Dead Man Walking

(This is a revisit to my blog post from August 2010.)

On this date (Aug 1) in 2010 I laid in a bed in a darkened room in the Cardiac Critical Care Unit at Athens Regional Hospital (now Piedmont Athens Regional). I was in day 5 of 7 days of a medically induced coma breathing thanks to a ventilator . It doesn’t seem a decade since God delivered me from death, but it was. What happened ten years ago changed my life forever.

On July 28, 2010 I signed up for a 30 minute cruise to St Mary’s Hospital. While on board I was to have both sides of my heart examined via a heart catheter. My cardiologist would be assisted by my pulmonologist, who had requested the test.  I knew my hospital journey could be extended were blocked arteries found, even then it would be a scant 3 hour tour. 

Just like Gilligan and the skipper too.

Three blocked arteries were discovered, all treatable with stents. However, the second stent tore the arterial wall, triggered a mild heart attack, and just like that my 3 hour tour ended up on Gilligan’s Island.  Actually, I was transferred to (then) Athens Regional Hospital, where the #1 Cardiac Surgery team in Athens was waiting to preform open heart surgery.  They opened my chest about 3:45 pm and as they were moving my heart to the cryonic operating chamber I had a massive heart attack. 

For the next 4 hours they alternated between operating on my heart and emergency medical procedures to keep me alive.  I died for 4 minutes but was resusitated. They repaired my heart, put me into a coma and sent me to CCCU.  I didn’t know I was on Gilligan’s Island until 7 days later when they brought me out of the coma. My first impressions were terrifying: I was bound hand and foot, with a ventilator jammed down my throat. I was in a strange bed, in a darkened room battling to take a breath just as if I was drowning. 

In fact I missed Gilligan’s Island and landed on the Isle of Dr. Moreau. 

How much do I actually remember of my journey to this point? Do I remember the experiences described above? From leaving home to coming out of my coma I remember nada, zip, zero, zilch.

All I knew was that I  was bound hand and food, felt like I was drowning, and had no idea where I was or how I got there. To this day this was the most terrified I have ever been.  But the terror subsided and I became aware of who I was, where I was, why I was there and discovered a vast  conspiracy. 

It was a conspiracy involving friends, family, CCF and UGA Alums, campus ministers, pastors, people of faith in churches around the world.  My baby brother Bryan flew  in from the Republic of Panama, my brother Phil, doing relief work in Haiti, began praying, my brother Scott, in Korea teaching, began praying,  Sheila, my incredible wife, not only prayed but lead the conspiracy to get others praying.  My daughters Melissa and Jennifer prayed and spread the word through their churches.  Their husbands David Berry and Eric Rubio prayed, arranged childcare for my 7 grandsons and freed my daughters to take care of their mom and me.  Our son John flew in from Maryland, praying all the way.  My mother and daddy joined the conspiracy of praying and getting others to pray.  Sheila’s brother, Boyd,  and her mother drove down from their farm in N. Georgia.  

My firstborn, Melissa, was tasked to do what no daughter who loves her daddy should ever have to do: tell everyone gathered that my chance of survival was 50/50 at best.  And what a group of conspirators had gathered at Athens Regional! The group had grown so large that the hospital gave them their own waiting room.  Melissa fulfilled her dreaded task but then lost it.   Her Uncle Boyd came to the rescue and took it off her shoulders.  He had everyone join hands and by all accounts delivered a stirring prayer.  Miracles were happening but all I knew was that I felt like I was in a dark place drowning.  I felt like I was on the Isle of Dr. Moreau. But the truth was greater than my feelings. The conspiracy of faith in Jesus that will not give up prevailed!

The armies of Narnia were on the move.

Once the ventilator was removed from my throat I could breath again. Then I discovered the joy of ice chips.  While I chomped on ice chips co-conspirators Sheila, Melissa, Jennifer and John began answering my questions and filling in the gaps for me.  Amazingly I was released from CCCU to the Cardiac Stepdown Unit only 24 hours after coming out of my coma.

There I would regain the strength to walk and do simple tasks for myself.  More significantly my time in CSU was when the conspiracy came more clearly into focus.  Angela Denton-Rachel came by one day and I revealed that she had gone on my computer found my meeting planner folder and sent what was needed to the leaders of the Association of Campus Ministries to begin their National Student Conference.  Angela ordered me to rest and let them take care of the Conference.  One of the things that is remarkable about her actions was that I had retired from CCF in July so all she did was totally an act of love and loyalty to me.  Of course she also was praying and enlisting others to pray. 

I remained in the CSU for about 8 days.  My time there was painful and wonderful.  I got my stamina up to where I could walk 60 feet, which sounds like nothing but, at the time, was quite significant.  I also used my time there to recover my spiritual stamina and began praying and telling any one who would listen my testimony of how Jesus had answered our prayers and mercifully saved my life. 

One day I sat on the bed with 2 of my 3 surgeons and asked them questions.  They gave me the details of the surgery I’ve written here.  They also were quite un-surgeon like in their belief that my being alive was a miracle.  Their word, not mine.  As gently as possible they told me that not one team member believed I would leave the operating table alive.  But I did.  Once I was in the CCCU they believed that I might survive but not without brain damage.  But I did (no more brain damage than when I went into surgery).  They were amazed when I woke from the coma, when I left CCCU only 1 day after the vent was removed, and that I could now walk 60 feet.  It takes a miracle to impress cardiac surgeons.  I thank God that he chose me to be that miracle!  I know I’m not worthy but I learned a long time ago that this is the way of grace.

After the CSU I was transferred into the Acute Surgical Rehab Center at St. Mary’s Hospital. There I was given 3 hours of therapy a day and re-learned about 35 essential life skills (like how to put on your socks without pulling your incisions open). God blessed me there with caring, knowledgeable therapists.

It has been 10 years, a full decade, since I became a dead man walking but I will never forget the conspiracy of those faithful followers of Jesus who would not give up.   Without them I would not be alive.  Because of them I have had ten years to serve the Lord Jesus who in his mercy answered the prayers of his people to deliver me from death. I see every opportunity to serve in the last decade as a coveted means for me to make the most of this miracle! Thank you Jesus! I never cease to marvel at how many people loved me then and now.  I am the most blessed man alive!

Long live the conspiracy of the faithful who will not give up. 

The armies of Narnia are on the move.

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