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Local girl blessed by Pope

One Brooklyn family is still feeling the impact of Pope Francis’ New York visit after the man the world is calling the “People’s Pope” blessed 12-year-old Julia Bruzzese of Bensonhurst, who inexplicably lost mobility in her legs in May and remained undiagnosed for nearly four months.

The middle-schooler, who attends St. Bernadette School in Dyker Heights, found a sense of hope in her meeting with Pope Francis, calling it a “miracle.”

“Something just comes over you and you start hysterically crying,” the seventh-grader said to MSNBC about seeing the Pope on Thursday, September 24. “When he came over to me it was so precious. He did give me a blessing. He put his hand on my head and then he put it on my face.”

“There was no guarantee that he would approach us and bless us,” said Julia’s father, Enrico Bruzzese about the once-in-a-lifetime encounter. “[We were told] he was probably going to bless the whole crowd. We were the last ones and he stopped at us and blessed us. It was just the most amazing experience. Julia was so touched by it. Since then, it has injected hope into Julia and injected happiness into a very lonely situation. All these people reaching out to us, it’s just so beautiful and it touches us.”

Hope is incredibly precious to the Bruzzese family, dealing with Julia’s mysterious illness which “started with abdominal pain,” explained  Bruzzese. “We were in and out of hospitals and she was treated with antibiotics for various things. We visited seven different emergency rooms, we have seen numerous specialists. At one point they even told Julia this was all in her head.”

Refusing to accept that, Bruzzese, alongside his wife Josephine, started researching Julia’s condition and began to find similarities in her symptoms — including loss of feeling in her legs, loss of mobility, blurred vision, stiff neck, back pain, exhaustion and fluctuating body temperature — to that of Lyme Disease, which is contracted through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick.

“We came to realize, two to three months into Julia’s problem, that it looked a lot like Lyme Disease,” said Bruzzese. “The first hospital told us, ‘it can’t be Lyme Disease.’ [However], we find out that not only is a spinal tap not an accurate test for Lyme Disease, but if you’ve been treated with antibiotics it will not show up.

Photo courtesy of Enrico Bruzzese
Photo courtesy of Enrico Bruzzese

“It just terrified me,” he went on. “I was getting brushed off, I didn’t know what was wrong and it didn’t seem like anyone was going to find out.”

After seeking out several specialists, the Bruzzese family traveled two hours north to see a Lyme Disease specialist who clinically diagnosed Julia with the ailment. Once on a four-antibiotic treatment coupled with a homeopathic regimen, Bruzzese said they saw a “tremendous result.

“Julia became alert and awake, she could use her arms, and her upper body strength came back,” said Bruzzese. “[However] she still can’t move from her hips down and the abdominal pain never went away. Her specialist ordered an abdominal X-ray just to make sure nothing was going on and [she found] that she had Sacral Spina bifida, which lead me to follow up with a neurologist.”

While Julia’s family and specialists are doing all that they can to ensure her recovery, certain hurdles, like inaccessibility to physical therapy, insurance issues, and several unclear diagnoses, still need to be ironed out.

In the meantime,“Through all of this, with the blessing of the Pope, we’ve had an outpouring of e-mails, Facebook messages, and people wanting to help us in any way,” Bruzzese said. “We have doctors offering medical care pro-bono so we are going to try to explore one of those options.”

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