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Faith-filled parents establish foundation in son’s memory

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Tony Merk died two years ago at the age of six from brain cancer. His parents' Pray-Hope-Believe foundation has been established in his memory. (COURTESY PHOTO)

By Patricia McGeever
For The Catholic Telegraph

Prayers are not always answered in the way you might expect and miracles can come in many different forms. Just ask Rick and Lynne Merk from St. Ann Parish in Groesbeck. They are the parents of four boys. They lost their youngest, Tony, to brain cancer two years ago, when he was only six years old.

“When you have a situation where you can’t do a lot about it and there’s a lot outside your control, that’s when we always learned to turn to prayer,” said Lynne.

Tony was almost four when his vague symptoms appeared over a two week period. He had no fever, but did have occasional vomiting and he would appear fine later in the day. When he was sick for three consecutive mornings and complained of a headache, his pediatrician referred him to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center for a CT scan. The diagnosis was medulloblastoma, a malignant tumor the size of a gourmet olive at the base of Tony’s brain. Surgery to remove it was successful, but it had already spread to Tony’s spine.

That’s when Rick and Lynne, their large extended family and friends launched an all-out assault on Tony’s cancer with prayer as their weapon. They took Tony to healing Masses, prayed novenas and said pages and pages of prayers. Lynne’s father started a Facebook page asking people to pray to Mother Teresa every day at either 8 a.m. or 8 p.m., requesting her intercession to heal Tony.

Among the prayer cards in the stack was one of the archangel Raphael. The name Raphael means “God heals.”

“Tony talked about angel Raphael visiting him,” says Lynne. One of those visits came just before receiving the results of an MRI that was taken the day before. “Tony said that angel Rafael said that ‘the yucks,’ he called his cancer ‘the yucks,’ were gone from his brain, but said he didn’t know about the spine. When we got the results, it said the brain was clean (but) there was a faint spot in the spine.”

Tony also had encounters with Jesus. Lynne says he told her “Mommy, Jesus came down from the cross to visit me’ and he would never tell us what Jesus said.” But Rick says that Tony told him, “Jesus had holes in His hands.”

Two months before he died, Tony needed surgery to put in a shunt. Lynne wished she could be in the operating room holding him during the procedure. Knowing that wasn’t an option she prayed that Jesus would look after Tony while he was in surgery. “Tony later told me, ‘Mommy, Jesus was snuggling me,’ and that’s what I was picturing,” she said.

July 4 now has added significance for the Merks. They lost Tony on Independence Day. An annual 5K in Colerain Township is now a benefit for the Merks’ Pray~Hope~Believe Foundation, which they started to honor Tony’s memory. “It was an idea because it was the day Tony died and it was already established. I just wanted to make it bigger and split the profits with them. But in the end they said just do it and you get all the profits,” said Rick.

This year’s race had more than 1,300 runners and raised about $40,000. The morning began with a flag ceremony conducted by the 1-174th Air Defense Artillery Unit of the Ohio Army National Guard, Rick’s former unit. Auxiliary Bishop Joseph R. Binzer then offered a blessing before the first runners took off.

Money from the race benefits brain tumor research at Children’s Hospital and they keep some in reserve to help people who have children with a life threatening illness. The hope is to help researchers find more effective treatments with fewer long-term side effects.

“That’s our goal,” said Rick. “If we can save one parent the grief we feel, by contributing to research, we’ll have done our part. That’s why we do it. We need to make a difference for other kids.”

The website for the Pray~Hope~Believe Foundation; www.prayhopebelieve.org, accepts both donations and prayer requests.

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