Targ and colleagues at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco published a double-blind study in the Western Journal of Medicine that rocketed her to fame in the field of complementary and alternative medicine: Forty healers around the U.S. were recruited to pray for the health of patients with advanced AIDS. The prayed-for group had significantly fewer opportunistic illnesses than the control group, and Targ instantly became the poster child for a fledgling new field exploring prayer and healing. “Elisabeth is our hero,” wrote Mitchell Krucoff, a Duke University Medical Center cardiologist who has pioneered complementary therapies in patients with heart disease.
Two months later, Targ, who was 40, began fertility treatments: she and her fiance, physicist Mark Comings, wanted a family. That spring, however, she began finding it difficult to pronounce words with the letter “b,” and one morning the left side of her face sagged. A high-resolution MRI revealed that she was suffering from a rapidly growing grade 4 glioblastoma multiforme brain tumor. Word of the horrific diagnosis spread, and healers began calling, visiting and praying from a distance—in a truly eerie echo of her newly funded study. But they could not save her. Targ died at 11:11 p.m., 111 days after her diagnosis.
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