MIRACLES – Are Where You Look For Them
By James W. Petty

The surgeons worked late into the evening struggling to keep their patient alive. The open heart surgery had only been scheduled to take seven hours to complete, but before they called it quits for the night, in 14 hours they had performed a series of complex procedures to repair the extensive damage that had resulted from a raging bout of hospital-acquired Staph infection. The patient’s aortic root and porcine aortic valve were replaced with a human graft and holes repaired on the aorta. The mitral valve got a new anterior leaflet and the deadly fistula between the aorta and pulmonary artery was closed and repaired. The doctors had done each of these procedures many times before on other patients, but they had never been required to complete them all on an adult in single operation before this crucial moment in one man’s life. More than medical science would be needed to see this critically ill patient through his ordeal.

In order to operate on the heart it had been necessary to attach the patient’s body and circulatory system to a heart-lung bypass machine (cardiopulmonary bypass/CPB). When the needed repairs were completed, the physicians and care-givers began the necessary process of weaning the patient off CPB and stimulating his heart to resume beating; but it didn’t respond. The patient was then returned to mechanical support. Three more futile efforts were made to wean the patient from cardiopulmonary bypass; each time the heart failed to beat enough to sustain life. This along with increasing problems from excessive and widespread bleeding called for extreme measures to buy the patient time to recover. Having reached the safe limit of CPB use, and the patient’s heart not able to beat on its own, the doctors made the decision to provide full cardiopulmonary support through a highly specialized extracorporeal circulation device (cardiopulmonary support/CPS). This was similar to the use of the heart-lung bypass machine, in that CPS is a complete life support system; but it is especially designed to go with the patient into Thoracic Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and sustain life for a very minimal time period. After successfully making the change from CPB to CPS, and aggressively packing the wound, the surgeons ended the operation. They would let the heart rest for a time and moved the patient to ICU where he would be watched-over 24-7 at the highest level of skilled nursing care. Closing him up would be reserved for another day.

After the surgery the chief cardiovascular surgeon met with the family and explained what they had done, and invited them into the patient’s brightly lit room to see their heavily sedated husband and father who was now connected by tubing and wires to an overwhelming array of heavily-monitored support devices. The physician did not tell the family at that time that most patients on CPS do not survive; but the head Intensivist (ICU doctor) declared, “Don’t ask us any questions. Patients in this condition do not make it”. Later the family would learn that the doctors went home that night fully expecting to find when they returned to work in the morning that the patient had passed away during the night.

The patient survived the night on the CPS machine. By the second day, the Intensive Care M.D., who had warned the family about the probable outcome, now responded with crossed fingers. In hopeful anticipation that the patient could survive being taken off of this complete life support device, the doctors scheduled this critical removal surgery for Christmas Eve.

On the 23rd of December a comic strip called “Agnes” was published in the local newspaper, showing Agnes speaking with a friend:

Friend: “Any sign of your Christmas miracle yet?”

Agnes: “No. But that’s the way this miracle thing works. God likes to sweat you out, to see if your faith will crack under pressure, but if you hold your ground with steely resolve, BOOYAH! It’s the Big Payday!”

Friend: “God has never said ‘Booyah,’ Agnes. I think he says ‘Behold.'”

Agnes: “Booyah, Behold, Whatever. It’s still Payday!”

On Christmas Eve, my heart woke up, and began to beat again and support the rest of my body. “BOOYAH! It’s Payday!” Our Christmas miracle came to pass.

I have had a good deal of time to think about this miracle and many others associated with my ordeal, and I marvel that I am of value to the Lord, or that I am even on his radar screen. Since leaving the hospital, a number of people have asked me about miracles, but in almost all cases, the miracles they inquired about dealt with meeting someone in the Spirit World, while I was unconscious. As a professional genealogist, I have had many spiritual moments involving individuals on the other side of the Veil, and I regard each of these events as miraculous; but I am still astounded when people limit their understanding of miracles to communications with the Spirit World. However, in this light, I am not surprised when people tell me they have never experienced a miracle. Experiencing miracles requires recognizing them. In my family there is a saying that we use: “We don’t believe in miracles, we depend on them.”

Let me describe some of the “miracles” I have had these past 7 months as I have made my way through illness to recovery. And let me emphasize that while some of these miracles were truly spiritual, others were in the realm of medical science; but they were miracles none the less.

Last summer, I began to feel weakness and exhaustion during my normal routines. My doctor referred me to a cardiologist for an in-depth examination. On the morning of my appointment, September 1, 2005, I had a business meeting with the management of a molecular genetics laboratory, to discuss partnering in a genealogy / DNA project that I believed would have a major impact on the way genealogy and family history could be advanced in a modern scientific world. My professional genealogy research company had been negotiating with this group for months, and on this day they announced their intention to sign a contract with us to put our plans into effect. As we left their offices, I told my associates, that it was a miracle, and that the Lord had just opened a door for us. At the doctor’s office following that meeting, I underwent a series of physical tests. Afterwards, the cardiologist sat down with me and explained that the aortic valve in my heart was failing, and I needed to have open heart surgery immediately, which he scheduled for the following week.

I have never been so frightened. I left the Doctor’s office not knowing what to do. I did the only thing I could think of; I found a room where I could be alone, and I prayed to my Heavenly Father. I remember pleading for understanding; I was confused. Why would He open a door for my business, and then it close on the same day? Was I misunderstanding the situation? How would I be able to manage my affairs and take care of my family? I was self employed and self insured and the surgery would eat up our savings and more, even what we had been using to support our last son on a mission. As I prayed and wept, the following words came into my mind: “Jim, if the Lord opens a door, he expects you to go through it.” That was all. But the miracle had taken place. God had answered my prayer. And my response was equally miraculous. From that moment on I felt no fear, but felt completely at peace. I knew I was going to be all right. I also felt confirmed in the knowledge that a door had been opened for me in my profession, and that I needed to be ready physically to go through it and face the challenges of the work load.

I have long lived by the creed found in the 13th Article of Faith: “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul – We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” I resolved to be positive, hopeful, cooperative, and polite no matter what action or direction was taken during the course of this life-altering experience. Little did I know then how this miracle would carry me safely throughout the lengthy days ahead.

Five days later I entered the hospital for the pre-surgery procedures; an angiogram to determine the health of my arteries, and an examination of my esophagus to make certain that a camera could be inserted down my throat to assist the doctors during my heart surgery. The angiogram showed clean and healthy arteries and no evidence of heart disease. For a diabetic, this was very good news. The probe sent down my esophagus revealed scar tissue, like a staple, causing a blockage in my throat. Ever since my youth I had had a problem with swallowing food; it was something that occurred three or four times a week. We always thought it was some form of esophagitis, but I never had the reflux or burning that is associated with that condition. The doctors broke through the scar tissue in a surgical procedure and opened up the passageway so the heart surgery could be conducted properly. Since that repair I have never had a single problem swallowing food or had any difficulty with the many transeophageal echocardiograms or intubations that I have had to endure on my road to good health; more miracles.

After giving the esophagus time to heal, the aortic valve replacement surgery took place September 13, 2005 and the operation seemed to go perfectly. I felt renewed strength almost immediately after waking up, and I was released to go home within a week to continue my recovery. I felt better than I’d felt in years; it was like I was 29 again. I went back to work doing small research jobs, answering the phones, and writing correspondence. The Sunday following October General Conference, was the 9th and Fast Sunday in our ward. I bore my testimony regarding my Heavenly Father, his tender mercies and miracles for me. I returned home feeling tired and laid down for a nap; and slept for twenty-four hours. The next day when I awoke I felt like I had the flu, and contacted my family physician. He insisted that because of my recent heart surgery that I should get readmitted to the hospital where that surgery had taken place because they would have my most complete medical records. We did so, and almost immediately, I slipped into septicemia and became dangerously ill. I’m told that I almost died. My Bishop and his counselors came to the hospital and gave me a blessing, and the doctors and nurses worked diligently to bring my condition under control through antibiotics and other medical treatments and to solve the mystery of the infection and find a cure.

While the hospital tried to determine the cause of the septicemia, a nurse discovered small black dots on the bottom of my toes and brought this to the attention of my heart surgeon. They recognized these as emboli cast off into my blood stream from an infection caused by one of the most virulent hospital-acquired Staph bacteria, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA). The hospital immediately began fighting the infection with the most potent antibiotics available for such a battle. About this time my almost healed chest wound began to change so the heart surgeon biopsied it to find out if the infection had settled there. Sure enough, it was full of infection so they immediately took me into surgery to determine whether the prosthetic valve would have to be replaced. During surgery they discovered that the infection was above the sternum so they didn’t have to go through the sternum again to do any repair work. They left the incision open so it could heal naturally and they could watch the progression of the infection. We were grateful for these small miracles.

For ten days they watched as my body unsuccessfully fought back against the bacteria. The antibiotics weren’t working and worse, my kidneys began fail. When further tests revealed that endocarditis now attacked my new aortic valve and other parts of my heart, my doctors said something needed to be done real soon. They met with my children, my wife, and me, and explained that because this kind of bacteria was resistant to the antibiotics currently available to treat it, and was now damaging and destroying my heart, the only option available was to do open heart surgery again. They needed to go into the infected surgical field, the area above and surrounding my heart, and attempt to clean out all the infection and repair the damage caused by the MRSA. They cautioned that there was only a twenty percent chance that I would survive such an operation. I explained to my physician that I knew I had received assurance from the Lord that all would be well with me, and that I felt confident putting my life in his hands. This clearly affected him, and he said they would prepare for surgery.

As we were making final preparations for the surgery a few hours later, the surgeon met with us again and announced that a member of his team had found a case study on the Internet similar to my experience with MRSA. The patient had gotten endocarditis in his prosthetic aortic valve and had been placed on a regimen of Daptomycin, an antibiotic normally used for healing soft tissue infections, instead of having open heart surgery again. He had been cured and the damaged heart healed without dangerous surgical intervention. My doctor presented this miraculous medical option to us.

One cure does not make a qualified scientific medical study or remedy for success in all ensuing episodes of MRSA-induced endocarditis, but it gave us hope that I, too, could avoid the rigors of such invasive surgery in my much weakened condition. While my infection was the same, the course MRSA takes and the damage it causes in each case is very individual and unique. My doctors and the hospital had never tried using Daptomycin on their MRSA patients; such a movement to treat me would be an experiment. As the Infectious Disease intern, who had discovered this unique application of Daptomycin and recommended its use to treat my infection, said, “If this works, Jim, I’ll be famous and so will you. But I don’t want to be famous; I just want you to get better.” Encouraged by this sole representation for a successful outcome in medically battling sternal wound MRSA endocarditis rather than surgically, my cardiac surgeon felt it was worth a try. I reminded him that I had confidence in his judgment and trusted in the Lord to guide those that would care for me as we fought this infection together. Another miracle seen.

I was placed on an aggressive treatment plan using this new medication, and the hospital staff began to watch and test me. A week passed and it appeared that the infection had been stopped. After several additional days and numerous tests, it was confirmed that the infection was no longer growing. It was still there, but now my body was able to fight the MRSA to clean it from my system. This, too, was miracle.

The hospital released me on November 14th, the week before Thanksgiving to spend the holidays with my family. I had spent five weeks battling this infection before the doctors felt confident that we had it under control, and now I would go home to recuperate. The MRSA had been halted; but there were still serious side effects resulting from the illness that would have to be dealt with during my home recovery. My diabetes was out of control and had to be monitored closely and brought into livable blood levels. My open chest wound had mostly healed except for a few open holes that went to the bone. These were potential sites for new outbreaks of infections that would need continued special wound care along with home health nursing to closely monitor my healing and blood work. We would always have to be on the look out for a new infection and therefore, would also have to continue on a longer than normal regimen of Daptomycin. Regular exams and tests on my heart and lungs would need to be conducted to keep track of their recovery. And most critically, I would be going home on dialysis. Two weeks before I left the hospital, my kidneys gave out with acute renal failure, which necessitated me having dialysis three hours every day to do the job the kidneys were no longer able to perform. This would continue in an abbreviated two to three times a week once I was home. The doctors didn’t know if this would be a temporary or permanent situation. Again I received a Priesthood Blessing from my Bishopric, stating that my kidneys would be healed and the promises of the Lord “that all would be well” would come to pass. My family was prepared for me to be permanently disabled while I just kept plugging along surviving the highs and lows of so many systems failures and depending upon miracles. After all, I was going home. Miracle of miracles, I would get to sleep in my own bed!

My stay at home turned out to be a temporary respite but rich with miracles. I was able to regulate my diabetes and keep my blood sugars under control. The miniature medical wound-vac repair machine that I carried around during that recuperation, the top-drawer wound care people assigned to work with me, the professional skilled home health care nurses and lengthy treatment with Daptomycin all helped prevent any new infections from occurring while I recovered at home. Miraculously I was getting better in so many important areas. But the biggest gift of all was the return of my renal function. When I left the hospital I went on outpatient dialysis which continued until Thanksgiving and then abruptly, my kidneys woke up. No more dialysis. Hallelujah – another miracle. The week following Thanksgiving, my dialysis catheter was removed, and my kidneys were declared sufficiently healed and on the way to full recovery. We witnessed another miracle; one that would make all the difference in my eventual return to health.

Some of the last tests taken before being released from the hospital in November were done to determine how badly my heart had been damaged by the infection. The results were inconclusive so we went home hoping that the Daptomycin would take care of any damage that had been caused by the endocarditis. These tests continued during what turned out to be a five week home recovery. X-Rays, echocardiograms and MRIs revealed holes in my aorta and a deadly fistula in the pulmonary artery and a badly damaged aortic pig valve and aorta root. New surgery would be needed that I wanted scheduled for sooner rather than later. My doctor admonished me to wait until after Christmas to have the surgery, so my family could share those special holidays with me. I didn’t know until later that he had encouraged my children to all come home for Thanksgiving because he thought it would probably be our last holiday together. No wonder he tried so hard to have the surgery moved beyond Christmas. I didn’t realize at the time how dangerous this surgery was expected to be and none of us would know the extent of the damage I had suffered until I had the next operation. I just had to keep on forging ahead, continuing to rely upon my knowledge that all would go well. We set the date for the earliest day my doctors thought I would be able to take the impact of such an extensive surgery. We chose December 20, 2005, just before Christmas so I could get back to my clients and my projects after an anticipated 10 to 14 day stay in the hospital. My wife, Mary, told him I had been blessed with the knowledge that a door had opened for me to fulfill my work, and as a family, we were all going through that door on December 20, 2005. Yet another miracle.

As we approached that December, few people fully understood or knew the peace and assurance that I had from the many priesthood blessings and personal revelations about my condition since it first began in September. The miracle for me was that I continued through the long months of trials to feel that all would work out and that I would live to fulfill the promises made to me. My faith in priesthood blessings continued to sustain me and my knowledge of God’s plan for me gave me hope in the future no matter what course the events took. A few days before reentering the hospital in December for the next series of major open heart surgeries, my Bishop pronounced a very special blessing that again reconfirmed these truths. I was promised that I would be able to endure whatever procedures were performed on me; that my body would be able to withstand the impact of the surgery and heal itself. I had no idea at the time what it meant for my body to heal itself. After I had recovered from these surgeries and was released from the hospital in January, my doctor stated that he was amazed that my kidneys hadn’t failed again. He had fully expected them to shut down, even permanently, considering the severe blows my body received during the December operations and for being on life support attached to a CPS machine. (And he thought this was the best case scenario considering the gravity of my condition and the critical nature of those surgeries.) But instead, my kidneys sustained me, and helped my body to heal more quickly. I told him about the blessing I’d received, and he was astounded by this incredible miracle. Even today they continue to heal and move towards full function.

I have a copy of the general surgical report my cardiac surgeon prepared following the December 20, 2005 open heart surgery. When I read that cold and clinical black and white text that they tried 4 times to wean me off of the heart-lung bypass machine, that I suffered “global biventricular hypokenesis” (my heart completely wouldn’t work on it’s own power or even with the help of drugs to keep me alive) and that the physician “was unable to find any obvious source of the surgical bleeding as there was simply diffuse hemorrhage present from all locations” (I nearly bled to death because they couldn’t find the source of the hemorrhage) I am over come with emotion and know that I am here today because of miracles. It is a miracle to me that this great and wonderful man never gave up on me; that my heart started again after being on the CPS machine for four days; and that they were able to keep me alive until further surgeries and medical treatments resolved these life threatening problems. Remarkably, I survived three more surgeries: December 21 to stop the hemorrhaging; December 24 to take me off of the CPS machine and December 28 to finally close up my open sternal wound. And in spite of all the associated trauma, I never got pneumonia and was able to come off of the ventilator on Jan 3, 2006. Amazingly, I left the ICU for the regular cardiac floor three short days later on January 6, well in advance of the month long ICU stay that had been predicted after my initial 14 hour December 20th surgery. I remained there only a week, much earlier than my expected release date. Instead of two months or more in the hospital, I was out and improving in a little over three weeks total. I healed so quickly that I stayed in the hospital only 24 days, and was released on Friday the 13th to continue my recovery at home. The Intensivist lifted his arm in the triumphant “V for Victory” salute as I miraculously walked out of the hospital that evening.

During the many months that I spent living out this dream come true, I learned to view everything around me as a miracle. When I suffered from ICU psychosis, my dearest friends from all over the country came into my mind and took care of me. During my nearly 10 weeks of hospital stay, my 83 year old father, a retired ophthalmologist, was able to make early morning rounds to pray with me and watch over me. What a treat it was to wake up to his quiet loving face and know that he was caring for me. And Mary’s sisters with their medical background that came and helped us “pull our cart through the long months of wilderness travel.” Throughout our struggles they were always there for Mary and for me, willing to share their medical expertise and knowledge when she was in so much need of comfort, support, and information. I was truly blessed with miracles throughout this experience because of them as she was able to interact with the doctors and nurses and hospital staff with understanding of how things work in medicine. She was my advocate and dearest protector. During my many hospitalizations, I was humbled by becoming as a small child, unable to care for even my most basic needs, and then being ministered to by nurses and technicians, doctors and housekeepers, who took care of those needs without complaint, and even with good cheer. They treated me with the respect and kindness that is the foundation of the highest standards of medical care. That was another miracle. And I did everything I could to return the favor, treating and speaking to them with the kindness and respect to which they were amply deserving. I had been given the blessing of knowing that all was well with me and I took their ministrations as evidence of that blessing.

Miracles filled my life. At home, family, friends, and neighbors took care of my loved ones with acts of kindness and generosity while I was away and even when I returned. My bedroom was moved downstairs and completely redone with all new paint, carpeting and decoration. Fall cleanup, the winter snows and household fix-ups have seen numerous men and boys just drop by to lend a helping hand. Our cars have been maintained and been kept full of gas so Mary could make the daily trips to the hospital and get me to all of my many doctors’ appointments. They have seen to it that our fridge and pantry were continually stocked with the needed necessities and have gone the extra mile by even cleaning our house on a number of occasions. Some of them set up a donation fund and invited others to contribute to help my wife and family during this difficult period of our life. It was picked up by a website dedicated to my high school class, and friends and class mates that I hadn’t seen or spoken to in forty years came to my assistance and expressed their interest and concern. Each of my Bishops from my youth contacted me and expressed their love and support. The experience of these communications was overwhelming to me, and I have considered each of them as miracles. Even more important however, was how impressed my children were by the acts of love shown by others, and how their testimonies in the Gospel grew as a result.

The greatest miracle of all is the impact these experiences have had on me. I have always believed myself to be a man of faith, but I felt I was weak, and of little consequence in the sight of my Heavenly Father. I came to learn and recognize that Heavenly Father knows who I am, and loves me; he cares for me, listens to me, and speaks to me. He knows where I am, and what I am doing, and wants me to succeed.

I believe all of these are miracles in my life, and I believe this same knowledge is available to everyone who is willing to look for miracles in their lives. Christmas Miracles happen every day.

 


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