A COVID-19 Patient Finds Peace after Being Baptized at Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital

by: Alexandra Becker

Robin Broxson received the call in early August. COVID-19 was still surging in Houston, and Broxson, a chaplain with Memorial Hermann Health System, was doing all she could to help her patients, and their families, hold on to hope. 

As Broxson listened, the voice on the other end told her about a 67-year-old who had been admitted to Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital for complications related to COVID-19. The patient, David Runk, was in extreme spiritual distress.  

The caller elaborated that the source of David’s suffering was his fear of dying—not dying in and of itself, per se, but because he had never been baptized.  Broxson learned that David practiced Catholicism, and while he had been mindful of his family’s spiritual wellbeing—ensuring his wife and children received the appropriate education and sacraments from the Catholic Church—he had never had time to get baptized himself. He also recognized the Catholic belief of original sin, and he felt certain that unless he was baptized, he would not be admitted into heaven when his time came. 

“Is there anything you can do?” the voice asked.  

Broxson hung up the phone and got to work. At the time, priests were not visiting the hospital and Broxson herself was not allowed to enter David’s room due to safety measures. So she called Sacred Heart Catholic Church and spoke to Father Mark, one of the priests there who regularly partners with Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital. He explained that due to the emergent circumstances, Broxson could perform the baptism herself. All she would need, Father Mark said, was to recite the Trinitarian formula—the phrase, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”—sprinkle water when appropriate, and to find an individual who could enter the room and physically perform the sacred rite. 

Broxson contacted David’s nurse, Elsy Jose, right away. Jose, who was Catholic herself, agreed without hesitation. 

And so, on August 12, Broxson once again held a phone to her ear, this time reciting the sacred words for Jose, who repeated them to David. Broxson watched outside the room through the window as Jose sprinkled water and performed the ritual. It was a seamless ceremony, and shortly thereafter, Broxson was able to ensure that David’s baptism was officially recorded with the Catholic Church.  

“Baptism is one of the main sacraments in your life if you’re Catholic, and I feel so blessed I was able to be a part of that sacred ritual,” Jose said. “I really know how much that meant to him.”  

For a Catholic—it meant salvation. 

“He was thrilled, really thrilled,” Broxson said. “He was discharged not long after that and we were all just so happy we could have a part in meeting his spiritual need. You could tell, and his family confirmed, that he found the spiritual peace he was seeking in his baptism.” 

Broxson said that while the baptism itself was unique—especially because they accomplished it in the middle of a pandemic—the collaboration between Memorial Hermann’s chaplaincy department, community partners and clinical staff was not uncommon. 

“When a need such as this one arises, we start reaching out to those who partner and collaborate with us in order to do everything we can to fulfill that need.” Broxson said, adding that she and her colleagues offer their care to all patients and their families, regardless of their beliefs. 

David’s discharge from Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital was a celebratory one. Recently, however, Broxson received another call. This call came out of the blue from David’s wife, Loretta. She was calling to deliver the sad news that David had passed away. 

As Broxson’s heart sank and she began expressing her condolences, Loretta interjected. She acknowledged her bereavement but said the real purpose of her call was to tell her how grateful both David and his family had been for the effort that went into getting him baptized. Loretta added that because of this, David was able to have a Catholic funeral and mass—something she knew meant the world to him. 

Loretta herself has drawn immense peace from the baptism as well. 

“He told me it’s going to be all right now, that we’ll be together on the other side,” she said. “That gives me comfort—when you get baptized, your sins are washed away, and so we feel like he went straight to heaven when he passed away. I miss him now, but I know I’ll see him in the future.” 

Broxson said that despite the many challenges this year, she has found purpose in helping to fill a gap between faith institutions and patients and families during the pandemic. 

“This year as we have endeavored to continue the sacred work we are privileged to do, it has often required finding a new way to deliver care—we’ve all had to pivot and adjust,” Broxson said. “A Catholic baptism typically requires months of preparation, but through our partnerships we were able to provide this patient the spiritual care he needed at just the time he needed it most.”

Comments

  1. Thank you for this story David Runk was my grandpa and I loved him so very much. I miss him every day. Me and him were best friends and are favorite thing to do was hunt. Even to day when I am by myself in his stand he talks to me and I can hear him. Any thanks a lot for the story.

  2. Chaplains supply many needs, often behind the scenes. How encouraging to read this story of addressing a patient’s spiritual concerns. Thank you, Robin, and the many chaplains and healthcare providers working during this challenging season.

  3. I loved the uplifting story, I’m so appreciative that we have people who love and care for those that come through the doors of our hospitals. These days you never know what the person needs when they come here and as we can see, as an example, this person not only came with a serious illness but he had spiritual need as well. It is always good to see that people are compassionate and willing to go the extra mile to do something for someone else that is life altering, whether we ourselves cannot understand or do understand, it just makes me proud to work for a family that loves others unconditionally.

    Semper Paratus!
    Always Ready

  4. Vicki, if you do not get baptized as an infant, then it does take months of preparation as an adult.
    This story is wonderful and comforting to know that we are making every effort to meet the spiritual needs of our patients during this difficult time. God bless David and his family.

  5. Thank you for sharing such an inspirational story. We thank you for all the joy and comfort you bring to all of us. May his soul rest in eternal peace

  6. I thought the story was beautiful. It brought tears to.my eyes. So glad DVid can rest in peace. God bless…

  7. @Vicki, I thought they were referring to the parents preparation. When we baptized my son last year, just before the first wave of COVID, parents and godparents had to attend preparatory classes before our son was born to learn more about baptism. Different dioceses have different rules but o think some sort of preparation is fairly common.

  8. This story is one that sits heavy on my heart. This family was the first family I’d ever baby sat for. They moved into a house not far from my grandfathers, so close in fact that we (he and I) watched them move in through this kitchen window. I remember I was about 13 or 14 and when I saw that she had 3 LITTLE kids I couldn’t stand it. I told papa to please take me there so I could see the babies. That’s all I wanted to do was play babies. After what seemed like an endless amount of begging time, he told me to walk, I was not satisfied with that answer either as I was to scared to just walk up by myself. Relentless with my incessant begging he finally caved and drove me over there. I don’t exactly remember how it went because all I could do was stare at the baby on this lady’s hip and watch the other little blonde headed sprite run around the yard as fast as she could go and her mouth was matching the speed at which she ran. The oldest was a boy who was a little standoffish at first but warmed up eventually. I do recall telling the lady that if she needed a babysitter or help while she was moving in that I’d be happy to help her. She was very sweet and very beautiful and so were her babies but I didn’t see the daddy, he must’ve been at work or taking things in the house but it didn’t really matter I was gonna get to play with these kids and help the pretty lady. Well, expecting to get out then and stay because at my age then and living in the country, there wasn’t anything this exciting that happened every day. So with a little bit of disappointment my grandfather and I drove off to his house and I didn’t say anything after I said thank you for taking me papa. Then without hesitation i asked him do you think she needs help now? He didn’t even hesitate he pulled into his driveway and backed out and took me right back and I got to stay the rest of the afternoon , with the pretty lady who was Loretta Runk and her 3 children, Durand, Cristal and Devon (the baby) . That after noon was the beginning a a friendship that still continues today. I was introduced to David that day but he often worked long hours and out of town I believe because I got to spend the night with them a lot! I loved those babies and still do to this day and If it weren’t for the pretty lady with the baby on her hip, I wouldn’t have been able to name my own girls, as I name them after the first babies I ever had . Loretta had a 4th child that I never got to know because by that time I had graduated and left for life’s adventures. I thought Loretta had named her kids the greatest names I’ve ever heard. We already had a crystal in our family so I had to kinda play around with my youngest girls name, which is Colby Sue., after Cole. My first girls name is Devon after that chunk of cuteness that the pretty lady had on her hip that day my grandfather and I watched move in down the road from his kitchen window. I haven’t seen the boys in many years nor have I seen Devon since she was very young, but I do still see cristal and text her and keep in touch. She kept me informed daily with David’s situation when he was in the hospital. My heart broke for him and Loretta and the kids. I tried to go to the house and I texted Loretta and I called. It was all I could to as there has been too much sadness surrounding too many people I love including my own family. I just needed and wanted to share this with y’all to let everyone know that this is a beautiful family and they’ve suffered a tragic loss and will live with this ache in their hearts, if there would be anything to bring peace back into their hearts like David getting baptized, then there is just one more reason to know God is going to get you through anything . We all need to be as kind and gentle as the pretty lady with the baby on her hip was to me, on that hot summer day so very long ago!

  9. Wonderful story but a baptism for a Catholic is done when the person is an infant and therefore does not require months of study or preparation. Are you saying he was not a Catholic… a bit confusing

  10. My family and I think that this article was beautifully written! Thank you so much for sharing this with us. We hope that David’s story with help others to find their spiritual path and fulfillment .
    Sincerely ,
    Loretta Runk

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