46 year-old Fr. Vakoc--a Minnesota native--first arrived in Iraq in 2003, following a stint as military chaplain in Bosnia and Germany. His duties in Iraq included holding prayer services and escorting the bodies of fallen soldiers to planes bound for the U.S.
Shortly after celebrating Mass on May 24th, 2004--the 12th anniversary of his ordination as a priest--he was struck by a roadside bomb near the city of Mosul. Shrapnel from the blast destroyed his left eye and embedded itself into his skull, causing brain damage.
From that point on, Fr. Vakoc has not been able to speak and has been in what doctors call a “minimally responsive” state. Staff at the Minneapolis Veterans Medical Center had all but given up hope and declared that the priest would never speak again.
Then, on October 26th, everything changed.
His mother, Phyllis Vakoc, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune newspaper that "All of a sudden Tim was on the phone and he was talking to me…He said 'Mom.' He said 'goodbye.' He said a lot of things in between I couldn't catch. For two and a half years we've been waiting. We've been praying for a miracle."
That miracle happened in the presence of Brenda Simmons, a longtime friend of Fr. Vakoc. The Star-Tribune reported that she is a holistic health practitioner from Colorado who’d been working with the priest despite most hospital staff having given up hope.
The Star-Tribune recounted that on the afternoon of October 26th “when he woke up from a nap, [Simmons] said, ‘Hi, Tim. Can you say hi back?’
He said, "Hi."
Simmons, struggling to restrain her shock, replied, "Can you say Mom?"
"Very clear again,” she reported, “he said 'Mom,'…I was just like, 'Oh, my gosh…And I said, 'Tim, can you say, Thank you, God?' And he said 'Thank you, God.'"
Since then, progress has been steady, but sometimes frustrating for the once gregarious priest. The hospital has now stepped up therapy and the priest’s devout Catholic family continually waits for more words from their son and brother.
Patience runs high though, for the embattled family. According to the Star-Tribune, mother Phyllis recently told her son, “ I've waited two and a half years, Tim…And we can wait some more. We'll wait as long as it takes."
.- For the last two years, Father H. Timothy Vakoc has lay nearly comatose in a Minnesota hospital. Last week, however, he shocked family, friends and caregivers by uttering his first words since being severely injured by an explosion in Iraq.