ST. PAUL, Minn.- “The miracle priest.”
He is not a faith healer and he doesn't bilocate but that title fits Father Christopher Dunn of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis very well.
After an astounding recovery just months before his ordination, he is a living, breathing rebuke to the hasty removal of life-support systems as well.
In February, Dunn had one month to go before his ordination when he checked into Regions Hospital in St. Paul complaining of severe pain in his hip.
Within 48 hours, his condition was declared fatal, he was surviving on life support and doctors were urging that the machines be turned off.
Father Christopher Dunn told the Register the story of how he came to be ordained just a few months later.
“In February  I fell at the seminary and broke skin on my hip,” he recalled.
For the next two months, he ran a fever and didn't feel well, though he didn't connect those symptoms and his aching hip with the fall. Doctors diagnosed the flu, and a later x-ray of Dunn's hip failed to reveal any problem. But the sickness continued and the pain grew worse.
By the time Dunn checked himself into the hospital on April 22, his blood pressure was extremely low: 80 over 40, compared to a typical blood pressure of 120 over 80. Doctors explained that tests had disclosed inflammation in the muscles in his hip, so Dunn consented to exploratory surgery.
Dunn's uncle, a former Chief of Surgical Service at Martha's Vineyard Hospital, Mass., Dr. Charles Claydon, kept in constant touch with the doctors and family. Doctors told Claydon that they surgically drained an abscess and put a pack in the young man's hip. There was no reason not to expect a full recovery.
However, later that same week doctors again operated to remove the pack, and found dead muscle tissue, indicating a serious, flesh-eating bacteria. After subsequent surgery on April 24, doctors declared Dunn's condition “fatal.”
Dunn was now sedated and on a breathing ventilator. Doctors, said Dunn, told the family that infection had spread to his blood and urged them to discontinue his life support. But Dunn's widowed mother told them she would only make a decision upon Dr. Claydon's arrival.
“They told mom that I would lose dignity if I was left on life support,” said Father Dunn.
Father Mark Moriarty, a recently ordained classmate and close friend of Dunn, was told of the diagnosis and said that seminarians gathered in the chapel to pray a rosary together for the young seminarian.
That same evening, Dr. Claydon joined Dunn's mother and siblings at the hospital in the Twin Cities. He sat by Dunn's bedside, “saying goodbye” to his unconscious nephew.
He told the Register,“I looked up and saw that his vitals were not bad, in fact, they were a little better. His blood pressure was 110 over 70. He was stable,” said Claydon. “With this type of infection, the patient usually grows worse rapidly”.
“The seminarians had begun praying at noon,” remembered Claydon, “and by 8 p.m. [my nephew] had already improved.”
The family decided to persist with treatment, including administering penicillin. Claydon talked to the doctors and defended the family's decision not to remove life support: “We expect a miracle,” he said.
Father Moriarty said, “Even though the doctors said there is no hope, we'll continue to pray for a miracle.” The seminarians took turns keeping vigil throughout the night before the Blessed Sacrament. Soon, doctors no were longer suggesting that Dunn's life support be removed.
Twenty-four hours later, doctors told the Dunn family that the young seminarian had a chance.
On May 6, two weeks after Dunn checked himself into the hospital, doctors took him off the ventilator. He had regained consciousness and, despite predictions that he would not leave the hospital until mid-July, Dunn left eight days later. He was ordained with his classmates on May 29. A slight limp is the only remaining sign of the infection that nearly took his life.
One of the doctors involved in Dunn's case, a non-Catholic, told Claydon: “You people have got something here.” Another doctor said, “I usually don't talk to patients about faith, but now I believe in miracles,” Dr. Claydon told the Register.
“Any time someone is faced with a life-threatening decision, get a second opinion, and go with your gut feeling,” said Claydon. “Chris was only sick for two days. Pulling life support seemed awfully quick. We needed to give him a chance.”
“The lesson for me,” said Moriarty, “was not to be afraid to ask God for what we want and need.”
Debra Haberkorn writes from St. Paul, Minnesota.