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What Might Fabrice Muamba's Extraordinary Year Say About the Health Benefits of Prayer?

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A doctor has become a deserving Face of the Year.

Not just for being a doctor, but for being the right doctor in the right place at the right time.

Cardiologist and Spurs fan Dr Andrew Deaner rushed onto the White Hart Lane pitch when Fabrice Muamba went into cardiac arrest. He played a crucial role in keeping the 24-year-old Bolton midfielder alive in a heartwarming display of the Hippocratic oath taking precedence over fan rivalry!

Fabrice Muamba "died" for 78 minutes, yet one month later he was boasting a smile as wide as an eagle's wingspan.

He was smiling, he said, because he will see his son grow up. And he was smiling because he felt it was God who pulled him through.

He told the Sun: "On the morning of the game I prayed with my father and asked God to protect me -- and he didn't let me down."

The newspapers were generous in reporting Muamba's conviction that the recovery was "more than a miracle" and that he owed his life to divine intervention. Many commenters were not so generous. They felt medical science deserved all the glory.

What Muamba describes falls between the two. He now makes a priority of thanking the doctor for saving his life and for the expert medical attention he received away from the stadium.

On the other hand, if his return to health were solely a medical feat then the gods of chance were smiling on him with exceptional kindness. In a video about his part in carrying out two hours of CPR on Muamba, Dr Deaner called the footballer's recovery "very unusual" and said he had explained to the family "there was a very high possibility he wouldn't make it". Asked if it was a miracle, he said: "...if you are ever going to use the term miraculous, I suppose it could be used here".

It seems almost impossible to track Muamba's rapid progress without feeling a great sense of grace has been at work beyond just the skillful physical care he received. The gloomy predictions promptly overturned, his moving return to the Reebok Stadium and then White Hart Lane and his recent appearances at the Sports Personality of the Year awards and on the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas special kept him in the news throughout the year.

What might have enabled his story to be not just one of survival but of thriving?

The public responded with pronouncements of prayer en masse after the tragedy. Tweeting with hashtags evoking prayer for Muamba were an instant response to the tragic incident and Twitter reported almost 700,000 such Tweets within just three days. That is a heartening sign that the end of faith isn't as nigh in the UK as some would want us to think.

I certainly believe in the power of prayer to make a difference, yet an atheist I spoke with also had a point when he suggested a God who responds according to the volume of prayer must either be hard of hearing or capricious in His care. In my three decades' experience of using spiritual means to meet my health needs I have found one-to-one prayer most effective. That is, I've often seen how one person glimpsing something of divine love's care for all can help another person in need feel that spiritual love and be healed by it.

The kind of prayer which first transforms the thought of the one praying is illustrated in Marcel Muamba's response to his son's crisis. The footballer's father said he "knew Fabrice would be safe in God's hands" from the moment he saw the incident. When he reached the hospital he found a quiet place in which to pray "intensely".

Having done so he went to his son with a spiritual conviction which enabled him to say: "I am telling you that you will come out of this hospital through the front door not the back door".

People were amazed at how calm he had become once he'd prayed, but he says he had become certain Fabrice would survive and defy the threat of brain damage.

In my opinion, his prayerful convictions have been vindicated even though some might deny it was because of them.

Yet even scientific research recognises there is something in play when faith changes consciousness from apprehension to expectancy. Studies have been increasingly noting the impact positive anticipation has on medical outcomes. This includes thousands of studies on the placebo effect, which is the evident impact of treatments without any medicinal properties. And it includes studies tracking how patient and doctor expectancy can determine the effectiveness of drugs and the success of rehabilitation.

Such research tends to point to a positive correlation between expectancy and outcomes.

Scientific research also evidences how faith can be a positive or a negative influence. Faith in a judgmental and punishing God is not helpful. On the other hand, faith in a loving God reduces anxiety and stress which greatly contribute to ill health. So prayer which nurtures an expectancy of good has been shown to be a valuable tool in meeting health care needs.

Admittedly this doesn't prove there is a God at the receiving end of those prayers. But that reality isn't a question in the minds of those who have successfully faced down struggles through prayer. When you consistently feel the kind of grace the Muamba family have felt, and have found the fear of sickness give place to a quiet conviction - and practical evidence - of divine Love's healing presence it is pretty compelling evidence.

Such grace doesn't come from someone - or many people - pleading for help to a distant Deity who needs persuading to be of service. It comes about when an individual's heart opens up to the restorative spiritual power always at hand, as seen in the cures the Bible attributes to Jesus.

When that occurs, as Fabrice Muamba suggested, it is indeed more than a miracle precisely because it is such a natural and beautiful thing.

Or as Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian faith I follow, put it in her key text Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: "The miracle of grace is no miracle to Love."