It’s 5:00 PM on Sunday, October 26, 2016. Last Friday afternoon, severe circumstances redirected the course of my life in a way that I have never experienced before. Everything stopped, and, as minutes turned to hours, and hours into sleepless days and nights, my faith was pushed precariously close to the edge of my reasoning…and then beyond that into something altogether new.
Last Friday, my father experienced a complete heart failure. For a man who has always been impeccably healthy, and, having never been diagnosed with any type of heart issues at all, this was a new and very unexpected development into the life of my family. Friday, around 1:00 PM, it became very clear to us just how unhealthy dad actually was. 911 was called, and he was loaded into the back of an ambulance, only to be defibrillated before even leaving his driveway. He had a rough trip to Spaulding Regional Hospital. The doctors performed a heart catheterization, and it was immediately determined that he needed emergency open heart surgery to open up an 80 percent blockage in the main artery leading into his heart. The initial assessment was that this surgery would have to be performed within hours to save his life. By the grace of God, he was transported directly to Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta, GA.
Upon his admission to Piedmont Hospital, one of the finest cardiac surgeons in the nation just “happened” to be present to assess my father’s situation. He determined that dad would not make it through an immediate heart surgery, and he opted, instead, to place him on a ventilator, under deep sedation, to allow his body a chance to reset from the cardiac shock it had just experienced. This was accomplished, and he was admitted to the CCU unit. The next two days would hold information that was far less than great.
His heart had experienced some extreme cardiac damage. His Ejection Fraction (the squeeze of the heart muscle) was down to around 18 percent. 50 percent is considered healthy and wonderful; 18 percent isn’t. So, his EF was 18 percent, and it was coupled with the disaster of an unassisted heart rate of around 30 beats per minute. (When he was admitted into Spaulding Regional, his heart rate was around 21 beats per minute.) Medical reports of that severity typically don’t result in happy endings. As I said before, he was also diagnosed with an 80 percent blockage. Further tests at Piedmont revealed that he not only had one 80 percent block, in fact, he had four different 80 percent blockages. All of this information made for some long and sleepless days on the third floor, room 15, of the CCU at Piedmont Hospital.
Above: My father on life support following complete heart failure.
His condition during that two day period did show some slight improvements. Small signs of hope liken themselves to major victories when you experience a loved one in medical distress. You cling to them fiercely, hoping for them to lead to greater and greater improvements. Sometimes they do, and other times they don’t. The fear they won’t hangs over you like a cloud, and those fears inundate your mind in ways few other concerns can touch. They sap your optimism, and they drain the energy from your very soul.
I’m going to skip a tremendous amount of good details and bring you up to 3:56 AM on Sunday morning. I want to share every detail with you, but they are tedious; however, those good tedious details end with his heart beginning to drive the pacemaker early Sunday morning. The miracle here is that it began to drive the pacemaker at a beat of around 60, instead of the lazy and life threatening 30 beats per minute of the previous days. God was working…
On Monday, he had improved enough for the doctors to dial back the sedation that had kept him unconscious, and the ventilator was removed. Finally, after three days, I could communicate with my father again. His vocal chords were damaged, his speech was weak, and at times unintelligible, but he was responding, breathing on his own, talking, and not confused! God continued to work…
Now, let me skip to his surgery. I’ll be honest with you, I’m not even sure what day it was performed, but I believe that it was Wednesday. Frankly, from a standpoint of time and sleep, I’m a little confused about a lot of things at the moment. This week has moved so slowly, but yet, it’s also moved so quickly… I’m not quite sure where the time has gone? Right now, I don't think I even care.
Above: Dad off the ventilator prior to his heart surgery.
His surgery consisted of a single arterial bypass to address the primary blockage directly into the heart. For those of you who are medical junkies, they dissected the left mammary artery from the chest wall and redirected it to bypass the blockage. A successful surgery, in my mind, would have included the completion of this procedure, delivering unobstructed and oxygen rich blood to a severely damaged heart that was pumping at less than half of its capacity. To be clear, this surgery, if successful, would bring about great improvement to dad's current situation, but it was, by no means, a resolution to the critical situation of the damaged heart output in the long run.
Upon the completion of the surgery, we were informed that everything had gone well. The arterial bypass was a success, and dad did great during the surgery. This was awesome news, but, ultimately, God had more in store; He was still working...
During the surgery, when they released the arterial clamp that sent the oxygen rich blood into his damaged heart, a heart which previously had an 18 percent Ejection Fraction (EF) percentage, God did something new! His heart’s EF percentage made a superhuman jump from 18 percent to an astounding 50 percent…and it began beating as if there was no damage! This is definitively something that only God can do!
Dad’s recovery continues to make strides that could only be attributed to the hand of a loving God. Today is Sunday, and my father is free from any mechanical or medicinal life support. Almost all of the drains have been removed from his chest. He’s eating on his own, and he's even walking a little. His heart and blood pressure are almost perfect, and we’re hoping to bring my dad back home soon…possibly on Tuesday. He will either go directly home, or he will go to a temporary rehabilitation facility to help improve his strength and stability. Either way, his journey, up to this point, has been accompanied by miracles from every direction. A few of those miracles have been epic in proportion, leaving his doctors a bit confused. I love to see God defy medical science. God is not bound to a diagnosis, and I find that humorous.
Above: Dad the day following his open heart surgery...and a miracle.
Let me end this post with this thought…
We experience struggles of all kinds in our life. Some struggles are bigger than others, but not one of them is too big or too small for God to personally address. On Thursday of last week, my father, for all practical purposes, should have died. He should have departed this life in a fashion that would have crushed my mother and me. I was almost positive that my long drive to Atlanta would end in a tragedy, and that my last words to my father had already been spoken the night before. Even through my prayers, the situation was daunting. Over a week later, a different assessment can be made of the whole situation, and it’s much different than the horror of my initially low expectations.
It is only God Almighty who can take, into His mighty hand, the weak, sick, and failing heart of an 81 year old man, put it through the stress of cardiac failure, and one week later hand that man’s life back to his family with a heart showing no damage and a heart performing on a level that it hasn’t seen in 20 years. God has restored my father, and He’s performed His second miracle on my dad’s heart in his eighty one years of life. The first miracle occurred when my father surrendered his life to the Lord. At that point, God redeemed and restored his heart of sin. And now this miracle…his heart restored from a cardiac episode that should have taken his life in only a moment.
Let me assure you that God is good. He is faithful. He is attentive to our every need, and He understands the pain we endure through the tragedy of emotions that often accompany severe circumstances.
I would like to write more about this, and I’m sure that I will soon, but for now, I am tired. I can’t even describe to you how tired I am. My precious mother and I have both lost a little sleep over the course of the last week, but dad is coming home soon, and that makes it all worth the sleepless emotions of the recent past.
I am thankful to our friends and family who have extended such an incredible amount of love and support to my mother and me. Thank you for your prayers, and please keep them coming! And, to my loving God, thank you for the incredible works that you continue to perform. Thank you for giving me my family, and for placing me in a position of need beyond my own abilities. Thank you for showing love, mercy, and grace to my very feeble soul…a soul who needs to trust You more.
Keith Beatty is a Worship, Missions and Media Pastor living in North Alabama. He's excited and very humbled to be a follower of Jesus Christ!