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Calling Card

My name is Laura Putnam, and I have known Sister Dulce for over 13 years, ever since she was the principle at our daughters’ school in Barstow, CA. Over the years, Sister strengthened our faith in God and our commitment to the Catholic Church; and showed us how to “pray for everything and worry about nothing.” We have become very close to Sister and consider her part of our family.

There have been so many miraculous events with Sister that it would be impossible to tell of them all – not only for myself, my husband and my three children but for many of our relatives and friends. But it seems like everything that has happened through Sister has happened for a reason; and in most cases, one event was necessary in order for the next event to take place.

Every event is a testament to God’s love for us, and the gift of His mercy and His grace. Without them, life would be very different; in fact, my three children may not be alive today without Sister.

I know there are no small miracles. But what happened in January of 2000 was probably the most amazing miracle that we were so blessed to witness. In fact, this miracle lead to Sister’s mission in Baton Rouge, and Sister said God referred to it has her “calling card.”

In January 2000, we moved from Barstow, CA to Newport, RI; where our daughters needed a school physical. At that time, our oldest daughter, Tara, had just turned 13. During Tara’s physical, the doctor noticed that her spine looked crooked. (Tara had complained of extreme lower back pain, and was also developing a hunch in her back.)

An x-ray confirmed that Tara’s spine was curved 14 degrees. A second x-ray, taken three months later, showed Tara’s spine to have a 20-degree curvature. Tara’s spine was curving at twice the rate of what is considered alarming. One of Tara’s hips was now higher than the other hip, her “hunch” was getting worse, and her pain was unbearable.

A few weeks later, Tara had her first appointment with a spinal specialist. He concluded that the cause of Tara’s rapidly progressing scoliosis was congenitally short pedicles, which caused one side of her spine to stop growing. Tara also had a growth protruding from her spine that was preventing her spinal fluid from freely flowing up and down her spine, which caused pressure on her spine and was possibly adding to the curvature. In turn, her spinal cord was being compressed.

The doctor wanted Tara to have surgery as soon as possible, to prevent any permanent spinal cord damage, which could result in paralyses. He also said that they were looking for a pediatric spinal surgeon in New England that accepted our military insurance, but that they were not having much luck.

My parents, who live in Cleveland, Ohio, suggested that Tara have the surgery at the Cleveland Clinic, a world-renowned hospital that accepted our insurance. The hope was for Tara to recover for six weeks or more in Cleveland, where my parents could help since my husband was going away on military orders.

Unfortunately, our doctors said that while he thought that would be an excellent solution and he would put the request into our insurance company, there was little to no chance that Tara would be allowed to go to the Cleveland Clinic; since our military insurance does not allow military dependents to go outside the region to which their sponsor (i.e. my husband) is assigned. The situation was becoming desperate.

I then called Sister Dulce. After relating the problem to Sister, she said, “Laura, what are you crying about? You know God will make everything fall into place. I will pray that Tara gets to go to the Cleve land Clinic.” (Sister told me a year later that she made that statement because God had already told her about the situation.) It was a Friday afternoon.

I then called Sister Dulce. After relating the problem to Sister, she said, “Laura, what are you crying about? You know God will make everything fall into place. I will pray that Tara gets to go to the Cleve land Clinic.” (Sister told me a year later that she made that statement because God had already told her about the situation.) It was a Friday afternoon.

At 7:25 a.m. the following Monday, the nurse told me she reached our insurance company on the first ring and said that they would consider our doctor’s request, but for us not to get our hopes up. She said that I probably will not hear anything until Friday of that week because the request had to be approved by two committees, and then the answer would most probably be “no”. She said however that, since the request was given a STAT rating, they have to start considering it within a few hours; and suggested that I call the insurance company the next morning to see where they were in the process.

I called the insurance company at 7:30 the next morning. In less than two minutes, I heard, “Your daughter has been approved to go to the Cleveland Clinic.” I couldn’t believe it! We beat all the odds, and in just 24 hours! Our doctor and nurse were shocked. Our doctor immediately called the Cleveland Clinic, and to his further surprise, the pediatric spinal specialist that he was transferred to was a renowned author and lecturer and our doctor’s former professor and mentor!

On Wednesday morning I called Sister to let her know that Tara was going to the Cleveland Clinic. I had to leave a message, and at 10:30 p.m. Sister returned my call. Among other things, I told Sister that Tara had missed school Tuesday and Wednesday because of a bad flu, couldn’t sleep well because of her back pain, and didn’t get out of bed before 11:00 each morning. Sister asked me to bring the phone to Tara, who was sleeping.

Sister said, “I am going to pray for a miracle. We will know in a few days if a miracle has happened. But if it doesn’t, we will pray for God to give the surgeon skilled hands.” Sister then asked me to put my hand on the curved portion of Tara’s spine. Tara was sleeping in the fetal position, so I could easily place my hand on the L1, L2 and L3 area. Sister began to pray. But this time she didn’t say the same prayer that she normally says. Rather, she said an elaborate prayer that I never heard before. When Sister was done praying, Tara started to stir. Sister asked me if Tara was waking up, and asked to speak to Tara.

I held the phone to Tara’s ear, and since the room was quiet, I could hear both sides of the conversation. Sister asked Tara how her back felt. Tara, who was still half-asleep, said, “It feels like it is pulling.” Sister asked, “How is it pulling? Side to side? Or up and down?” Tara said, “Up and down. It feels weird.” (Up and down? I was amazed. It was as if God was straightening her spine at that very moment!) Sister let out a little laugh and asked to speak to me again.

Sister told me again that we will know in a few days if a miracle occurred; and that she and the other sisters will pray for Tara. Sister said that her hands really hurt, meaning that Tara must be in tremendous pain. She then said, “But that’s okay. I’ll just offer my pain to God and my hands will feel better soon.” She also said that she took Tara’s pain away for the night so that Tara could have a good night’s sleep, wake up early and have a great day. At 6:00 the next morning, Tara bounced out of bed – not sick, tired or in pain. She went to school and had a great day, just like Sister said she would.

The following day, Tara had an MRI taken in North Dartmouth, MA. The radiologist report said that Tara’s spine now had a 22-degree curvature. Clearly, the miracle did not yet happen.

The next morning I took Tara to a civilian hospital in Newport for a CAT scan. I had the MRI with me, which I turned over to the civilian doctor. After waiting, the doctor called us into a private room and said that the local hospital was unable to help Tara. He said that he did not have the sophisticated equipment that was necessary to handle her case and added, “You are so lucky to be going to the Cleveland Clinic.”

We then went to our doctor’s office, where our doctor eagerly grabbed the MRI and disappeared. We didn’t have an appointment, but came back about two hours later, at which point we saw our doctor walking down the hall while looking at the MRI. He said that he had been on the phone with other doctors and went to the medical library. He then explained, “I just want to be sure that I am seeing what I am seeing.” He said the MRI confirmed his diagnosis and that, in fact, that one part of her spine was smaller than it should be, and that in some places along the spine, there wasn’t a lot of room between the spine and the spinal cord, making surgery extremely delicate. He then said that his former mentor at the Cleveland Clinic agreed to operate on Tara within two weeks.

Tara had her first appointment with the Cleveland Clinic about a week later. I brought along all Tara’s x-rays, including the MRI. As we were waiting for the specialist, a young intern walked in and said – almost with annoyance – “There’s nothing wrong with her.” After asking him to repeat what he said, I asked, “But what about the pedicles, the curvature on the x­rays, the growth on her spine, the pinching of the spinal cord, her pain?” He said that the curvature could have been Tara “slouching” (which didn’t make any sense because, to make that kind of curve, Tara would have had to stand up on one set of toes and stick her hip out.) He then asked Tara if she was in pain. She said no. I couldn’t believe it! Tara was always in pain, but she said she hadn’t felt pain for about a week. But I was still not convinced by this young intern, and he knew it. So he left to get the specialist. A few moments later, we heard the two doctors talking in the hallway while going over Tara’s MRI and x-rays. Then the specialist came in the room and repeated what the intern said – and I repeated my “but what about …”‘s. He interrupted me as if I was wasting his time, and said, “Mrs. Putnam, there is very little chance Tara will ever need to wear a brace – and absolutely no chance that she will ever need surgery!” Seeing the look on my face, he said that if it would make me feel better, I can have Tara’s back x-rayed again in six months.

Putnam Family with Sister Dulce.

Still in shock, I called our doctor in Newport. He came to the phone immediately, anxious to hear what happened. I was expecting him to say that he was glad that a second opinion saw nothing wrong with Tara’s spine. But when I told him that they didn’t find anything wrong with Tara, he was completely baffled. He said, “They were there! They were there! I spent hours on those x­rays, and I know they were there!” (He was referring to the congenitally short pedicles.) I told him what the young intern said about Tara possibly slouching when the x-rays were taken and asked him why they didn’t take another x-ray to confirm or deny the curve. He got annoyed and said, “I did – that’s what the MRI was for!” He was so confused that I felt sorry for him. I asked him if he believed in miracles. He said, “You go with that because I know they were there!”

My next call was to Sister Dulce. After telling her that they found nothing wrong with Tara, she immediately said, “I am going to thank God for His miracle.” Then she said yet another prayer that I never heard before. (Sister always says “Blessed be God” when He heals us or otherwise answers our prayers, but this was a very extensive “thank you”. Then she said that she had been praying at that level all week.) After telling her the rest of the story, I asked her why the Cleveland Clinic doctors didn’t see anything wrong despite the fact that they were looking at the same x-rays as did the three doctors in Newport and Massachusetts. She said, “Come on, you believe God can straighten a spine, but you don’t believe that He can change an x­ray?”

Tara’s pain never returned, and in fact, her hump disappeared almost immediately and she was instantly a ½ inch taller. Six months later, I had Tara’s back x-rayed again. Before taking the x-ray, the doctor read Tara’s history, looked at her past x-rays, looked at her spine, and asked me when she had the surgery. When I told him she didn’t have surgery, he ordered another X-ray. This time, Tara’s spine measured at an 8-degree curvature in the L1, L2, and L3 area! After laying the new x-ray directly over the x-ray taken six months earlier, the difference was obvious. Tara went from having an “S” shaped curve to having a spine that was almost straight with a small “scoop” on the bottom. Since it is impossible to straighten a spine without surgery, the doctor had to concede a miracle. Five other staff members came in to look at the x-rays – they, too, were stunned.

Perhaps Why Tara’s Story has been Sister’s “Calling Card”

As I said at the beginning of this writing, it seems like everything that has happened to my family through Sister’s gift has happened for a reason. This applies especially to what happened after Tara’s miracle.

In August of 2000, about two months after Tara’s appointment at the Cleveland Clinic, my parents and I were in Baton Rouge on a business trip. We were having dinner with Father Jeff Bayhi, whom I had just met. (My parents, however, had known Father for about a month.) The conversation turned to Father’s work with Mother Teresa and the criteria by which one is canonized. When Father said that one had to have two documented miracles, I said that I know of a nun who has performed what I believed to be a miracle. I then proceeded to tell Tara’s story.

Soon after that dinner, Father Bayhi contacted Sister Dulce who was living in San Antonio, Texas at that time. One thing led to another, resulting in Sister coming to Baton Rouge, where the rest is history.