To Donna Cullinan, a clinical assistant professor in the Connell School of Nursing, prayer comes in many different ways. For her, prayer is about having conversations with her younger sister Clare, who passed away when they were children.
On Tuesday night, as a part of the Agape Latte series, Cullinan shared her experience working with a volunteer medical team in Haiti and how it helped shape her belief in the power of prayer. Her realization began when she was treating Anderson, an underprivileged Haitian child who suffered from a skull defect and an invasive fluid sac on his face. His condition would require extensive surgery, and Cullinan had little faith that the operation could be done or that he would survive.
“I really, honestly, didn’t think he was going to live,” Cullinan said.
Due to the sac, Anderson’s eye was occluded, and at night his mother had to lift the growth from his face so that he could breathe while he slept. If it were not removed successfully and soon, Anderson would eventually suffocate. However, the procedure posed serious risks involving damage to his air passages and brain. Despite the unpromising circumstances, Cullinan and her team decided to take on the task of treating the young boy.
Cullinan had conversations with her mother, who passed away, through prayer.
“I could feel my mother just saying, ‘Go for this, Donna. I’m going to help you do this,’” Cullinan said.
The first step in Anderson’s recovery was to undergo an MRI, but the MRI machine at Anderson’s local clinic was broken. Cullinan and her team devoted themselves to finding a nearby hospital in which he could be given an MRI.
“You know what,” Cullinan said to her team, “we can do this. We can pray, and we can ask for a miracle.”
They did find a clinic to administer the test, but it would cost $682. With leftover discretionary funding and an additional donation from Cullinan, the team covered the cost, and Anderson was given the MRI.
As the team waited for the test results, it prayed.
“I didn’t pray in the traditional way,” Cullinan said. “I prayed to the relationships I had. I prayed to my mom, especially, and to my dad.”
The test results confirmed that Anderson’s sac was filled with fluid and brain matter, so the next step was to surgically remove the growth. However, Anderson suffered from scabies, a painful skin condition that deterred doctors from operating on him for fear that the condition might complicate the procedure. Finding a willing surgeon was difficult because of this, and again, Cullinan turned to prayer. The team was eventually able to find a doctor who would perform the operation for free.
Throughout the search process, Cullinan trusted in those relationships with her sister and mother and prayed to them to ask God for help.
After hours of surgery, Anderson’s sac was successfully removed.
“There was no other explanation other than prayer,” Cullinan said.
Thanking God has become an integral part of her daily life since having worked with Anderson, and she now actively incorporates an “attitude of gratitude” into everything she does. Cullinan believes that the medical team would not have been successful without the help and support of God, her mother, and Clare.
Her message to students was never give up and to be the change they want to see in the world.
“It doesn’t have to be as big as the story of Anderson—that happens once in a lifetime I think,” Cullinan said. “But prayer can open up your life if we know it’s okay to pray in whatever way feels good to us. That’s my Agape.”
Featured Image by Jake Evans / Heights Staff