SUSAN Gunderson’s family and friends are hoping and praying for a miracle.
They want to send her to Lourdes and are raising the money for the trip.
Forty-two year-old Susan, a wife and mother of two young children, suffered a major brain haemorrhage in the kitchen of her family’s Greenslopes home on Brisbane’s southside in May 1996.
Since then she has been a quadriplegic and is unable to speak.
Fully cognitive, she has limited communication through an electronic voice synthesiser. Her friend Nicole King and others are still deeply touched by her situation.
‘Susan has to live daily with the frustration of being unable to care for herself, communicate verbally or do something as simple and yet so precious as take her children in her arms, hold them close and tell them she loves them,’ Nicole said.
Nicole’s daughter, Ella, 8, and Susan’s daughter, Samantha, 9, are both in Year 4 at St Joachim’s Primary School, Holland Park.
In April, the girls and several classmates started praying the Rosary during their morning tea breaks, hoping for a miracle for Samantha’s mother.
Nicole said the example of the children had touched the adults around them and that had led to the campaign to send Susan to Lourdes.
‘The children have sparked this off in their firm belief that a miracle will happen,’ she said.
Since becoming aware of Susan’s situation, Nicole has constantly had her friend on her mind.
‘I lay in bed at night thinking about her. I think it’s the fact she can’t speak. I lay there thinking how awful it would be to be trapped in your body and not be able to speak, not be able to take part in a conversation,’ she said.
‘She’s been waiting years for something to happen.
‘As Lourdes has been the site of so many miracles and we’ve been praying the Rosary for her, it seemed the logical place to go.’
Nicole and other mothers from the St Joachim’s School community have launched a campaign to raise $20,000 for Susan to go on a pilgrimage to Lourdes with her husband, Steven, and a carer.
Capuchin Father Carmel Flora, formerly of Wynnum, who has also been praying for Susan and her family, will join the pilgrimage as spiritual director.
The group of friends have given themselves six weeks to raise the money because they want Susan to be in Lourdes by September, before the cold weather arrives, so she can be immersed in the water there.
Although initially unsure about the idea of making such a long journey, Steven said Susan eventually decided she had the faith to make this a worthwhile pilgrimage.
‘This plan of Nicole’s has blown us out of the water,’ he said.
‘We’re going with open minds and open hearts. We sat down and talked about it and Susan believes this has happened for a reason.
‘We’re hoping for a miracle I suppose. If you don’t go hoping for a miracle, there’s no use going.
‘She’s prayed for something to happen … and then this.’
In the past six to eight weeks, since the children and others have made a renewed and concerted prayer effort, Steven said he had noticed little improvements in Susan.
‘She’s doing little things now that she’s not done two months ago,’ he said.
‘She’s made more progress in the last six weeks than she has in the last 12 months.
‘We can only put that down to the power of prayer.’
Six days a week, Steven and volunteers work with Susan on a neurological development therapy program which aims to help patients reach their potential. Through that, Susan had been able to take one or two steps.
‘I can now get her up and standing and she can now take 20 to 30 steps herself,’
‘That in itself is a miracle because it shouldn’t happen. Doctors had said seven years ago Susan would not walk again.
‘Susan’s quite buoyed by that. She believes it’s got something to do with prayer.’
Steven said Susan’s drive and determination was phenomenal.
The first night she was admitted to hospital, doctors did not believe she would survive.
She stopped breathing three times and had to be revived.
She had a near-death experience and later told others that God had told her she was still needed in this life.
Doctors removed Susan from life support and the family gathered around her bed to say goodbye. But she began breathing unaided and the doctors then declared her technically brain dead.
Her will to live pulled her through. A few months later, doctors advised Steven to book Susan into a nursing home as nothing more could be done for her.
‘But with two young children and knowing she was still cognitive, I couldn’t do that,’ Steven said.
Instead, he gave up work to care for Susan with the help of carers and volunteers.
Now, he has fresh hope.
‘She’s got such belief in herself and now little things are happening.
‘I want my wife back and the children want their mother back.’
Susan has told Steven she believes this pilgrimage will bring her closer to God.
Nicole was struck by Steven’s devotion in caring for his wife and that was another motivation for organising the pilgrimage.
‘He is the most outstanding man. He’s devoted his whole life for his family. He’s given up work and he just cares for Susan so beautifully,’ she said.
‘They’re just an inspiration to all married couples. He seems to have kept this love alive despite all this.
‘(Organising the pilgrimage) is as much for him as it is for her.’
As well as Lourdes, the pilgrimage will go to Paris, Assisi, Rome and San Giovanni Rotundo.
As part of the fundraising drive, Nicole and her friends are organising a concert to be held at St Joachim’s Parish Hall on August 29 at 7pm.
Warwick Adeney and other members of the Queensland Orchestra will be among the performers. They are giving their time free of charge.
Tickets are $20 and are available at St Joachim’s School.
Donations can be sent to the Susan Gunderson Appeal c/o St Joachim’s School, PO Box 134, Holland Park, Qld 4121, or by phoning Nicole King on (07) 3342 0777.