In his new book, "Like Any Normal Day: A Story of Devotion," Daily News writer Mark Kram Jr. tells the story of Buddy Miley — tragically injured while playing quarterback for Warminster's William Tennent High School in 1973 — and his devoted brother, Jimmy. In this excerpt from the book, Buddy and Jimmy trek from Philadelphia to Lourdes, France, in search of a miracle cure for Buddy's paralysis.
Jimmy would remember thinking: What is everybody looking at? As they walked through the airport in Paris and later through the streets of Lourdes — Buddy in his wheelchair, Jimmy pushing it through the tangle of pedestrians — it occurred to him how very far they were from home. It seemed like ages ago that they were back in Warminster, the two of them preparing for this adventure that had been underwritten by his friend, former Heisman Trophy winner Alan Ameche: from JFK Airport, across the Atlantic Ocean and to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, where legions of incurables have come in search of divine healing. In the parlance of the sport that had placed him in his predicament, Buddy looked upon the trip as the ultimate "Hail May Pass."
As they sat in their room at the Imperial Hotel, Jimmy flipped on the tape recorder he had carried with him. They were always fooling around with recording stuff in those days; Jimmy used to drive around back home and describe whatever he happened to see, just so Buddy could get a feel for what was going on out in the world. Jimmy began the chronicle of their journey to France as soon as they had landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport: The rain has stopped and the sun is beginning to break through…the French women are not "too enthusiastic about us...I think we'd do better in Warminster"…and the room at the hotel room has "a puny bed and no pillows." Inside that room, they laugh over how they just got stuck in the elevator.
JIMMY: What is it? 8 p.m.?
JIMMY: Yeah, I'm having peanut butter bread for dinner. Buddy's having peanut butter bread with a little jam. We have about 10 pieces of bread left.
BUDDY: Thanks, Mom, for getting jam.
JIMMY: Yeah, you got us jam instead of jelly.
BUDDY: I sent Jimmy out on the town and he was out buying the groceries, a bottle of Coke and a bottle of orange soda.
JIMMY: I'm going to drink my warm Coke that cost 7.5 Francs. Nobody ripped us off yet.
BUDDY: I'll have a sip of that.
JIMMY: This soda is like Alka-Seltzer.
BUDDY: Plop, plop, fizz, fizz. You drink the orange stuff.
JIMMY: We'll take you to Lourdes tomorrow.
BUDDY: We'll report back later.
JIMMY: Bon voyage. Oui! Oui!
Miracles had abounded in the catechism books Buddy had grown up reading, none larger in his consideration than John 5:1-18, in which Jesus heals a lame man by the pool of Bethesda: "Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already be in that condition a long time, He said to him, 'Do you want to be made well?' The sick man answered Him, 'Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.' Jesus said to him, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk.' And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed and walked." Biblical passages such as this gave him hope, even if only the belief that there was some slender possibility for recovery that existed beyond what the doctors had told him. Oh, but how he had prayed for it to be so, that even if he could not get up and walk again, he would be relieved of the unendurable pain that he was in, which became harder to cope with as the years passed.
No option would be left unexplored. From the very beginning, he welcomed spiritual intervention. When he had been at Sacred Heart Hospital, he found that he had no appetite, which caused his weight to drop and his mother to worry. But one day Ed Cherosky stopped in his room with one of the blood-soaked gloves that belonged to Pio of Pietrelcina — Padre Pio, as he became popularly known. The glove had been worn by the Capuchin priest and later Roman Catholic saint to cover up his stigmata. Blood flowed from penny-sized holes in his hands and his feet in the approximate location of the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ. Of enduring belief in the healing powers that the glove possessed, Cherosky roamed the area hospitals with it. He had heard what happened to Buddy and showed up with the glove, which he placed on Buddy in his bed. Incredibly — or so the story is told by his mother Rosemarie — later that day Buddy yelled out to the nursing staff, "What does a guy got to do to get some food around here?" Whenever Cherosky came back with the glove through the years, Buddy would say that he experienced "a warmth inside of him," a phenomenon that his friend Joanne Johnston said was "not a physical healing but gave him the strength to go on."
Given even the longest shot of walking again, Buddy would give it a look, always hopeful but never overly so. Within a few years of his injury, he attended an event at the George Washington Motor Lodge in Willow Grove, where thousands of people with assorted physical and other concerns showed up to hear televangelist Pat Robertson. With Buddy that day were his parents and Jimmy, who was just 13 or so, and had been having problems with his throat. Breathing in cool air caused it to close up. Mesmerized, Jimmy remembers how Robertson strode across the stage, waded into the crowd and shouted: "Someone has a money problem. That has been taken care of….Someone has a hole in their heart. That has been taken care of…Someone has a throat problem. That has been taken care of." Immediately, Jimmy held up his arms and exclaimed that Robertson was speaking of him. Sighing, his mother looked at him and said, "Stop that carrying on." But Jimmy says with a chuckle, "Believe it or not, I never had a problem with my throat again." And he remembers that Buddy told him, "You were always barging in on my miracles."
But eight or so years later Buddy would go to Lourdes and Jimmy would take him. Jimmy was chosen because, as their mother would say, "We always said: 'If you have a job to do, give it Jimmy, he'll do it." It was always said in jest, but it was true. Physically, Jimmy was big and strong enough to handle Buddy. But Jimmy also had developed a considerable degree of patience, which was especially useful whenever he and Buddy had to go somewhere. On their journey to France in October 1982, Jimmy carried Buddy on and off planes and on and off buses, careful to cradle him in his arms as he moved him in and out of his wheelchair. In the air and again at the hotel, he would feed Buddy, give him something to drink and attend to his catheter bag. To begin that Saturday in Lourdes, he dressed Buddy and combed his hair. But before Jimmy did any of that he turned on the tape recorder.
JIMMY: Day 2. Held hostage.
BUDDY: Just getting up. Gonna go eat peanut butter and jelly for breakfast again. And get some Coke.
JIMMY: This town blows!
Jimmy would not think that years later when he looked back on it. Steeped in vivid fall colors, Lourdes was a picturesque spot, with a river curling through it and an old bridge that led to the shrine. It was near the end of the season, which runs from April to October, yet it was teeming with visitors — or, as they are called, "pilgrims." Millions of ailing people have gone there each year since 1860, after Bernadette Soubirous, a 14-year-old girl, had witnessed the apparition of a white-robed woman in a grotto called Massabiele. From February to July 1858, Bernadette had seen 18 such apparitions. On the day of the 16th apparition—March 25—Bernadette began digging until there was a small puddle, which grew into a pool and then what has become the hallowed spring. Only a relative handful of people had been recognized by the church as having been cured by immersing themselves in it — 65 as of the fall of 1982 — and yet as Jimmy wheeled Buddy into the grotto, both of them were overcome by the scene before them: Hanging from the walls were discarded canes, crutches and wheelchairs.
Jimmy handed off Buddy to an attendant, who guided his wheelchair behind a curtain. Jimmy stood outside.
Buddy could be heard, "No, get Jimmy! Get my brother!"
The attendant slid back the curtain and waved for Jimmy.
Jimmy stepped inside, where Buddy sat in his wheelchair by a tub. Jimmy helped him disrobe, picked him and lowered his paralyzed body into the water. It was cold, so very cold—53.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The attendant crossed himself, and offered in French an invocation to Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Bernadette.
Quickly, Jimmy then withdrew Buddy from the tub. Buddy was shivering.
Jimmy grabbed a towel and began drying him. But the attendant stepped between them and said, "No! No! No!" Jimmy understood. He was supposed to allow the air to dry Buddy.
Neither of them knew how this whole thing worked, when or if Buddy was supposed to walk. So they laughed and went on their way, Jimmy pushing his brother's frail body up a street as Buddy observed into the tape recorder, "Here come a parade of wheelchairs." To which Jimmy added, sorrowfully, "A bunch of Buddys." They attended Mass (Buddy said, "You would love it, Mom"), stopped by some souvenir shops and headed back to the hotel. There, they had a ham-and-cheese sandwich for dinner, then stayed up well into the evening laughing so hard that the occupant in the neighboring room pounded on the wall and shouted, "Keep it down in there!" The following day, they went back to the airport, where Jimmy hoisted Buddy out of his wheelchair on the tarmac and carried him up the steep stairwell to the plane. Jimmy could feel his grip loosen. Buddy looked down and said, "My pants are falling down!" But Jimmy eyed the cabin door up ahead and continued to climb, breathing hard as he replied, "Too bad!"
Gone just four days, they were ecstatic to be back, even if the trip seemed to have been for naught. With the baseball season over, Jimmy worked during the week and cut loose on the weekend. There was always something going on. Two weeks or so later – on October 29 – he joined some friends at a bar in Lambertville, N.J., where the drinking age was only 18. In the back of his used Ford Pinto, the car he had gotten with his small bonus from the Dodgers, was a case of beer, which he and a friend had worked down to a six-pack by the time they got to the bar at 10 p.m. or so. There, they drank rum-and-Cokes for another four hours and, shooed out the door at closing, piled in the car and headed off in search of a party.
Two girls they had met that evening followed in a car behind them. They would see the whole thing: With his friend in the passenger seat, Jimmy was driving along, not erratically or at a high rate of speed, when he failed to negotiate a left curve in the road. The Pinto crashed into a tree. When the police arrived on the scene, they found the dazed passenger inside the wreck but not Jimmy. One of them asked, "Where is the driver?" The passenger, who had an injured back that would eventually heal, pointed to a concrete wall some 75 yards away. At the base of it, Jimmy lay unconscious, blood spilling from a head wound. The police ascertained that Jimmy had been hurled from his car door upon impact and hit the wall headfirst. They also discovered that he had a blood alcohol level of .24, or three times the legal limit.
Sleepily, Bert Miley, his father, answered the phone call that came in at 6 a.m. from Temple University Hospital. When the family convened there later that day, they were told by a worried doctor that Jimmy was in critical condition. There were fractures to his skull, nose and shoulder, along with assorted facial lacerations. Surgeons performed a left frontal craniotomy, sewed the top of his ear back on, and joined a portion of his stomach muscle to his nose to prevent the drainage of fluid from his brain. With his head wrapped in bandages, he was scarcely recognizable. His mother sat in the waiting room and quietly prayed, Hail Mary, full of grace…just as she had done nine years before. It seemed unbelievable to her that here she was again, in another hospital with another son near death. But when she went home that evening, the phone rang quite late. On the line was the doctor, who said in an animated voice: "I never call like this but I wanted you to know that Jimmy regained consciousness, and was able to remember his phone number when I asked for it." What everyone would say for years to come was that it was a miracle that he survived. Buddy would always add with the laugh: "Yeah, the one I was supposed to get."