A few days ago I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with my Dad. We went to mass and then had a lovely lunch together. While this may seem like nothing out of the norm to many, for me …”extra” time with my Dad has become extremely meaningful. A little over 4 years ago my Dad suffered an aortic dissection, heart attack, respiratory attack and stroke all in the same night. It was a night that will forever change me and has taught me so many valuable lessons about how God intercedes in our life to give us what we never knew we needed.
It was Feb 4, 2009 and we were celebrating my Mom’s birthday with our family. My cousin happened to be visiting from Iowa that week and joined us with her Mom and Dad for a delicious dinner. I made shrimp scampi for everyone, not wanting to leave the cooking up to my Dad or brothers for fear of what they would come up with. That night, I noticed at the dinner table that my Dad seemed out of it and not like himself. He was quiet, seemed distracted and his face was red. Shortly after dinner my Dad got up and went into the other room, he then came back and grabbed my Mom telling her he didn’t feel well. This is not something my Dad typically does because he is not one to call attention to himself when he doesn’t feel well. My Mom, being a nurse, knew something was up and went into the next room with him. What transpired the next few minutes is something that still haunts me. My Mom screamed for help as my Dad collapsed and I walked into the room to see her giving him CPR.
My Dad’s heart had stopped and he had stopped breathing. Thank God my cousin was there because she was also a nurse and quickly sprung into action. 911 was called and luckily my Mom & cousin were able to bring my Dad back to life, but he wasn’t in good condition. We had no idea how bad it was until we got to the hospital. We all gathered in the hospital anxiously waiting to hear from the doctor. Nothing could prepare me for what I was about to hear. The doctor did a CT scan and found that my Dad’s aorta, the major artery carrying blood out of the heart, had torn. He had suffered an aortic dissection in his chest, resulting in massive blood loss. 80% of aortic dissections lead to death. Because of this trauma he also suffered a heart attack. The doctor told us he had a 10% chance of surviving and would most likely die. We were instructed to gather in the ER to say our final goodbyes before they flew him to Washington Hospital Center with hope of a miracle to save his life. They said he wouldn’t survive the flight.
I will never forget the sight of my Dad all hooked up to machines, so vulnerable and fighting for his life. He was barely conscious at this point and I crouched by his head, sobbing, and said, “Dad I love you so much, I understand if this is your time to go, but please… if you can find the strength… fight for us … stay with us.” In that moment I knew he heard me because he lifted his arm to try and touch me. I took that as a sign that he was going to fight … fight for me … for his family … fight for his life.
To everyone’s surprise my Dad survived the flight and was rushed into open heart surgery where one of the top heart surgeons in the country worked to repair my Dad’s aorta and replace one of his valves with a mechanical valve. Yet again we were told the chances of survival were slim. They cooled my Dad’s body to 18 degrees and operated for 8 hours. My family “slept” on the hard concrete in the waiting room as we waited to hear from the doctor. I don’t think I slept even for a minute while my mind raced and tried to imagine what might happen and how I could possibly go on without my Dad. While a big part of me was terrified of what was to come, there was a small voice inside of me that kept telling me to “be not afraid and trust in me.” I had no idea where these words of strength were coming from, but I clung to them as I waited.
After 8 grueling hours of surgery, the doctor saw us and gave us an update on my Dad’s condition. He had survived the life threatening attack and surgery. They still did not know what to expect or how his body would react to all of the shock it had experienced. They put him in a medically induced coma to give his body time to heal. Over the next 2 days we had to wait …wait for answers … wait for a miracle. I remember during this time asking myself how this had happened to me and to my family. My Dad was 60 years old, healthy as far I knew and had so much living left to do. My mind automatically fast forwarded to the future and tried to imagine how I could get married one day without him there to walk me down the aisle, or how I could one day have children and not have him there to hold my kids and tell them stories . As I was thinking these thoughts, a sense of peace washed over me and yet again I heard this “inner voice” telling me to “be not afraid and trust in me.” So that is just what I did.
After two days of waiting for answers, the doctors ran more tests and determined that my Dad had suffered a watershed stroke on top of everything else he had gone through. This kind of stroke results in a loss of blood flow to many different parts of the brain which can affect mobility, cognitive ability, speech, and ability to connect emotionally. They showed us pictures of his brain and said that it was severely damaged and they were so sorry, but the prognosis was not good. My whole family started crying, except me. I refused to believe that this was it for my Dad and this was the end for him. Maybe it was that “inner voice” that I had heard, but I decided right then that I was going to be strong for my family and believe that God had a greater plan for my Dad and in all that He was letting us experience.
Fast forward 4 years later and my Dad is alive and well! My Dad recovered more than anyone expected after 2 months in intensive rehab. It was a scary 2 months after his accident and an even longer year with lots of set backs a long the way. Against what the doctors believed, he regained full speech and most of his mobility. His left side is still somewhat stiff, he doesn’t have full range of motion like he used to and his balance is a little off. His cognitive ability recovered more than we could have prayed for, but he still has difficulty with some things. He is on short-term disability and unable to go back to work, but seems to be enjoying his days as a retiree or as he likes to joke “house wife.” One thing is for sure, his sense of humor has grown from all that he has been though.
My Dad, is the miracle I didn’t know I needed in my life. He beat all the odds, not because he is lucky, but because God had a different plan for him. A plan that none of us could understand. But after 4 years, I have come to understand what a “gift” God gave us. He saved my Dad and gave us more than we had before. I know this may be hard to understand and as you are reading this you are probably wondering why I believe God gave us a “gift” by letting us all suffer and go through such a traumatic experience. But believe me when I say it was a gift! Before my Dad’s accident I aimlessly was going through life not really focusing on what role God should be playing in my life. I was living a life for me and focused on myself only. His episode opened my eyes to how precious life is and how short of a time we have on this earth. Our life shouldn’t be about having the most money, nicest home or going on the best vacations. It should be about living our life in a way that will honor God and get us to heaven.
Through my Dad’s accident he has developed a deep and new found faith that he never had before and he has taught me so much. Although I lost a part of him that night 4 years ago, I have gained so much more through the wisdom and faith he has discovered and shown me. My Dad was given a second chance at life and he took that second chance to slow down and prioritize what is important in life. He didn’t ask to be disabled and go through what he did, but God knew he had more in mind for my Dad. He gave my Dad this time to focus on his faith and spread his story.
This is the first time I have shared my Dad’s story publicly and it feels good to write it out. I hope that this story helps you stop and think about how you can open your life up to the “miracles” God is trying to show you and what he might be preparing you for. Now every moment I spend with my Dad is a miracle in itself, and my “extra time” with him truly is a gift from God.
Connecting with my faith and living my life not solely for myself has helped me to develop a better outlook on life and lead a healthier lifestyle. My faith is the balance I didn’t know I needed in creating that healthy haven I was looking for.