With quiet confidence Sydney Khoury climbs each step of a metal ladder as she positions herself to place a crown of flowers atop a statue of the Blessed Mother at St. Philip Church in Greenville, R.I.
It’s a bit of a reach for Sydney, but with determination, the nine-year-old extends her arms, carefully placing her tribute atop the head of the Mother of Jesus.
A short distance away, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, R.I. watches admiringly as the St. Philip School second-grader successfully overcomes yet another obstacle in her young life. Three years ago, Bishop Tobin also witnessed Sydney overcome one her greatest challenges. At that time, as she lay in the Intensive Care Unit of Hasbro Children’s Hospital with her life hanging in the balance, the bishop prayed over her with a relic of Mother Teresa.
Sydney’s parents say the prayerful intervention yielded results nothing short of miraculous.
In November 2007, Sydney was diagnosed with a Stage 3 malignant tumor on her kidney. Two days later, doctors removed her kidney and started her on a treatment regimen of chemotherapy and radiation. The overall success rate of the treatment was only 42 percent they were told.
For nearly three months, her condition was stable. Then, a robust round of chemotherapy quickly took its toll on her.
“She started five days of chemo. It hit her so hard,” recalls her mother, Michele.
Sydney went into what is known as a neutropenic state, as her white blood cell count dropped to zero, severely limiting her body’s ability to fight off infections.
“She was home for three days; on the fourth, she caught a fever,” Michele said.
Sydney was immediately brought into the hospital where she spent nearly all of February 2008 in the Intensive Care Unit.
She was intubated twice to maintain an open airway, and also became paralyzed for 12 hours during that time.
On Feb. 20, Michele and Ken Khoury received news that no parent ever wants to hear.
“They couldn’t tell me if she’d make it,” Michele said. “The doctor said, ‘I can’t guarantee anything over the next 48 hours’.”
Two days later, Sydney received the sacrament of the anointing of the sick from Father Peter J. Sheahan, the assistant pastor at St. Philip Church.
On Feb. 27, with Sydney’s condition not improving, doctors performed a lung biopsy.
“Her lungs were just collapsing,” her mother recalls.
The next day, with doctors about to have a discussion with the family about their wish to fit Sydney with a tracheal tube to help her breathing, Bishop Tobin visited Sydney in the hospital.
As he prayed over her, he held in his hand a relic of Blessed Mother Teresa. It was a gift from a priest friend back in his native Pittsburgh who had obtained it in Rome where he worked with the Missionaries of Charity, the religious order founded by Blessed Mother Teresa.
What happened next was remarkable.
Both of Sydney’s parents and Bishop Tobin witnessed the young girl’s body convulse during the prayers for her recovery.
“Very quickly after that, she got well,” Michele said of her daughter’s health. “He did the blessing and she didn’t need the tracheotomy.”
While he is cautious about attributing Sydney’s recovery solely to divine intervention, Bishop Tobin says the day he visited her in the hospital was a powerful day indeed.
“I always tend to be skeptical of these divine interventions, but it is very clear to me that something very special happened that day,” Bishop Tobin said.
“When she was blessed with the relic, her body reacted and she opened her eyes,” the bishop recalls.
In order to ensure any possible recurrence of cancer is treated immediately, Sydney must undergo an MRI every three months. Her most recent test showed that she is still in remission.
“Her spirits are great,” Sydney’s dad, Ken, said of his daughter.
In addition to the unwavering support of family and friends throughout, the Khourys say they cannot thank the St. Philip school and parish community enough for helping the family navigate through their crisis, as well as the continual support they give.
“Our family and friends had one of Sydney’s hands, and the school and the church had the other,” Michele said.
“The way they got involved, it was like they were doing it for their own families,” Ken said of the St. Philip community.
Students and teachers held a 24-hour vigil for Sydney.
“It brought the whole community so close,” said kindergarten teacher Diane Ahern. “She’s a gift from God.”
Principal Darlene Walsh said she was proud of the way the students and staff rallied around Sydney and her family in their time of need.
Linda Audet, a school librarian who was one of several staff to spend hours by Sydney’s hospital bedside, is still amazed by what she witnessed.
“She was so sick, and she’s come such a long way,” Audet said.
For the Khoury family, there is no underestimating the impact that prayer can have on a life.
“The amount of prayers got God’s attention,” Michele said. “I really feel that through the power of prayer she has been healed,” Michele said. “It’s amazing. It’s a miracle.”
Printed with permission from Rhode Island Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Providence, R.I.