GOD is my helper; the LORD is a sustainer of my life. Ps. 54:4
And they said it wouldn’t last. My life, that is. You see, some 15 years ago today, I was getting ready to preach on a Sunday morning at the church plant I had been clearly called to start in Mount Pleasant, SC. Everything, and I mean everything was normal. It was a normal, warm August morning. I felt absolutely normal. Everything at the church was going normal. Everyone arrived and was setting up at the movie theater just like normal. I was doing a sound check for my headset, and even the sound system was normal. It was a normal mid August morning, except for one detail, the tissue that surrounded my aorta was in a weakened and possibly damaged state. Unlike a normal aorta, my aorta was about to split lengthwise from my heart to the section where it descends to feed the rest of my body. My complete ascending aorta was going to dissect, split open, and there was nothing anyone on this earth could do about it.
The blood surging through my veins to give life, was now placing deadly pressure against the weakened walls in the largest artery in my body, my aorta. It ripped. I looked at my wife. I said, "I need help." I collapsed. She caught me. She laid me on the floor. I turned blue and began to gurgle and convulse. Panic broke out in the church that morning. The place that we began in order to bring peace to a worried and anxious world, was now in bedlam. The place that we had invited people to hear the words of life, was a place that held in its walls, death.
Immediately, there were calls to 911. Screaming. Running. Panic. Praying.
Had it not been for the quick thinking of my son, Ivey, who immediately gave me mouth to mouth and would not allow anyone to give me chest compressions, I would have died. No doubt. But there I was turning blue, gasping for breath, being tended to by my son, unconscious on that movie theater, turned church floor, dying.
The EMT’s arrived and tried to stabilize my heart, but could not. Finally the doctor told them on the phone, bring him like he is. Once my body arrived at Roper Hospital in downtown Charleston, extraordinary measures were taking place to sustain my seemingly lifeless body as they tried to diagnose what was wrong. It took the CT Scan to find out that a pool of blood had formed inside my chest with only a Saran Wrap thin aortic tissue which kept my blood from hemorrhaging into the rest of my body and causing instant death.
So the call went out from Dr. Blue in the emergency room to Dr. Peterseim, one of the foremost cardio-thoracic surgeons in the nation. The emergency room asked the surgeon, Would you come in and take a look at this Aortic dissection? All Peterseim could say was, “Is he still alive? Keep him alive. I’ve never seen one alive.” He had performed 1000’s of surgeries and had never had the opportunity to see an aortic dissection alive. I was to be his first.
Upon arrival, he got to see me alive, struggling for every breath, and then got to work researching ways to repair such a massive injury and coming up with an operating plan. It was determined that it was possible, but as Peterseim told my wife, it’s been too long, your husband is no longer there. There’s been too much oxygen deprivation and too many of his brain cells have died. “We can save his heart, do you want us to?” Her answer? "Save his heart, we’ll worry about the rest later."
In the waiting room, a prayer band had gathered over 100 strong. Praying, literally crying out to God to save my life and bring healing and recovery. God heard that day. The surgery was successful. An aortic replacement had been substituted for the real thing. My heart was beating. I was alive. Against all odds, I was alive. But for how long?
Long enough to see more than 100 people come to faith in Christ. Long enough to experience all four of my children finish their educations, get married, and move to their places of ministry and calling. Long enough to hold in my arms nine (soon to be ten) grandchildren. Long enough for my wife, Kelly, to go back to school, change her major, and graduate manga cum laude from CSU with a degree in education. Long enough for Kelly to find her life time work at Palmetto Christian academy teaching second graders to read, write, and do arithmetic. Long enough to now move from hydraulic lift, to powered wheelchair, to regular wheelchair, to walker, to quad cane, to regular cane, to walking (kind of) on my own, to riding 15 plus miles on my Giant mountain bike. Yes, these 15 years have been very good to me. I now have a family that God is using all over the country. I have a wife that loves and goes above and beyond for me over and over again. I have a church that loves and cheers me on. Friends that have stayed with me and have prayed for me. A Mom and Dad who support me emotionally and spiritually. But most of all, I have a God who will never leave me nor forsake me. The One who has sustained me on my good days and my bad. My God who will usher me into His abode, where I hope to hear, one day... "Well done."