One of the most spectacular and best documented miracles at Lourdes was that of a young Italian soldier in the 1960s who recovered from an aggressive form of cancer that destroyed his hip and pelvic bone.
On April 24, 1964, Vittorio returned home, cured
Vittorio Micheli, now 73, was overwhelmed with the high turnout of people filling St Dominic’s church, in Rabat, on Friday evening to listen to the personal testimony of his unexplained healing after being dipped in one of the baths of Lourdes, in France.
Accompanied by Mario Botta, the Italian surgeon who followed Mr Micheli’s case, the septuagenarian gave a detailed account of his incredible cure which, after years of intensive investigations, was declared the 63rd Lourdes miracle recognised by the Church.
In April 1962, Mr Micheli, then a 22-year-old soldier serving with the Alpine Corps, complained of an excruciating pain in his left hip and leg.
“I had only been serving for six months and my superiors initially thought I was trying to invent an excuse to evade work.
“However, when it became clear that the pain was unbearable and I was having difficulty walking, I was admitted to the military hospital of Verona.”
After various tests – the results of which were examined by three different hospitals – ineffective vitamin treatment and a biopsy, the dreaded diagnosis of a malignant tumour was made in June 1962.
His condition continued to deteriorate rapidly as the pain in his pelvic region and left leg increased. X-rays showed that the tumour was eating away at the bone until it left his leg dangling, with only the skin keeping it attached to the rest of his body. The bone had completely crumbled away.
He was transferred to the military hospital of Trento where he was placed in a large hip-to-foot plaster cast. He was then sent to the cancer centre of Borgo Valsugana to undergo radiation therapy. However, he was discharged after only three days as he was deemed too weak to withstand the therapy.
Doctors said there was nothing they could do and no treatment was applied.
Mr Micheli’s mother, who was also in hospital suffering from heart problems, pleaded with him to go on a pilgrimage to Lourdes. The process was a lengthy one: doctors considered him too weak to travel and he also needed special permission to leave Italy as he was a soldier.
Before travelling, his plaster cast was replaced by a stronger one. A new examination was done, establishing that there were “no bony elements; only a shapeless mass of doughy consistency”. His hip joint was completely destroyed.
Finally in possession of the necessary permits, in May 1963 he travelled to Lourdes where, still in his cast, he was immersed in the sacred baths.
“Nothing notable happened while I was there. I didn’t feel any special sensation but, upon returning to the Trento hospital, I stopped taking painkillers because the pain had stopped abruptly.
“My appetite returned and I started to eat again. I abandoned my crutches and found I could walk, even with the plaster on.”
Doctors at first did not want to take the responsibility of removing his cast but, upon further examination, they found that his hip joint was restored.
Buttressing his account, Prof. Botta demonstrated X-rays depicting Mr Micheli’s condition both before and after his pilgrimage to Lourdes.
“The post-pilgrimage X-rays show a remarkable reconstruction of the bony tissues of the pelvis, which had been completely destroyed. On April 24, 1964, Vittorio returned home, cured,” Prof. Botta said, to a loud applause that rang through the church.
Mr Micheli could effortlessly jump, run and stand on his left leg.
His case was subsequently examined by the Lourdes medical bureau. A dossier on Mr Micheli’s case was sent to the Vatican’s Medical Commission, an international panel of doctors set up to investigate such matters.
After a lengthy process, on May 26, 1976, his case was declared a miracle.
Asked by The Times whether, given the giant leaps in medical science and increased sophistication, Mr Micheli’s case would still be declared as an “inexplicable cure”, Prof. Botta replied that such cases were still completely untreatable.
“They’re sentenced to death. A person who has osteosarcoma has absolutely no chances of survival,” he said.