A Miracle Story

In 2007, I was a very healthy and active 44-year old. I ran twice a week, lifted weights 2-3 times per week, and played basketball every chance I had. On October 5, 2007, I walked out of the county courthouse toward my car. Suddenly, I felt a horrible stabbing pain at the base of my throat, caused by an aortic dissection. Within minutes, EMTs were strapping me to a gurney and placing me in a waiting ambulance.

The aorta is the largest artery in the body and runs from the heart to the legs, bringing blood to the head, arms, legs and all of the body’s vital organs. It is lined with two concentric rings, through which the blood flows. A dissection is a tear in the inner ring. The blood then flows between the rings of the lining, causing bulging and stress until the aorta breaks and the person bleeds to death. This condition occurs in approximately 3 out of 100,000 people. Those who get into surgery within an hour have a 20% chance of survival. Any longer, and surviving is extremely unlikely. I was in the emergency room in Wellsville, with my wife, my pastor and my pastor’s wife praying for me, for almost 3 ½ hours before a CT scan was done and revealed an aortic dissection. I was then taken by helicopter to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, where more than 4 hours after the dissection, I underwent a 7-hour surgery. This was the first of many miracles.

In that first surgery, approximately 8 inches of my aorta was removed and replaced with an artificial graft. A few hours after leaving the operating room, another blood vessel in my chest broke and I had to go back into surgery and have my chest re-opened to have the blood vessel repaired before I bled to death.

One month later, and 30 pounds lighter, I was told to start walking to regain strength. I walked ½ mile in 45 minutes. After resting, I stood up and immediately passed out. I was again taken to the hospital. The next day, the doctors found out that I had cardiomyopathy, or heart failure. Cardiomyopathy and aortic dissections are not known to be related and it has never been determined whether they were in my case. Although, in an article about me in the December 23, 2009 Journal of the American Heart Association, six doctors reported their research and theory that the two conditions are related and caused by a rare genetic disorder I have.

Because my condition was so unusual, the doctors in Rochester could not explain it. I was feeling better and was satisfied with the “we’ll never know what caused this” response of my doctors in Rochester. But a friend insisted over and over that I go to the Cleveland Clinic, which has been ranked the number 1 cardiac care hospital in the nation for over 20 years. I did, reluctantly. There, genetic testing revealed that I have a very rare genetic condition called Loeys-Dietz Syndrome. At the time, less than 500 people had been diagnosed with this condition. Among other problems, it causes aortic dissections, and aneurysms in the aorta and other arteries. I also learned that I had several aortic aneurysms, or bulges, and my aorta was expanding at an alarming rate. I needed to have my entire aorta removed and replaced with an artificial, Dacron tube. At the time, there were no doctors at Strong who had even heard of this Loeys-Deitz Syndrome.

On June 25, 2008, I underwent the first stage of what is called an elephant trunk procedure. The doctor told me that the surgery he would do is the most complicate cardio-vascular surgery done at the Cleveland Clinic. There was a 20% chance that I would die, a much higher probability that I would be paralyzed, and a certainty that my vocal chords would be damaged. Because it is so complicated and long, the surgery is done in two stages, usually 3 months apart. This first stage consisted of a 10-hour surgery where my ascending aorta and aortic arch were replaced. At the time, I was having severe pain from my aneurysms and often lied in bed crying and screaming for God to take my life. I was extremely anxious about undergoing this procedure. The last thing I remember, as the anesthesia took over in the prep room, was closing my eyes and seeing a hill filled with thousands of people all praying to Jesus for my safety and healing. It was an incredibly comforting gift from the Lord.

After the surgery and recovery, I returned home, but was so weak that my wife had to push me around in a wheelchair. I developed pneumonia and was taken by helicopter back to Cleveland for a week-long stay. A few weeks after that, and now down to 145 pounds, I again went to the emergency room in Wellsville. The doctor told me that I was very bad off and all he could do was try to keep me alive and comfortable until I could be flown to Cleveland. Unfortunately, due to heavy cloud cover and storms, I would not be able to fly for another 9 hours. I was too weak to be sent in an ambulance. My wife and pastor were again there praying with me. Exactly fifteen minutes later, the doctor returned to my bed and said, “I can’t explain it, but I just had a call and was told that the weather has cleared and a jet is on its way from Cleveland right now to pick you up.” This was the most dramatic miracle I experienced.

When I arrived in Cleveland, my heart was working at 10% of its capacity. I was told that I needed a heart transplant. On August 25, 2008, a doctor came to see me and told me that without a heart transplant, I had only 4-5 days left to live. I was placed at the top of the waiting list, but finding a suitable heart in such a short time was extremely unlikely, so I should start preparing for that, and I needed to notify my family. I called my wife that day to wish her a happy anniversary and happy birthday to our son. Then, I told her the news. She didn’t break down. Instead, she notified as many of our friends and family as possible and asked them to pray for me. Literally, thousands of friends, family and church congregations were now praying for me. Two days later, the doctor told me that incredibly, there was a suitable heart available for me. However, it was positive for hepatitis B and C. But, I had to take this heart, or I would die. When the heart arrived in Cleveland for my surgery, it was tested and was negative for hepatitis (another miracle). Four days after receiving the heart, I was able to walk a total of 2 miles, in ¼ mile intervals.

I was discharged from the Clinic in September, but had to stay in the area for another month to return to the hospital each day for tests and rehab. A relative that I hadn’t seen since I was about 6 years old, paid for my entire stay at a hotel across the street from the hospital.

I went back to Cleveland in November to have a carotid/thoracic bypass to correct another arterial problem. I was out of the hospital in three days and was able to go to our annual Thanksgiving trip to see friends in Delaware and shop on Black Friday at 4 am.

Then, on December 17, 2009, the second stage of the elephant trunk procedure was done. This was another 10-hour surgery to replace my entire descending aorta and some other arteries. Because my sternum had been cut through four previous times, and I had a transplanted heart, the surgeon went through my left side. In doing so, he sawed through 5 ribs and entirely removed one. After the surgery, my torso was closed with 85 staples. Still, none of the complications the surgeon had told me about in June ever occurred.

On Christmas Eve 2008, while still in the hospital, I developed some complications and could only breathe with an oxygen tube in my nose. I became very depressed. I felt like there would be no end to this. On January 5, 2009, the day before my birthday, my side was opened up again. Two pints of blood and fluid were removed and 4 blood clots were scraped off the lining of my left lung. I finally returned home on January 12, 2009. The depression continued for about 2-3 months, before God took that from me. I had two more hospitalizations in 2009, but no more surgeries. Many times as I would lie in pain in the hospital, I felt the Holy Spirit comforting me by wrapping me and holding me in His arms. This was a reminder of Matthew 6:34, “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own”; and Isaiah 41:10(a), “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God.”

This is a very short version of the medical odyssey I went through. But, the real story is how merciful and gracious God was to me through the whole thing. I mentioned just a few of the miracles I experienced. I did return to the basketball court two more times. Satisfied, I retired. I then took up cycling and competed at the U.S. Transplant Games in August 2010. For me this was a fulfillment of Isaiah 40:31, “But those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint.” I am convinced that there is only one reason why all of this happened to me, and it is found in John 9:3, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

Dear Soul,  

Do you have the assurance that if you were to die today you’ll be in the presence of the Lord in heaven? Death for a believer is but a doorway that opens into eternal life.

Those who fall asleep in Jesus will be reunited with their loved ones in heaven. Those you’ve laid in the grave in tears, you shall meet them again with joy! Oh, to see their smile and feel their touch… never to part again!

Yet, if you don’t believe in the Lord, you’re going to hell. There is no pleasant way to say it.

The Scripture says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” ~ Romans 3:23

 “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” ~ Romans 10:9

 Don’t fall asleep without Jesus until you are assured of a place in heaven.

 Tonight, if you would like to receive the gift of eternal life, first you must believe in the Lord. You have to ask for your sins to be forgiven and put your trust in the Lord. To be a believer in the Lord, ask for eternal life. There’s only one way to heaven, and that’s through the Lord Jesus. That’s God’s wonderful plan of salvation.

 You can begin a personal relationship with Him by praying from your heart a prayer such as the following:

 “Oh God, I’m a sinner. I’ve been a sinner all of my life. Forgive me, Lord. I receive Jesus as my Savior. I trust Him as my Lord. Thank you for saving me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

 If you have never received the Lord Jesus as your personal Savior, but have received Him today after reading this invitation, please let us know. We would love to hear from you. Your first name is sufficient.

Today, I made peace with God...

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