"Nothing left but prayer"
Carl and Heather Storrie, members of Holy Redeemer Parish in Aledo, believe in the power of prayer. They also believe in miracles — the miracles of physical healing, of unsurpassed community support, and of conversion.
Last June, their five-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, was in intensive care at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth. She was in severe pain and could not turn her head or move her right arm. They waited for her symptoms to worsen. That’s expected when Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM), a rare polio-like childhood disease, attacks the spinal cord. Elizabeth’s illness started with what looked like a cold, but within a few weeks, her symptoms suddenly and drastically worsened.
Based on the extent of inflammation in her spinal cord, doctors prepared the Storries for a likely outcome of permanent paralysis and needing a ventilator to breathe.
“You get the virus. It attacks your spinal cord. Then you wait for it to plateau … to see where it levels out with side effects,” Heather Storrie explained. “There is no cure or treatment for AFM.”
But Elizabeth never developed the expected side effects. She was in ICU for just three days before moving to Cook Children’s Rehabilitation Clinic for a month of physical therapy. Today, Elizabeth can run and play and lift her right arm up to her shoulder. The Storries attribute Elizabeth’s healing to the power of prayer.
Dr. Diane Arnaout, Elizabeth’s pediatrician, said “the inflammation was all the way from the bottom of her brain to the bottom of her spinal cord … I was waiting for the rest of her body to respond to the inflammation that we saw on the MRI.”
While a team of seven doctors watched, waited, and offered supportive care such as IV fluids and oxygen, the Storries and their faith community prayed.
Carl and Heather prayed daily with Elizabeth. She received the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. The Holy Redeemer Moms Group prayed with Heather in the hospital chapel and the following day, men from Teams of Our Lady, a marriage ministry, prayed with Carl.
The request for prayer came via email chains, Facebook posts, and during Mass. People from other parishes and in other countries prayed for Elizabeth.
By her second day in the ICU, Elizabeth’s neurologist was “shocked” that she didn’t need a ventilator, Heather said.
“She probably has 5,000 people praying for her,” Heather told the doctor. “I believe in the power of prayer.”
Heather added, “We stunned a ton of doctors and I was OK with that.”
“I don’t typically use the word miracle because that’s not something that’s of my world as a doctor and as a scientist,” Dr. Arnaout said. “But I think her recovery has been miraculous.”
Along with prayer, the Storrie’s family and faith community served their day-to-day needs. Heather’s friend and Holy Redeemer Parishioner Angela Wynn said “a huge web of people came forward to pray and to serve.”
Volunteers brought meals for the Storrie’s two younger children, Charlie and Amelia, who were being cared for at home by Carl’s mother. They also brought meals to Carl and Heather at the hospital, and again later when Elizabeth returned home. There was help with childcare, offers to do laundry and mow the lawn, a birthday party for Charlie, and a party for Elizabeth who turned five while in the hospital.
Heather said the outpouring of help “wasn’t just about Elizabeth and our family. This was about a community coming together… there were other families at the hospital who didn’t have that support and to me that spoke to the strength of God bringing the community together.”
The Storries shared not only the food they received but also their faith and compassion with other families at the hospital.
“Because [the community] served us, we were able to serve other families in the hospital,” Heather said.
Elizabeth’s healing impacted many who prayed or served the Storries. Many said it was a blessing to help and to pray.
Others said they’ve never prayed as hard as they did for Elizabeth. Dr. Arnaout said she was personally inspired by the love and faith that “lifted Elizabeth spiritually and emotionally.”
But the impact of Elizabeth’s healing on Marty Larkin, Heather’s father, was a miracle of conversion. When he heard Elizabeth’s prognosis, he “broke down and cried.”
Then he did something he never thought he would do. Larkin, who had been an atheist most of his adult life, walked into the hospital chapel and prayed.
“I offered up any pain or infirmity on myself to make her well,” he said. “There was nothing the doctors could do. There was nothing left but prayer.”
“I walked in the door of that hospital an atheist,” he said. “And I walked out a believer … I believe God is with me and I made Him a promise: I’ll never deny you again.”
As Elizabeth continues to recover at home, the Storries hope to give back to their community and to families at Cook Children’s.
“I always felt that God has another plan through this,” Heather said. “We want to take fruits that we’ve gained from this experience and give them to others.