his love. I told myself that I didn’t know where the future was headed, but that wasn’t important. I know he’s calling me in that direction and he’ll lead me on his path, whatever he decides, Jesus’ peace is my guide.
Let us keep Tony and Kathy in our prayers as they continue on this journey of trust and peace.
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