Joseph said he not only saw, but actually met and spoke with Cardinal Van Thuan, during two vivid incidents he described as a "separation of soul and body." Although he said he couldn't reveal the details of the ecounters, he did say that he suspected that they occurred while his doctors were observing his loss of brain activity and decline in vital signs.
"Soon after the second visit" with the cardinal, he said, "I woke up from the coma." He had "no idea what had happened," or why he had "all these tubes and wires" coming out of his body, particularly the tube in his neck that kept him from speaking.
Doctors thought it would be months or years before he could speak, walk, or study. But within days he was talking and breathing normally, racing his nurses around the rehabilitation room.
He also received an entirely unexpected phone call from Cardinal Van Thuan's sister in Canada, who ended up giving him one of her brother's rosaries.
Joseph returned to the seminary at the beginning of the following semester– a far cry from the two years his doctors had advised him to wait.
As others learned about Cardinal Van Thuan's possible involvement in Joseph's healing, he ended up providing information to officials working on the cardinal's cause for beatification in Rome. Apart from that contribution, though, the young seminarian just wants to move forward toward the goal of ordination. When he returned to the seminary, Joseph was assigned once again to hospital duties.
While he was reticent about some potentially miraculous aspects of his healing, Joseph spoke enthusiastically about his current hospital work. He said his coma and recovery experience have allowed him to give hope and comfort to patients.
Those patients don't need to know about his mysterious meetings with a possible saint, or his breathtaking return from death. What matters more is to see the scar on his throat, and know he understands. "It's very fulfilling to be able to walk into a room and say ... 'You don't have to feel this alone, because I've been there' – physically, there, in that hospital bed."
Joseph recalled that his experiences in the coma instilled "the virtue of hope" in his heart, giving him a message he hopes to share with those in desperate circumstances. "That's Cardinal Van Thuan in my life," the future priest reflected.