Philadelphia father makes a kneeling pilgrimage in thanksgiving for son’s death-defying recovery from cancer

Arek Szura made a 10-block, 40-minute pilgrimage of thanksgiving April 8, 2023, on his hands and knees to St. Adalbert Church, part of St. John Paul II Parish in Philadelphia, following his young son Adrian’s recovery from chemotherapy-related cardiac arrest in October 2022. (OSV News photo/courtesy Izabela Szura)

by Gina Christian

PHILADELPHIA (OSV News) — When his critically ill son Adrian, 7, went into cardiac arrest in October 2022, Arek Szura made a promise to God: “If you let him walk out of this hospital, I will walk from our house on my hands and knees to church to thank you.”

Szura’s wife, Izabela, told OSV News the odds were almost completely against Arek ever fulfilling that pledge.

The Szura family, who belong to St. John Paul II Parish in Philadelphia’s Port Richmond section, had learned in April 2022 that Adrian suffered from acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

While in treatment, Adrian had experienced “the rarest of rarest side effects” from his form of chemotherapy; his heart stopped for 30 minutes as doctors at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia worked to resuscitate him, said Izabela Szura.

Although the medical team revived him, Adrian experienced a number of potentially fatal side effects from the cardiac arrest, she said.

“His kidneys and liver were not working, and his body swelled with almost 25 pounds of fluid because his kidneys [were failing],” Izabela Szura said.

The doctors also warned that Adrian might have sustained neurological damage from the heart failure, she said. Only later did she learn her son actually had “only a 10% chance of survival.”

But Izabela and Arek Szura, along with their daughter Alexandra, 10, and a band of supporters known as “Adrian’s Army,” refused to give up hope.

Izabela Szura placed an icon of Mary and Jesus in Adrian’s hands, along with a rosary. A member of a prayer group based at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, brought a basket of craft stones, marked with inspirational affirmations, to Adrian’s hospital room. Izabela Szura drew one that read “miracles happen,” and placed the stone in Adrian’s hands.

Slowly, dialysis removed the excess fluid from his body — 46 days after his cardiac arrest, Adrian was discharged from the hospital.

A month later, Adrian was “in complete remission” with no signs of neurological impairment. Today, he is “running around like a crazy kid” as he remains on track to finish another 16 months of chemotherapy, said Izabela Szura.

On April 8, Arek Szura, fulfilled his promise to God, donning work gloves and kneepads to shuffle and crawl the 10 blocks from his home to St. Adalbert Church, part of St. John Paul II Parish and home to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Polish Apostolate.

During the 40-minute trek, “I prayed to St. John Paul II, St. Rita and St. Charbel,” said Arek Szura, speaking in Polish to OSV News with his wife Izabela translating into English.

During the 1976 Eucharistic Congress, St. John Paul II — then Cardinal Karol Wojtyla — had stayed at St. Adalbert for some two weeks, celebrating Mass and visiting area shops and restaurants.

Ahead of Arek Szura’s arrival — which coincided with the traditional Holy Saturday blessing of Easter food — Izabela Szura phoned St. Adalbert pastor emeritus and Polish Apostolate director Father Jan Palkowski, alerting him of the thanksgiving pilgrimage.

Arek Szura of Philadelphia kneels before a crucifix at St. Adalbert Church in Philadelphia, accompanied by his 7-year-old son Adrian and 10-year-old daughter Alexandra. Szura traveled to the church April 8, 2023, crawling on his hands and knees, in thanksgiving for Adrian’s recovery from chemotherapy-related cardiac arrest in October 2022. St. Adalbert pastor emeritus and Polish Apostolate director Father Jan Palkowski (standing, right of Szura), blessed Szura as he entered the church. (OSV News photo/courtesy Izabela Szura)

“He literally broke down on the phone crying,” she said. “He said he’s been a priest for 47 years and has never seen anything like that.”

Izabela, Adrian and Alexandra Szura drove to catch up with Arek Szura as he neared the doors of the church, where Father Palkowski had his hands raised in blessing.

Adrian “cried as he ran out” to meet his father, said Izabela Szura.

Arek Szura made his way up the church’s aisle and knelt before the crucifix that had been laid out for veneration during Good Friday services.

He told OSV News, “I turned to Father Jan and said, ‘It was hard, but I kept my promise.'”

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