I Believe in Miracles


By Evie Tubbs-Sweeney


As featured in the Spring 2024 issue of Arabian Horse World

Miracles are the natural way of the universe. Our only job is to move our doubting minds out of the way. - Jonathan Lockwood Huie

Angela Alioto watched in mute horror at her weanling filly, who sat sprawled on the stable floor. She struggled to get up, her spindly front legs pushed out in front as she tried desperately to will her lifeless hind legs to move.


A routine vet visit for another horse took a terrifying turn as Kamilah lurched up and inadvertently flipped over, landing with a blunt force squarely on her back. The distressing scene would horrify even the most seasoned horsemen and women… of which Angela was not.


Silent shock turned into hysteria when the attending vet awkwardly tried, but failed, to lift the filly on all fours.  


“Put her down!” Angela instinctually shrieked. “You must stop!”


Kamilah’s mother, Om El Shahnoor, who was being held by her halter, stood by her distressed daughter, whose hind legs started contorting unnaturally.


Angela frantically dialed the University of California Davis’ equine hospital, the same team who’d assisted in Kamilah’s birth five weeks earlier. They advised her to load the filly on a trailer for evaluation carefully. The group improvised a blanket sling to transport Kamilah onto the trailer.


“I had no idea if she was put in safely,” Angela recalled. With little horse expertise and the vet gone (he had abruptly vanished, saying he was pressed to run errands), the group found themselves in a daunting situation.


Fifteen minutes into the hour-long drive, Angela and her partner, Fabio, pulled over to check on Shahnoor and Kamilah. To their sheer horror, Kamilah had slid underneath her mother. Shahnoor did her best not to step on her daughter, though there was very little room for error. They stopped, got two hay bales to put between them, and continued driving.


Unbeknownst to them, Kamilah had shattered her spinal cord. One wrong move could have snapped it in half. But they vigilantly continued, riding only on a hope and a prayer.


Impossibly, the worst was yet to come.

A Dream Birthed


The Alioto name is iconic in San Francisco, synonymous with its longstanding commitment to public service. It all began with Giuseppe Alioto, an immigrant from Sicily who landed in the Bay Area in the late 1800s and established multiple fish processing companies. Giuseppe and his wife laid the foundation for a vast family tree, with many members dedicating their lives to public service and law. Angela’s father, Joseph L. Alioto, became Mayor of San Francisco, and Angela served as President of the Board of Supervisors of San Francisco.


Angela Alioto still speaks of her father and grandfather with reverence. Today, she stands as the matriarch… a mother of four and a grandmother of five, all proudly celebrating their Italian American heritage. Many have followed the path of public service.


From advocating for AIDS awareness and San Francisco politics to starting and managing the Law Offices of Joseph and Angela Alioto, specializing in Civil Rights Law (a position she still actively holds), Angela’s life embodies a dedication to supporting the voiceless and underserved—her profound empathy for all living creatures and her unwavering faith influence every decision and action she takes. As the Knights of Saint Francis founder and a member of Saint Francis’ Third Order, Angela passionately supports animal rights, environmental causes, and anti-war efforts.


During her youth, Angela cherished a beautiful half-Arabian palomino gelding, Bonito, with whom she competed in rodeo events. It was a dream cut short. The horse’s sudden passing during a summer study abroad trip to Italy when Angela was seventeen brought immense sorrow, marking the end of her time with horses.


Until 2015.

A confluence of fateful events found Angela and Fabio driving down Om El Arab’s famous winding road in Santa Ynez, California. They were met by the farm’s manager, Yvonne Van Stiphout, who courteously welcomed the new visitors and offered her a quick tour. They paused at the stall of Om El Shahmaan, and Angela felt something wake up inside her… a feeling that had been dormant for forty-six years.


“I remember having a distinct thought, ‘I need to leave now,'” she laughed. “It was like an addiction—almost worse than politics. That stallion was simply stunning.”


A few doors down from Om El Shahmaan was Om El Salmaan (Om El Exquisit x Om El Shaina), a ¾ brother to Om El Shahmaan. Even though Salmaan wore a thick, green blanket, Angela locked eyes with his, and it was over. She returned home and tried to forget about him, to no avail. In January 2016, Om El Salmaan became Angela’s first horse since she was fifteen. Two years later, a similar experience found a mare named Om El Shahnoor (Pershahn El Jamaal x Om El Shahrazad) traveling to Angela’s ranch in Sonoma, California.  

Om El Shahnoor (Pershahn El Jamaal x Om El Shahrazad).


After a lifetime of public service advocating for those in need, Angela Alioto finally began to realize her childhood dream. Alongside at every turn was her adult son, Gian-Paolo Veronese.


“Some of my mom’s best moments in life were with her horses,” said Gian-Paolo. “Mom had a health scare in July 2016, and it was a wake-up call for her. She’d done so much for others that it was time to do something for herself. That’s when we bought the ranch together in Sonoma.”


Om El Shahnoor was specifically bred to excel as a show horse and a broodmare. While Angela had no desire to show, the thought of breeding her was appealing… not because of the possibilities of breeding a future champion, but rather to add another member to their beloved family.


“Atticus ENB reminded me so much of Om El Salmaan,” Angela said. “It felt only natural to select him for Shahnoor.”


Atticus ENB (*El Nabila B x Om El Benedine).


Soon after, Shahnoor became pregnant, and before they knew it, the team at UC Davis delivered a beautiful, bouncing baby filly. Angela named her Shah Malika al-Kamilah, after the Arabic sultan, Malik of Kamil, known for his deep admiration for St. Francis of Assisi and symbolic of peace, unity, and love, despite differences in faith.


Gian-Paolo expressed, “As I don’t have children, Kamilah is like my own. It was a dream for me and my mom to raise her from the beginning. She is not just a pet; she’s a family member.”


Growing up surrounded by love in the mild climate of Sonoma County, Kamilah thrived with Shahnoor by her side and Angela and Gian-Paolo always close by.


They were living their dream, feeling blessed to experience such a miraculous journey.  


April 29, the night of the accident.

In Times of Trauma, Miracles Unveil Great Opportunities


The first person Angela called at the scene of the accident was Yvonne Van Stiphout, a seasoned professional in equine care, who described the incident as a rare and severe mishap unlike anything she’d ever witnessed.


Yvonne recalled, “Angela was in full panic mode. I advised her to rush Kamilah to UC Davis. But I told her not to get her hopes up.”

Distressed, Angela and Fabio arrived at UC Davis, exhausted yet running on adrenaline for the life lying in that trailer that was hanging in the balance. The veterinary team promptly attended to the injured filly, sedating her to assess her condition in a dark hangar-like building. Angela, Fabio, Gian-Paolo (who’d met them there), and other doctors and students stood watching through a glass window. Despite initial optimism for nerve-related injuries, the final diagnosis was grim – Kamilah had irreparably shattered her spinal cord. It was inoperable. Euthanasia stood as the sole recourse. What’s more, the team recommended euthanizing Kamilah in her mother’s presence to allow Shahnoor the opportunity to grieve and process the situation before she returned home.

Gian-Paolo and Angela were stunned, struggling to comprehend the news they had just received.


“I’m sorry… can you repeat that?” Angela said. It felt surreal as if she were detached from reality.


The head equine surgeon compassionately repeated herself. “It’s important for you to understand that she needs to be euthanized,” she said gently.


Shaking off her shock, Angela firmly responded, “Shahnoor is not going to grieve anybody’s death. That is not happening. I need to go home and think.”


As they turned to leave, Dr. Beth Williams hurriedly approached Angela and whispered in her ear, “They do this surgery on dogs.”


She continued, “Dr. Chin Fey Li does this surgery on dogs the size of Kamilah all the time.”


Angela returned home and did what she always does when faced with a trial: She prayed. Furthermore, she used her social media accounts to ask for prayer in making the right decision. The Arabian horse community and beyond responded to her plea with an outpouring of prayers—prayers for hope and guidance.


Prayers, even perhaps for a miracle.


The following morning at 6 am, Angela and Gian-Paolo sat at the breakfast table.


“We looked at each other and said in unison, ‘The canine doctor’,” Angela said. “We’d made our decision. We called Dr. Beth, and before we finished talking, she’d hung up to start putting the canine and equine team together. “


When we arrived, we walked back into the dim hangar where the lead equine surgeon awaited her.


“We have to euthanize her,” the surgeon reiterated, this time more firmly.


Angela recalled, “I felt like I was gearing up to annihilate this issue in a trial’s closing argument.”


“Doctor, you’re not giving me an alternative,” she asserted. “You’re saying, ‘Kill her now to prevent her from dying on the table.’ I’m saying give her the chance. I believe in miracles. And I refused to leave here not believing in miracles for the rest of my life.”


The doctor threw her hands up in the air and left the room. The canine team entered.

The day after Kamilah’s 8-hour surgery.


The surgery lasted a grueling eight hours, and most of the equine surgeons gave it a zero chance of success. However, Dr. Williams and Dr. Li returned from the eight-hour surgery with an altogether different countenance, resembling restrained elation rather than skepticism.


“They were practically skipping,” Angela remembers with a laugh.


“It could not have gone better,” they informed her.


The surgery involved placing seven 7-inch nails in her back and securing everything with ten pounds of cement. They’d done all they could; now it was a waiting game.


The next challenge for Kamilah was to remain completely still for forty-eight hours while the cement set—a difficult feat for any fight-or-flight animal, let alone a toddler-aged horse the size of a Great Dane. With sedation and constant care from doctors, students, and residents, the team breathed a collective sigh of relief when the two days had passed.


Despite the successful surgery and the completion of the initial 48-hour period, the possibility of euthanasia still loomed if Kamilah did not show sufficient progress in her recovery stages.


The subsequent milestone involved Kamilah demonstrating movement in her mind legs to determine the long-term success of the surgery. A full day passed without any signs of progress. Angela knelt by Kamilah’s side to massage her legs while others rubbed her face. She felt something teeter and clink in her shirt pocket. It was a small vial of holy oil, the oil of the Madonna Loreto. Without thinking, Angela poured it on Kamilah’s hind legs and continued rubbing.


Miraculously, Kamilah’s leg responded with brief, rapid movements, bringing elation and astonishment to those present, indicating that Kamilah was no longer paralyzed… the first surgery in history had been a success.  


Following this breakthrough, Kamilah’s recovery progressed steadily. Within four days, she could stand with a specially designed sling for alpacas, adapted to fit her small frame. Two days after that, she could walk with assistance along the hospital corridor.


After enduring eight challenging weeks at UC Davis, Kamilah returned home. Angela and Gian-Paolo continued to provide round-the-clock care for another two months, assisting her in standing up and lying down as she regained strength each day.


Gian-Paolo reflected, “All those hours together, holding her, hugging her… we built an incredible bond. I decided to leave my job to care for her, investing both mentally and financially. It was 100% worth it. Imagine now if we hadn’t. Looking at her now fills me with immense joy. It was a tough journey. Many friends would say, ‘It’s just a horse.’ They simply don’t understand.”

The first day Kamilah walked.
Kamilah with her dam, Om El Shahnoor, and Gian-Paolo in her new swing, made for alpacas.

One of Kamilah’s admirers is the esteemed breeder, Michael Weinstein of Psynergy Equine, owner of Kamilah’s sire, the beautiful Atticus ENB (El Nabila B x Om El Benedine).


“I have always believed that it is Kamilah’s impeccable breeding that has gotten her through this incredible first-in-history equine spinal cord and back injury. There are zero medical records of first-in-history equine spinal cord and back surgery EVER happening before,” said Michael. “I’ve always believed it is the remarkable strength of her strong bloodlines, through her dam, Om El Shahnoor, and her sire, Atticus ENB.


“I love all horses, let me be clear,” he continued. “But watching what she went through, while some of the nation’s top equine surgeons warned us regularly that there is zero percent chance of success, tells me that Kamilah’s inner strength through her heritage, combined with her loving and willing disposition, helped pull her through. Long live the Arabian horse!”


Michael Byatt, a deeply respected professional in the Arabian horse industry, counts himself as one of Kamilah’s many admirers.


“The chances were slim, and the naysayers plentiful,” said Michael. “Kamilah’s future was in doubt; a new and expensive surgery would be required without guarantee. Uninvited, I chimed in with an enthusiastic ‘DO IT!’ Of course, Angela would proceed regardless of anyone’s input; I learned that Angela would go to the ends of the earth to help her beautiful filly. And she did; she poured her heart, soul, prayers, and resources into giving Kamilah every opportunity to live and thrive. Kamilah lives today due to the team and effort that Angela enlisted. The experience provided a pathway for Angela and me to become friends; to know her is to love her goodness.”

Janina Merz, owner of Om El Arab, wrapped it up perfectly.


“Only Angela Alioto could have gotten such a thing done,” Janina said. “She is a force of nature. And what a service this is to all the future horses this surgery will now save. It is a story of miracles not only in saving Kamilah, but in how many horses it will save in the future. Kamilah’s legacy – as well as that of her courageous owner, Angela – reaches far outside our Arabian breed for the betterment of all horses. It’s an incredible story, indeed.’


Dr. Beth Williams telling Kamilah it was time to go home. The tears were flowing as those around knew they were witnessing a miracle.

Lessons from Kamilah


Today, Kamilah is a precocious, 15.2 hand two-year-old who enjoys running, bucking, and playing like any normal two-year-old horse. A noticeable bump on her back is the only visual indication of her trauma. She will never be ridden, though she can potentially carry a foal. However, Kamilah’s purpose extends to something greater. She has garnered a worldwide global following, with visitors inspired by her story of defying the odds, even when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges.


“It could have gone so differently,” said Yvonne, “but it didn’t. I can only attribute it to the power of prayer and faith.”


Angela’s other son, Joe Alioto Veronse added, “Kamilah has a story to tell about believing in miracles.”


Angela shared, “The messages I receive are incredible! They are filled with hope, courage, and a determination to persist, even in the face of naysayers who claim something cannot be achieved.”


Since Kamilah’s groundbreaking surgery, four horses with spinal cord injuries have undergone successful spine procedures thanks to her pioneering efforts.


Upcoming projects include a children’s picture book, a biography, and a documentary video narrating the remarkable story of Kamilah’s courage.


Gian-Paolo shares how his faith increased from the experience.


“Even with some the top doctors in the world saying there’s no chance, my mom remained stalwart in her belief in miracles and science,” he said. “It’s taught me a lot about faith and brought me closer to what is possible.”


“I see her and just marvel at what she is: A pure miracle living in my stable,” said Angela.


A pure miracle, indeed. Kamilah’s evocative story has touched countless lives who have faced disease or trauma.


It’s a story that exquisitely weaves divine providence into every seam. Kamilah is a child of God with a message from her Creator: Faith is an anchor, prayer is powerful, and miracles are truly real.


All we need to do is believe.


Join Kamilah’s mailing list to receive updates on book launches, the documentary premiere, Kamilah products and more at www.kamilahthemiracle.com

Angela and Kamilah on Kamilah’s second birthday.