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Washington Adventist Hospital Event Highlights The Power of Prayer

By Alberto Valenzuela

In the 60s, when Aretha Franklin crooned, "I say a little prayer for you," she probably didn't imagine that the soulful pledge would become the stuff of serious science. But increasingly, scientists are studying the power of prayer, in particular its role in healing people who are sick.

What role does the human spirit play in healing? Can prayer literally heal the body? For Christian healthcare institutions, these are relevant questions. Any serious study on the effects of prayer on patients deserves their attention. On March 6, a "Spirituality in Medicine" symposium was held at Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park, Md., to explore this topic.

For decades, the scientific and spiritual communities have been at odds over faith versus medicine. But that is changing dramatically as the body of research grows, demonstrating real connections between body and soul. Because of this growing trend, medical schools are now offering courses on spirituality and health.

Recent studies conducted by Duke University Medical Center-as well as another independent study at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.-suggest that more investigation using rigorous scientific methods is warranted in studying the value of prayer and other noetic interventions. Noetic interventions are healing influences performed without the use of drugs, devices, or surgical procedures. Prayer is a noetic intervention.

Ismael Gama, director for Mission and Pastoral Care at Washington Adventist Hospital, helped organize the symposium, along with Mark Turco, M.D., FACC, FSCAI, director of the Center for Cardiac & Vascular Research and Harish Vaidya, CNMT-NCT. Gama was surprised at how many medical and spiritual leaders in the area responded by attending. "On a cold day like this, I didn’t think we’d have more than 40 people," Gama said. "We have close to 140!"

The main speaker was Duke cardiologist Dr, Mitch Krucoff, a native Washingtonian with an undergraduate degree in religious studies from Yale and a medical degree from George Washington University. His presentation was on the results of the phase 1 feasibility-pilot, known as MANTRA (Monitoring and Actualization of Noetic TRAinings) project.

"We now know that clinically meaningful, high-quality research can be done in this area," says Dr. Krucoff. "The data are suggestive that there may be a measurable therapeutic benefit related to noetic therapies in patients undergoing angioplasty."

Dr. Krucoff's presentation lasted over two hours, during which he presented chart after chart that clearly indicated that patients in his study who received noetic therapies showed a 20 to 25 percent reduction in adverse outcomes. His presentation kept the mixed crowd of clergy and medical professionals glued to his words and the data that appeared on the screen. In a methodical, structured way, he showed how 150 cardiac patients had participated in the study from April 1997 to April 1998.

In the study, patients were assigned either to standard coronary stenting (a procedure in which a slotted tube mounted on a balloon catheter is inserted into the coronary artery-when the balloon is inflated, the stent expands and pushes itself against the inner wall of the coronary artery, holding the artery open when the balloon is deflated and removed) or to coronary stenting combined with one of the following therapies: guided imagery, stress relaxation, healing touch, or intercessory prayer.

The study showed that those assigned to receive prayer appeared to fare better than both those receiving standard care and those receiving other types of noetic treatment.

During the mid-morning break, clergy leaders of different faiths lined up to talk to Dr. Krucoff and inquire about the relationship between prayer and faith. What caught everyone’s attention was the fact that in his study the prayer groups included Buddhists, Catholics, Moravians, Jews, fundamentalist Christians, Baptists, and the Unity School of Christianity. (In the St. Luke’s hospital study all the participants were Christian.) The name, age, and illness of each patient assigned to prayer therapy had been sent to each prayer group.

Prayers from all over the world were said on behalf of these patients for healing and recovery. What did they have in common? Faith and belief in the power of prayer. There was even a group that prayed for those who were praying!

"I had read about this study," says Dr. Carlos Covarrubias, one of the attendees. "But after Dr. Krucoff’s presentation, I’m more than ever persuaded of the power of prayer. I had never thought about it this way. Now I will prescribe prayer as a therapy."