NM Senator’s Miracle Cure Merely Mistake, Misdiagnosis

December 29, 2008

Recently I came across a front-page headline in my local newspaper, about a state senator here in New Mexico whose brain disease may have been cured by God through the power of prayer. "Brain Disease Either Gone or Stalled," was the front page article’s subhead.

I wrote a column about this for LiveScience.com; here’s an overview of the case: Last year Senator Pete Domenici announced his retirement, he explaining that he had a degenerative and fatal brain disease. A year later Domenici issued a surprise announcement: his disease had gone away, or at least not gotten any worse.

He got the good news when, earlier in the year, he had offered to take part in a clinical trial of people who had the specific type of disease he had been diagnosed with, frontotemporal lobar degeneration. Domenici was contacted by the lead doctor in the trial study and told he didn’t qualify for the trial because the tests couldn’t find a link between the Senator’s symptoms and his frontal lobe. "I concluded… that I must not have the disease," Domenici said in a N ov. 26 interview with the   Albuquerque Journal , adding that he may have been healed by God through the power of prayer. His sister, a nun, has been asking God for help, and people Domenici meets often tell him that they are praying for him.

Yet both the leader of the trial study and the doctor who first diagnosed Domenici say that there is clear evidence of Domenici’s brain disease and resulting cognitive disorder; the disease did not go away. It’s just that the specific   cause of the disease didn’t seem to be the frontal lobe, as the originally thought, and may not be as bad as had been feared.

The impression of a miracle cure can be created by something as simple as a misdiagnosis. I’ve written about this in the past many times. Hope can be wonderful and healing, but patients who mistake a misdiagnosis for a miracle are setting themselves up for disappointment.

As a skeptic, I try to be careful with stories like this. I don’t want to come off as the negative, naysaying, nasty skeptic dashing desperate people’s hopes. On the other hand, I think that giving false hope is far more cruel. It takes more than a faulty lab test, X-ray, or diagnosis to create a medical miracle. Real miracle cures are the result of careful, hard work by scientists, doctors, and medical researchers.