God works miracles / by Martha Keyes

Do you believe in miracles? 

September 15, 2007

I was jarred awake at 7 a.m. Morning sloth and the delirium caused by an unreasonably-late night spent with friends gripped my eyes and my brain.

"Martha," my dad said urgently, "I'm taking your mom to the hospital."

The fog engulfing my mind immediately disappeared, and I hopped out of bed, following Dad downstairs with uncooperative, sleepy muscles but fully-lucid thoughts. Mom was laying on the living room couch, white as a sheet, lips chapped. She kept drawing trembling hands toward her pallid face, saying nothing, but furrowing her brow in pain.

The cat strolled through the room, oblivious to the gravity of the situation at hand.

Feeling powerless but wanting to help her in any way I could, I asked her what I could get for her. She wanted lotion for her hands and a drink of water.

My dad spoke with the 911 dispatchers. They told him to remove any animals from the room and not to give her any water, just as I walked into the room with a bottle of Bath & Body Works lotion and a glass of water.

I let my siblings know that an ambulance was on the way to take Mom to the hospital. We waited, not knowing then just how serious the situation was. An ambulance and multiple fire engines arrived. Paramedics put my mom on a gurney, into the ambulance, and, with sirens blaring, they headed to LDS Hospital. My brother and I followed.

We arrived at the emergency room anxious for any news to clarify a terrifying situation. Instead of news, we were met with the demand for insurance information. Impatience and anger bubbled up inside me--how could this woman be more concerned with details about plans and providers than with getting us to our mother?

When we were finally permitted to see Mom, she was still in intense pain, and we didn't yet know the cause. However, although her brow was furrowed in pain, the only sounds out of her mouth were words of apology. She worried about getting a substitute for her middle school choir class. She apologized for inconveniencing us. Our time with her was short. They took her away again.

Waiting.

Waiting.

Waiting.

Finally some information.

Heart attack.

My mom? Heart attack?

Heart attacks were a collapsing, old people thing from the movies, not something that happened to my healthy, distance-running, 52 year-old mom.

The right coronary artery was successfully unblocked, thanks to the medical team and technology at the hospital. Mom's doctor later said that he had never seen such a long clot--it reached from the junction with the aorta, around the right side of the heart and underneath the left ventricle. 

During (left) and after (right) the heart attack

During (left) and after (right) the heart attack

However, the relief for Mom was only temporary. Soon she was in as much pain as ever, and her nurses confused at the intense pain that wasn't even dulled by multiple doses of morphine. They discovered that, despite the angioplasty and stents, the artery was again blocked. 

My memory of that day is one of constant waiting, not knowing if the eventual news would be positive or devastating. In the evening, my sister Sarah called. She was serving an 18-month religious mission in Washington, D.C., and, given the situation, she was able to call home. It was a tearful call. Sarah takes after my mom, though, and she's rock solid. I don't know how she did it, being so far away with the situation at home, with so little information, but she trusted the Lord enough to stay put on her mission.

That first night, we were all up through the night, waiting for more news, feeling emotionally drained and helpless. At some point, I fell asleep, but another rude awakening was in store. In the middle of the night we received news that the situation was even more dire than before. Attempts to unblock her right coronary artery were unsuccessful, and we needed to brace ourselves for the loss. It's a very tender memory for me. Once alone in my room, I sat up in bed and cried like I had never cried before--uncontrollable sobs mixed with vocalized pleas to my Father in Heaven not to take my mom away.

During the next few days, countless people reached out to our family with food, flowers, and fasting. Thousands of people were fasting and praying for Mom. Her name was put on at least 14 temple prayer rolls and on the Tabernacle Choir prayer roll (she was in the middle of auditions at the time of her heart attack). The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve prayed for her. My sisters' ward fasted and prayed.  Although I had spent the majority of my weekends at home and knew barely two dozen of the members, my BYU ward fasted and prayed for someone who was a stranger to them but a mother to me. Our home ward also fasted and prayed, combining their great faith and hoping for a miracle. Three hundred people attended the breaking of that fast, some of them neighbors of other religious persuasions. It was a beautiful uniting of faith in God. We all gathered in the chapel to break our fast in united prayer. In the middle of the prayer, one sweet ward member--our next door neighbor--collapsed. He was in the throes of a battle with cancer, but his love and faith led him to fast despite the danger to himself. At the time of his collapse, it felt like insult added to injury--we had all gathered to petition the Lord for a miracle of healing for my mom, only to have another dear ward member taken to the hospital. We soon found out, though, that God's hand was at work. The resulting hospital trip led doctors to discover that the cancer-fighting device implanted in our neighbor's body had moved from its place and would have caused death had it not been detected when it was. The collapse was actually a merciful miracle.

Dad and Grandma (Mom's mom) were given possible scenarios by the team at the hospital. If the devices Mom was attached to could keep her alive by assuming the functioning of the right side of her heart, she would have to either leave the hospital with a pump or receive a heart transplant. The doctors had assembled a team in anticipation of the heart transplant. What actually happened was entirely unexpected. In Mom's  own words: 

I have since learned that the right coronary artery is no longer functional. While the right side of the heart was resting, smaller collateral arteries began to take over its function, to feed the blood through the lungs, providing oxygenated blood to the right and left sides of the heart where it could be pumped to the body--in effect, a natural coronary bypass had occurred. I am living on that unanticipated and incredible phenomenon at this moment--a miracle indeed.
The doctors called it a miracle; the nurses called it a miracle; and those who had prayed KNEW it was a miracle. I have since watched my heart beating on an echo cardiogram and seen how majestic and powerful an organ it is--all on its own. What an amazing thing that I am here, and in a way to lead a happy and healthy life in a normal way--that within hours of the ward closing its fast with prayer, I should suddenly start becoming independent, and within a few days be able to stand on my own, and within a week, to walk around the hospital corridors, care for my bodily needs, and be free of tubes and machines--it was a miraculous answer to many prayers.

After 17 days--most of them spent in the thoracic ICU--Mom was released from the hospital.

We watched the 21 devices keeping her alive slowly but surely disappear from her room, as her heart and body gained strength. The day she was supposed to get her feeding tube out, the doctor failed to show up promptly at 2:00 to remove it. So Mom removed it herself--tugged it right out. She's a feisty one.

The doctors have no idea why the heart attack occurred. Normal causes like plaque buildup and high blood pressure were absent. But mostly, they were astounded by Mom's recovery. In fact, when Elder Nelson, himself a former world-renowned heart surgeon, visited during Mom's coma, he was not at all optimistic. He said that things were in the Lord's hands but that there wasn't a lot of hope. He told Dad's boss to prepare for the worst. But, as Elder Nelson knows well, God can work miracles. And He did.

Do you believe in miracles?

 And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles.
And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust.
Behold, I say unto you that whoso believeth in Christ, doubting nothing, whatsoever he shall ask the Father in the name of Christ it shall be granted him; and this promise is unto all, even unto the ends of the earth. {Mormon 9:19-21}
7 1/2 years post-heart attack, visiting Mom and Dad in Australia where they are serving a three-year mission.

7 1/2 years post-heart attack, visiting Mom and Dad in Australia where they are serving a three-year mission.