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Can prayer heal? These parents credit faith with son's 'miracle' recovery

For the George family, faith is something that is not in short supply.
/ Source: TODAY

For the George family, faith is something that is not in short supply.

In 1994, John Paul George was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome — a rare condition in which half of the heart does not function. His parents, Derek and Annette, turned to prayer, hoping to help their son. Doctors had advised them to terminate the pregnancy, but they decided against it.

"Faith, number one, made us say no,'' Annette told Tamron Hall and Willie Geist on TODAY Monday. "The only option that we foresaw with our faith was if our child only had nine months to live, then we were going to give him nine months in the womb and let God decide once the child was born.''

By the time John Paul was 3 years old, he had gone through three heart surgeries. He later had brain surgery and faced other medical setbacks, all while his parents remained positive, thanking God every day for saving their son's life.

"He's a miracle,'' Derek said on TODAY. "Twenty years later, what else can I say? It's black and white."

Due to his heart condition, John Paul's growth has been stunted, but he's now 20 years old, in good health and attending community college — defying all expectations. The family shares its journey in the new book "Heart of A Lion."

"I just basically try to thank God for saving my life,'' John Paul said. "If it wasn't for God, I would not be here today."

Dr. Harold Koenig, the director for spirituality, theology and health at Duke University, has reviewed hundreds of studies and is leading the charge at Duke to get doctors to recognize the power of prayer. He believes that people whose faith is supported by their medical team will heal better, and says prayer can reduce depression and anxiety.

"It does seem to help people to have hope, gives them meaning and purpose, (and) helps them to overcome depression, which is very common when you have to go through a lot of hard experiences,'' Koenig said on TODAY. "Religion and God seems to make a real difference in people's lives. There's just no question about it.''

However, Koenig found that religious treatments only work if the people receiving the treatments believe in them.

"It really works best when religion and medicine go together,'' he said.