This wonderful season of new life strikes me as just the right time to give you an update on the condition of Father Tim Vakoc, the first U.S. military chaplain wounded in the Iraq war. I say “just the right time” because the news about Father Tim is both hopeful and upbeat – so much so that the story is brimming with new life all on its own. If this doesn’t reflect the power of prayer, I don’t know what does.
Father Tim, you might remember, suffered a terrible head injury when a roadside bomb exploded near his unit three years ago. His wounds were uncomfortably close to being fatal. He survived, however – just barely – and was flown back to the U.S. and ultimately to the Veterans Administration Medical Center in his home Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis. As I wrote last year: “He has received wonderful care, of course, but the outlook hasn’t always been bright. Most of the time, in fact, it’s been downright discouraging.”
Still, prayers on his behalf were working overtime. A year ago I relayed the promising story of a slight improvement in Father Tim’s condition, reported by Linda Louie, one of the friends invited by his family to be among his regular visitors.
Now the reports are even more encouraging. I caught up with them in AMS News, the newsletter published by the (U.S.) Military Archdiocese, which reprinted a recent story written by Jeremy Olson of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press. Briefly, here are the highlights:
After a year of therapy at the VA Medical Center, Father Tim had little strength in his legs and was able to move his left hand and wrist slightly – nothing more. Speaking was apparently out of the question. Doctors told Father Tim’s family that his recovery probably would progress no further.
Family and friends thought otherwise. The prayers continued, and so did the miracles. Continuing his exercise therapy, the chaplain gained balance and added strength. The tube in his throat was removed last summer, and he spoke his first clear words two months later. In December he was strong enough to be discharged from the VA facility, and became a resident of St. Therese nursing home in New Hope, Minn.
The healing, and the hard work of therapy, go on. Father Tim has a laptop touch-screen communicator on which he’s able to provide not only simple yes-or-no answers, but can indicate some basic wishes. “I need a break from talking” is one of them. From someone who hadn’t uttered a word for more than two years, it’s a powerful thought.
A highlight of his recovery – his recovery so far, that is – came not long ago when he attended the annual award banquet at Benilde-St. Margaret’s, his old high school in St. Louis Park. He was seated in a wheelchair and a friend lowered a microphone in front of him, asking him for a greeting. As Jeremy Olson reported: “For 20 seconds, only the gymnasium lights hummed in the quiet. ‘Thank you,’ Father Vakoc said. Silence returned as he labored for breath. ‘And,’ he whispered, ‘God ... love ... you.’”
Father Tim Vakoc, priest and chaplain, gives honor every day to both of his callings. His ministry goes on as he inspires all those with whom he comes in contact. And as for the power of prayer? Never count it out. Catholic Online
An Update from Father Tim's Sister, Anita:Greetings.
This is Father Tim's sister. He has made even more progress. Today the 30th is Father Tim's 15th anniversary as a priest. Yesterday was the 3rd anniversary of his injury.
He continues on his healing road. The prayer support and people support is truly a blessing.
The staff at St Therese work him hard. Speech has worked with Tim so he now is eating a little. Oatmeal. Yes it is a long way from a steak and a scotch but it is a huge step forward. He is now able to receive communion when he goes to daily mass. Physical Therapy has him on a recumbent step machine and in a standing table. And his head is so much straighter. Occupational Therapy has him using his right arm and doing some of his ADLS.
Please continue the prayers. Miracles do happen.