As girl lay near death, family prayed to Kapaun

06/26/2011 12:00 AM

07/27/2013 9:31 AM

In October 2006, 12-year-old Avery Gerleman scored a goal in a soccer game.

She did not celebrate. She walked to the sidelines and threw up a gob of bright red blood into the grass.

She told her coach, "I need to get back in there."

The coach sat her down. After that, bad went to worse.

Doctors in Wichita put Avery in a drug-induced coma and pushed a breathing tube down her throat. Avery's lungs filled with blood. Her kidneys shut down.

There was so much air and fluid leaking into her chest that her heart nearly stopped beating from the pressure.

Doctors told Melissa and Shawn Gerleman that their daughter was going to die. Melissa cried.

She and Shawn began to pray; to Jesus and to a priest from Kansas who had been dead for 55 years.

Doctors say what happened next is the most mysterious medical recovery they have ever seen.

Avery's two primary physicians are scientists, with intellectual allegiances rooted firmly in facts and skeptical reasoning. And they are Protestants, with none of the Gerleman family's training in the Catholic traditions of sainthood, guardian angels and miracles.

But the doctors have told the Vatican that Avery's recovery is so unusual that there is no other explanation for what happened: They say it's a miracle.

Avery's parents say Father Emil Kapaun heard the prayers, and tipped the scales in heaven.

* * *

Avery was playing soccer in a tournament in Fayetteville, Ark., when she spit up the blood.

Melissa took her to a hospital there; she told Shawn on the phone that the doctors thought she had pneumonia. By that time, Avery was spitting up a lot more blood.

Melissa took her home to Wichita, and by then Avery was falling asleep or fainting from blood loss. Shawn took her to Wesley Medical Center; Avery passed out on the examining table.

For four days at Wesley, doctors thought Avery was merely dehydrated. But then a respiratory therapist, checking her over, became animated, calling in doctors and insisting that something was disastrously wrong with her lungs. Doctors realized the respiratory therapist was right.

Shawn at first was irritated: "Who the hell is this respiratory therapist who's turning our world upside down?"

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