Faith carries family after injury

Pam Surano shares with Jennifer Antkowiak how she and her daughter Mary are relying on their faith amid tragedy.

As Pam Surano left Mass at St. Benedict the Moor parish on August 30, 2020, filled with gratitude and eager for a Sunday family dinner, she got a call from her 13-year-old daughter, Mary, that changed their lives.

Mary had been jumping on a trampoline and landed on her head and neck.  Pam rushed to see her. 

“She was in her daddy’s car and I opened the door and I said, ‘Mary, get out and walk with me.’ She said, ‘I can’t.’ And I said, ‘Okay, wiggle your toes.’ And she said, ‘I can’t’,” Suranno said. 

The accident triggered what was eventually diagnosed as a spinal stroke, leaving Mary unable to feel or move anything from the chest down.

Many moments from that day are forever burned into Surano’s mind, including seeing her daughter moved from the car to the hospital.

“She fell forward,” Surano said. “And I’ll never forget the image of her falling forward like a broken little doll.  She lost all control of her body, and it was just the most horrifying thing that I’ve ever seen. Just the most perfect little person, inside and out.”

Surano praised the medical teams who’ve been helping Mary. They have offered varying opinions concerning expectations for Mary’s recovery. But, as devout, active Catholics, Surano and Mary feel they have the answers they need through their connection with God.  In fact, Surano said, one day Mary told her she heard God’s voice and wrote down His words:

“‘God told me, ‘Mary, in order for Me to heal you, You must stay faithful and believe that I will, Do not forget that I will heal you. Your faith will allow me to perform a miracle and heal you, Then you can tell everyone and they will know My work and turn to Me.’

“And after she read that, she just started crying from the purest part of her soul, and I knew. Who writes that?”  Surano asked.  “Who says, ‘They will know my work and turn to me’? No one. She knew that was from God, and we read this every day and I say, ‘Don’t ask anyone anymore if you will walk, because you already have your answer.’” 

Surano believes they’ve seen Jesus working through.  Their Catholic community has offered a Mass and rosaries for Mary. She has received visits from their pastor, former Pittsburgh Steeler Ryan Shazier, and well wishes from people they don’t even know.

“The prayers of this very special Pittsburgh community have just been a lifeline, just a life raft when we just felt we were drowning in sorrow,” Surano said.

Mary has continued to attend online classes through her school, Blessed Francis Seelos Academy, which has been a great source of comfort to the family. “If we stop learning, we stop living. She is living as fully as she can because her life is full. it’s full of prayer.  it’s full of friends, family, school.  Her school has been absolutely amazing,” Surano said. 

 School parents shared Mary’s story with staff at the National Shrine of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos in New Orleans, hopeful for the intercession of the priest who served nine years in Pittsburgh and is known as a miracle worker.

“The priest from the shrine calls us and checks in with Mary and holds the cross of Blessed Francis Seelos, with the bones in the cross, and prays for her over the phone and she tells him, ‘well this happened today and that happened today,’” Surano said.  “We just feel God working so powerfully.”