Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Priest recovers against all odds after being on ventilator for H1N1

Those of you who were at the Helpers of God's Precious Infants vigil with Archbishop Vigneron in November, or who read my photopost on the event, may recall the story of a  priest at St. Joan of Arc (which hosted the Mass and post-vigil meeting) who was put on a ventilator that morning from complications of the H1N1 virus.  Monsignor Bugarin who was handling benediction in the church at the conclusion of the prayer vigil outside of two abortion clinics, went back into a 3 hours of unscheduled Eucharistic Adoration  for Fr. Gerry Bernier - a guest priest at the parish studying at Sacred Heart Major Seminary.  Parishioners learned about the 3 hour Adoration through phone calls to one another.

Here is a very good followup story in the Detroit News.  I had heard that Fr. Gerry recovered, against all odds and I'm glad to see him active again.

St. Clair Shores' priest makes miracle recovery from flu
Oralandar Brand-Williams / The Detroit News
St. Clair Shores --The Rev. Gerry Bernier figures God must have been in the driver's seat the night of Nov. 16, when he ended up in Romulus -- 32 miles from his church's rectory -- wearing only his pajamas in 40-degree weather.

A police officer stopped Bernier, 55, for driving 5 miles per hour. He soon realized the priest was terribly sick and called an ambulance. Bernier spent 5 1/2 weeks in and out of consciousness recovering from the H1N1 virus that wracked his body.

The priest's close friends, relatives and even his doctor thought he would not survive the disease that has killed more than 14,000 people around the world and 70 in Michigan since September. But he did, and they say his survival is nothing short of a miracle.

Bernier believes he was used as a "tool" to explain to people the importance of prayer and faith.

"What I went through was not just about me. God was using me as a tool to get out a message," he said. "I think the message is you better believe in God and that God is with us."

Bernier's ordeal has deepened the faith of those who tended to him while he was ill.

"There were a couple of times we thought we were planning a funeral," said Monsignor G. Michael Bugarin of St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, where Bernier is stationed as part of a new evangelical studies program for two years. "He almost didn't make it. God was with him in so many ways."

Bernier's near-fatal bout with swine flu has been the buzz among Metro Detroit's Catholics since November. Bugarin even created a Web site to keep parishioners and others abreast of the popular priest's progress.

Now that he's mostly recovered, Bernier said parishioners often ask him if he saw heaven while he was in the coma. Aside from a few delusional dreams -- including visions of dead people, including Elvis Presley -- he says he remembers very little.

Dr. John Hilu, a thoracic surgeon who treated Bernier in the early stages of his H1N1 sickness at Oakwood Annapolis Hospital in Wayne, says he witnessed the priest's journey back from the brink of death.

The surgeon could not give details of Bernier's case because of privacy laws governing medical care, but he said the priest beat some tremendous odds.

Hilu, who is a member of St. Joan of Arc, says Bernier's astonishing recuperation from swine flu bolstered his own faith.

"From a doctor's perspective, there's only so much we can do physically, medically, surgically," said Hilu. "We didn't think he was going to make it. His recovery had that aura that someone else is in charge here."

The virus is marked by coughing, sore throat and fever. Patients with severe cases can suffer dehydration, viral pneumonia and shortness of breath. The most acute form can end in death, say state health officials.

"The infection can get out of control, and if people aren't getting enough oxygen, it can put people on a ventilator," said Dr. Eden Wells, an epidemiologist for the Michigan Department of Community Health.

As doctors struggled to save Bernier's life, parishioners at the 3,700-member church prayed hard for him to be healed.

"For him to recover, it was absolutely nothing short of a miracle," said Mike Barthel, a respiratory therapist and deacon at the church. "There is no doubt in my mind that the power of prayer had a significant impact on Father Gerry."

The Rev. Dan Trapp, the spiritual director for the Sacred Heart Major Seminary's School of Theology in Detroit, said Bernier's experience is an example of a "taste of the Resurrection."

"When the love of God is experienced in such a way, it wakes us up again," said Trapp.

Bernier's struggle to recover involved several weeks of physical therapy that included teaching him simple body movements, such as grasping objects. But, says the priest, his faith was strengthened as a result of that day in November.

"I believe a lot more than the Lord is with us and walks with us and that if you are committed to him he will be committed to you," said Bernier, who says he would like to meet the officer who pulled him over that day to show his appreciation for saving his life.

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20100206/LIFESTYLE04/2060324/St.-Clair-Shores--priest-makes-miracle-recovery-from-flu#ixzz0f5TuwH7L

Photo: David Coates

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