A Nun’s Story of Regaining her Gait & Balance with the Help of a Jewish Miracle Worker
Sitting across from Sister Miriam Lucille Montella, one would never be able to guess that, at one time, she suffered from a brain tumor. Something inside her, like a light, shines through and warms everything around her. Perhaps that’s the result from belonging to the Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood, New York for almost sixty years; or stems from an unwavering, open-minded faith, which is contagious, spreading a sense of ease on those she comes in contact with.
Sister Miriam’s story started twenty-five years before she arrived at Peak Performance Physical Therapy’s Wantagh office and met Therapist, Mitch Henig. Back in 1990, she started experiencing weakness on her left side. It mostly happened when she walked and as a result she developed a shuffle. When Sister Miriam finally went t to the doctor for some tests, he called her back in for a follow up appointment and told her, “Your results look good…with one exception…. you have a brain tumor.’”
“I felt like someone punched me in the stomach. First he says my results are good…then the news of the brain tumor…to me that doesn’t mean good results,” she explains. The truth was Sister Miriam had a menongoma, a benign and painless tumor on the right lobe of her brain (if a brain tumor is on the right side, the left side of the body is affected; it’s always the opposite). Her only symptom was numbness.
This specific type of tumor arises from the meningeal tissue. “I had a brain tumor in a position where it was surrounded by numerous arteries. The doctor explained that it was a very complicated surgery and the trouble would be finding a brain surgeon capable of this tricky a procedure because just one slip or slight of the hand and I could end up with permanent brain damage. But God is good and he is always with us. It turned out I had a dear friend that’s a quadriplegic, she’s also a nurse and worked directly and professionally with a surgeon who works with coma patients and experienced success in the area.”
He agreed to do it. “He said it was a delicate surgery; and in the event that we nick the arteries, your left side will be paralyzed for life. I was filled with fear and anxiety…the thought of the consequences and the out come awaiting me. I did the only thing I could; I said, ‘God, whatever is your will…I accept it.’ I believe that events and people in your life shape you; I only wondered what he had in store.”
The year is now 2015 and Sister Miriams’s brain tumor is a memory, an inspiring story of her successful four-hour surgery and pleasant recovery in a Brentwood rehab run by fellow nuns. “While relearning how to walk was tedious and hard, I had great support and formed a tight bond with those around me. I was finally able to walk again, but at a slower gate than before.”
So the story seemed to have a happy ending, you’re probably thinking. Where does Peak Performance come into play? “A couple of months ago, the dragging on the left side suddenly became very prominent. After surgery they warned me that over time there would be degrees of disability.” Sister Miriam discovered that the scar tissue from the surgery was slowing up the left side. “You have to go for physical therapy,” said the doctor. “I’m going to send you to a miracle worker. Don’t be intimidated. To you, he’ll look like a rabbi, but he’s truly an angel. There isn’t a patient I sent to Mitch that doesn’t sing his praises.”
“This was beginning to sound like a funny story…the nun…the rabbi…but I had no problem. I’m in the business of praying for miracles.”
Nothing happens without a reason. Upon meeting Mitch, Sister Miriam knew he was a special soul. “He taught me these wonderful exercises. I actually started sharing them with other nuns because they have mobility problems, too.” Mitch made sure to include a lot of exercises involving curbs and steps; he wanted Sister Miriam to know how to manage and navigate through different situations.
Sister Miriam explained how Mitch encouraged each step she took toward recovery. “I felt great about myself. Especially since my doctor said I would have to wear a leg brace…even with the therapy.” However, Mitch didn’t feel that way. In fact, while she was in therapy, Sister Miriam’s brace was being custom made, but before it was finished, she was improving. “When I put on the brace it didn’t feel right. It thwarted me more than anything. It hurt my back and my leg and I never use it. I am brace free and barely using the cane…only outside when the terrain is unexpected.”
“My doctor also warned me that I would have to use a cane for the rest of my life, but Mitch taught me that I don’t have to use it indoors. He helped and inspired me to be more independent. Now, I don’t even always use it outdoors,” Sister Miriam said with a smile, proud of her progress and hard work.
“There’s one more thing I have to share with you,” said Sister Miriam. “Aside from helping me heal…Mitch inspired my faith. He shared a great book with me, I Believe by Leo Zisman.” Zisman is a holocaust survivor. He was born in Lithuania, spent time in the Jewish ghetto and was sent to concentration camps, one of them being Auschwitz. Aside from writing I believe, Zisman was the topic of a documentary called, The Lion of Judah. “This book changed my life. I took it on a retreat, which became such an inspiring experience.”
Therapy ended over two months ago and I still do my exercises once a day. I feel great. Even though Mitch and I have different faiths, my whole experience with him was moving. I joke now and I call myself the Jewish Nun; over the course of things we were able to not only share our mutual faith, but Mitch added to my faith, he brought me inspiration in so many ways.”