Answered Prayers: Vandross Conscious

06/05/2003 AT 11:09 AM EDT

Six weeks after a stroke rendered Grammy-winning R&B artist Luther Vandross, 52, all but comatose, his mother, Mary Ida Vandross, went to see him in a Manhattan hospital and witnessed the miracle she had been hoping for, PEOPLE reports in its latest issue.

It was the evening of June 2. "I called to him," recalls Mary Ida, 79. "I said, 'Your momma's here.' And he turned and actually smiled. He opened his eyes and he looked at me a long time ... and he tried to say, 'Momma.'"

According to PEOPLE, it's still too soon for his doctors to offer any sort of public prognosis. But after praying by his bedside since he was hospitalized April 16, Vandross's family believes this small miracle will continue to grow.

"It seems like we are truly on our way to a recovery," says his cousin Brenda Shields, 53, though another member of the singer's camp says that, until they know how much brain damage Vandross may have suffered, a more accurate description would be "cautiously optimistic."

Meanwhile, Vandross's family has read him e-mails from fans, relayed messages from famous friends (Patti LaBelle, Burt Bacharach, Jesse Jackson), tuned his TV set to his favorite TV game shows and pushed ahead with the June 10 release of his new album, "Dance with My Father."

They also have learned the virtue of patience.

"There have been some really sincere prayers sent up to heaven," says Mary Ida. "And I do believe God has heard, and He's answering. But you don't hurry God. He comes in His time."

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