Could it be possible? Could the prayers of a handful of people help someone -- even someone on the other side of the world -- facing heart surgery?
A few years back, Roy L. was heading into his third heart procedure -- an angioplasty and stent placement. Doctors were going to thread a catheter up a clogged artery, open it up, and insert a little device, the stent, to prop it open. It's a risky procedure under the best of circumstances. "The risks are the big ones -- death, stroke, heart attack," says his doctor, Mitchell Krucoff, MD, a cardiovascular specialist at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C.
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"You're mighty thankful you came out of it," Roy tells WebMD
Though he didn't know it, Roy may have had some help getting through the procedure, some nonmedical help. Later, he learned he was on the receiving end of prayers before, during, and after the procedure -- prayers sent from nuns, monks, priests, and rabbis all over the world, with his name attached to them.
"I'm not a church-going man, but I believe in the Lord," he tells WebMD. "If somebody prays for me, I sure appreciate it." And he's doing well now, with his heart problems anyway. The only thing plaguing him presently is the onset of diabetes.
Roy was part of a pilot study looking at the effects of "distant prayer" on the outcome of patients undergoing high-risk procedures.
But did prayers help Roy survive the angioplasty? Did they help ameliorate some of the stress that might have complicated things? Or do a person's own religious beliefs -- our personal prayers -- have an effect on well-being? Is there truly a link between mere mortals and the almighty, as some recent neurological studies have seemed to show?
Those are questions that Krucoff and others are attempting to answer in a growing number of studies.
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Research focusing on the power of prayer in healing has nearly doubled in the past 10 years, says David Larson, MD, MSPH, president of the National Institute for Healthcare Research, a private nonprofit agency.