This is another installment in the adventures of Phillip Bretz, M.D. In the first episode we saw him (author of our country’s first large-scale breast cancer prevention project using the drug Tamoxifen) off to the FDA, White House and the USSR to bring breast cancer prevention to the women in the United States, Moscow and Chernobyl. That was back in 1990 and yes, his idea did work. After a six year clinical trial, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) announced that Tamoxifen did, in fact, prevent breast cancer in high risk women by 50%. See book “Sacrificing America’s Women”.In the second episode, we found him on Hwy 74 in August of 1993 where he entered a burning SUV twice in order to save a trapped victim who was on fire. Having rescued the victim moments before the vehicle became engulfed in flames, he provided emergency medical treatment awaiting the arrival of the fire department helicopter. For his efforts there, he was awarded the “Carneige Medal” for an outstanding act of heroism. He also received letters of commendation from the Governor of California, the Honorable Pete Wilson, the CHP and from General Sutton, Commander of the Marine Air Ground Combat Center in 29 Palms where Dr. Bretz served as a civilian emergency room physician from 1990-1995. See “Blind Luck or Divine Intervention”. Also see carnegiehero.org.
In this the third episode we find he and his wife (of 32) years, Joan, off to Rome in February of 2000 to present a medical paper at The 5th Annual Multi-Disciplinary Symposium on Breast Cancer Treatment, later published in The Breast Journal. Well, the story unfolds that day in Palm Desert where they had just rented a car to drive into LA. Needing a full tank of gas to get there, he pulled into the USA gas station on the corner of Hwy 111 and Fred Waring. During the days leading up to the flight to Rome, he wasn’t altogether reassured with flying Alitalia. Upon further consideration, Dr. Bretz thought that since they fly the Pope, they ought to be able to find Rome. Further, Dr. Bretz had found out the fax number of the Pope and since he had followed Pope John Paul’s career and admired him so much, he wanted to meet him while in Rome if at all possible. So he just gets done faxing the Pope and is going to roll the dice with Alitalia Airlines.
They pull into the gas station and Dr. Bretz gets out of the car and takes two steps toward the pump and he stopped dead in his tracks. There, just at his feet, was a little angel. She was about two inches tall with white wings, a pink body, white robe and blond hair. She was standing straight up facing him almost touching his shoe. Well, he looked down at her and he thought, “How can I not pick her up and get her out of harms way in this gas station”. So he picked her up and after filling the car he showed her to Joan. He thought, “What have we got to lose”?
He put her on the dashboard during the trip into LA, where they arrived safely thanks to their new friend. This was all too strange. He faxes the Pope and finds an angel staring up at him. What are the odds?
During the flight to Rome, Dr. Bretz put the angel in his suit pocket. They arrived safely inRome and from the airport there is a train that goes into Rome itself which Joan and Dr. Bretz took. The train from the airport takes a rider into a central subway system at the outskirts ofRome. It was getting dark and all they could do was follow a hand written map made in haste by an employee of the train as to what subway they needed to get on. It was now going on twenty-two hours since they left Palm Desert and nightfall was fast approaching.
The subway ride was a real adventure. It was like a ride to nowhere. They only had this hand written map, couldn’t read the stations stops in Italian and could have been going in totally wrong direction. But as fate would have it, the station where they were supposed to get off turned up. They got off and dragged their suitcases (and poster for the medical meeting) up some stairs into the night. There wasn’t a soul in sight and the street was barely lit. They saw a busier street down a few blocks and they started walking. There they were able to find a cab to bring them to the Cavalieri Hotel inRome. It was almost twenty-four hours since they left Palm Desert when they opened the door to their room and fell on the bed. They rested a short while and went to the hotel restaurant and had one on the best pizzas they had ever had. That’s saying a lot coming fromChicago. The next day he presented his paper on treating breast cancer without surgery and then they were off to sightsee.
Dr. and Mrs. Bretz had been to Rome once before about thirty-two years ago for their honeymoon but only for a couple of days. They were anxious to see St. Peters and so off they went. Did you know you can actually climb to the top of St. Peters via this very narrow and upward winding stairway? Near the top you find yourself on these rickety metal stairs high above the main alter. It’s like something out of The DiVinci Code. Well, when you get to the top of the cupola, you overlook St. Peter’s Square and Rome. St. Peters was built centuries ago in the fifteen hundreds and it is full of cracks and crevasses. Dr. Bretz thought of the angel so he reached into his pocket and there she was. He thought, “If I were an angel, where would I want to end up”? As far as he could tell, this was the perfect spot to put her atop ofSt. Peters. He made sure everyone had gone first. Then he looked for a likely spot and jumped up and put her deep into one the crevasses such that it would be nearly impossible to get her out even if you did find her. So to this day and probably forever that little angel he found in a Palm Desert gas station is atop St. Peters and he hopes she is giving out her little blessings to all who pass by her or think of her up there. Neat, uh?
Later that night after eating in Rome, they walked to Vatican City via the Angel Bridge that crosses over the Tiber River. It was very late, well past midnight (they eat late in Rome), and it was pretty scary walking down those medieval dark streets. But they could see the street lights in Vatican City leading to St. Peters so kept walking. Crossing Angels Bridge at 1am is another adventure unto itself. That walk across the bridge and up the street to St. Peters Square is surreal, especially when you’re by yourself. Dr. Bretz wanted to see if the Pope’s light was on. It’s a moving experience to see St. Peters lit up at night and almost deserted. They looked up at Pope John’s room and sure enough the light was on. His apartment is in the building to the right of St. Peters, top floor, second from the right. They laughed as Dr. Bretz said the Pope was probably up there trying to get to bed but had to get this letter out to Bretz. One of the guards took their picture with the light from the Pope’s room in the background.
They never did get to see the Pope but on arrival back home there was the letter with an Apostolic Blessing. Now he tells all of his Catholic friends and they can’t understand why he has one and they don’t.
When they left Rome, Dr. Bretz surprised Joan with a short trip to Paris, one of their favorite cities. One thing they like to do in Paris is get lost and walk all day enjoying the flower markets and eating that great Parisian food. When it rained and much to the consternation of the Parisians, Dr. Bretz made sure they walked down Paris streets in the soft rain toward the EiffelTower. How romantic, yea sure.
Stay tuned for further episodes!