By JOEY REISTROFFER
DUNCAN — This is a story of faith. It starts with the heartache, worry and despair of two parents fearing for the life of their youngest son. It ends with a miracle. The miracle of prayer.
In September 2001, Ray and Marie Meyers were worried sick about their 6-year-old son, Joey. He kept throwing up, and they could not figure out why. He felt miserable, and they did not know what to do.
Their family practitioner, Dr. Eric Norton, dug deep for answers. Finally, a computerized tomography scan revealed that Joey had a large tumor growing on his brain stem.
This was on a Wednesday. Quick actions and quick decisions needed to be taken to save Joey’s life. Ray said he did not have enough time to fully examine his medical options, so he prayed. He asked his friends to pray. He e-mailed his priest, Father Jay Scott Newman, pastor of St. Mary’s in Greenville, and asked for his prayers.
Surgery finally was scheduled the following Tuesday at MUSC in Charleston. It would be performed by Dr. Jeffrey Campbell, a pediatric neurosurgeon. Between Wednesday and Tuesday, however, the Meyers saw God’s graces take root.
It started with Father Newman, who had just returned from a retreat when he heard the devastating news. He comforted Ray and Marie and their two other sons, Will, 12, and Louis, 14. Then he wrote to a friend, who had contacts in the Vatican, and he got Joey’s named placed on Pope John Paul II’s personal prayer list.
“That knocked us off our feet,” Ray said.
The Vatican even delivered a letter and a papal medal blessed by the pope.
Father Newman did not stop there. When he heard Joey’s surgery would be in Charleston, he reserved the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist to celebrate a special Mass for the little boy.
Back in the Upstate, prayers started pouring in.
Tracey and Brian Mershon knew something was wrong when they saw Joey become ill in church. “Marie was very upset,” Tracey said. “I can still see the look in her eyes. She was so worried and so distraught.”
The Mershons felt they had to do something. So they started a prayer chain.
They set up a 24-hour adoration period scheduled for the day of Joey’s surgery. Tracey went to St. Joseph’s High School and asked the students and teachers there if they would join the Mershons during adoration.
“Everybody had heard about it, and they were very generous with their time,” Tracey said.
“Our family received many blessings for being able to pray for them,” Tracey added. “When you’re helping somebody else, your problems become insignificant,” she said.
John and Emily Paluszak heard about Joey through Father Newman. He was supposed to baptize their youngest son, Peter, the Sunday before Joey’s cancer surgery. Father Newman, however, arranged for another priest to perform the baptism because he wanted to be with the Meyers in Charleston during their hour of need.
John and Emily understood. They immediately prayed a rosary for Joey. They, too, decided to crank up a 24-hour adoration period for the sick child. Emily contacted Tina Andress, who called everyone she knew to participate in the adoration.
“The hours filled up immediately,” Emily said. The adoration period spilled over from 24 hours to 48 hours, then surged to 72 hours. “The first two days were amazing,” Emily said. “People were coming together to pray, and you could feel the love from all those prayers. I just knew Joey would be all right.”
Then Joey and everyone worried about him were blessed with even more graces.
The children saw their parents praying, and they wanted to help, too. So they pitched right in with their prayers. “Even today, they remind me to pray for Joey,” Emily Paluscak said of her children. Tracey Mershon saw the same thing happening in her family. She said her children still remind her every day to say a prayer for Joey.
The Meyers never were alone with their grief. The Catholic community had embraced them. Everybody was praying for them — small children on their knees before bedtime all the way up to Pope John Paul II.
“I was asking for prayers,” Ray Meyers said. People everywhere responded. He even got on the Internet, seeking comfort. “I couldn’t talk about it because it was too hard, so I had to write about it,” Ray said.
Those pleas were answered with “e-mails and letters from all over the United States, telling us they were praying for us,” Ray said. “We got letters and e-mails from all over — from California, from Chicago and from the Northeast.”
They received comfort from Catholics, and they received concern and care from people of all faiths all across the nation.
The Meyers’ Regnum Christi group prayed for them, and Ray said even the Legionaries of Christ celebrated 40 consecutive Masses for little Joey.
“The Catholic Church truly is universal,” Ray said.
“It was so incredible to feel the strength of those prayers,” Marie Meyers said.
Joey Meyers still faced crucial surgery on Tuesday, but now his family confronted it with hope.
Father Newman had yet another surprise for the family. Ray had asked whether Father Newman could give Joey a special sacrament, the anointing of the sick.
Father Newman said Joey was a bit young, but he knew the Meyers were a very faithful family, and he knew their two older sons were looking into vocations.
He said Joey had to receive the sacraments of holy confession and Communion first. To do this, he had to understand what he was receiving.
Sacramental rites that may be used in pastoral care for the dying can include penance, anointing of the sick, and Communion. Once used only for those in danger of death, it is used more broadly now for those whose health is debilitated by sickness or old age.
Ray said he asked Joey if he knew what the Eucharist was and whether he was ready to receive it. “Joey said it was the body and blood of Christ and he had wanted to receive Communion for a long time.”
Joey was ready.
On Monday, about 75 friends, neighbors and members of their Catholic family drove down to Charleston to be with the Meyers and to witness the sacraments being bestowed upon Joey.
“So many people left their jobs to come down with us,” Ray said. “People from all over the Upstate offered their prayers and came down. We felt so at home there.”
At the cathedral, Marie Meyers said Father Newman’s homily was simple but powerful.
Father Newman talked about how old the universe was. He told Joey that God knew before creation that we would all be here this day, Marie said. He said the whole world is in God’s hands, and he loves us all. He also talked about how much God cares for us and putting our trust and faith in him.
“Father took Joey by the hand and led him back to the sacristy for confession,” Marie said. “I felt like he was in God’s hands.”
Joey also received his First Communion and the anointing of the sick in the cathedral that day. His father called it a day filled with joy, a day of celebration. He felt his son now was “in the perfect state of grace to go into surgery.”
Joey Meyers’ surgery was a success. Most of the tumor was taken out, and it was benign. He still needs checkups for the next 10 years, but right now Joey is a healthy child of Christ.
He knows that he is surrounded by the love of his family, the love of his community and the love of the entire Catholic Church.
To this day, children and parents across the Upstate still pray for little Joey. This has solidified their faith.