July 4, 2017—Today I was in a miracle. Two years ago we were packing up our annual July 4th picnic/baptism at the American River (Coloma, CA) when were heard sirens converging at the river near our baptism site. I came to the picnic as a pastor and it appeared I was about to shift into chaplain mode. Finding a ranger, I identified myself as a chaplain from the neighboring county and learned that a man drowned upstream from us, was retrieved from the river and was undergoing CPR. The last report I received indicated he had a pulse and was breathing, but the park rangers were still traumatized—especially a young state park employee who was not involved in lifesaving efforts but was badly affected nonetheless. I employed some quick defusing of the involved rangers and of the traumatized young park employee until her father arrived, after which I went home.
Today—two years later to the day—our church family was fellowshipping after the baptism when I noticed two female rangers talking near our picnic area—a long-time employee and a ranger-in-training. My chaplain mode once again kicked in and I walked over to visit with them. As I spoke to the seasoned ranger, our conversation shifted to the near-drowning two years ago and her involvement in the life-saving efforts. I told her how glad I was that he survived, and she dropped a bombshell—he didn’t make it. My wife Kathee and a church brother, Marc, joined the conversation, as they were also there two years ago helping with the situation. We talked together for a while when the rangers left suddenly to address a man flying a drone over the river. The rangers we gone less than three minutes when they returned bringing with them a man with his wife and daughter.
“This is him!” the seasoned ranger said to me. I didn’t recognize him, and all I thought was “Him who?”
She repeated with a tone of wonder and excitement: “This is HIM!”
The man the rangers had brought—the man with the drone—was the drowning victim from two years ago, and he was supposed to be dead. All the rangers in the park thought he was dead, and until now, so did I, my wife and Marc.
The seasoned ranger radioed to another ranger—one who had also performed CPR on the victim—to immediately come to our location—there was someone he needed to meet. And he did, and there were hugs and tears and a supreme sense of wonder. Not only was this man alive, he was here, with us and with his family, near the same spot of the tragedy—in perfect health. Not bad for a dead guy. But wait—it gets better.
We then discovered why the rangers thought he was dead: another drowning victim died that day in the same hospital, in the bed right next to our victim (who was on life-support). When the rangers called to find out his status, they were told he had died—the nurses thinking they were asking about the other victim. Instead, our near-drowning victim—now presumed dead—was actually transported to Stanford Medical center where he lay in a coma for two months.
The man’s wife explained what happened next: two months into his coma, his kidneys, heart and liver were shutting down and the doctors were urging the wife and grown daughter to unplug life-support and let him pass. Though the family was originally from south Asia, they were also Christians, and the wife and daughter ducked into to a nearby church for two hours to seek the Lord before pulling the plug. The wife said God told her not to worry. When they returned to the hospital to (perhaps) say goodbye, her husband moved for the first time in two months. He awoke fully from the coma, remaining in the hospital a total of six months, followed by two more months in a rehab facility. The doctors had told him his kidneys would never function normally again—that one was dead and the other likely wouldn’t work at all, requiring ongoing dialysis. Two days later all his organs were functioning normally—and when we met him today, he was normal—and I mean normal. I have friends who awoke from comas with extensive brain damage. This man was normal—and he’d returned to the site of the tragedy hoping to find and thank the people who helped him two years ago, not knowing we all thought him dead. Earlier that morning he even found the same nurses who treated him in the first hospital—who both happened to be on shift this morning.
We stood together on the bluff overlooking the American River, some of us jaw-dropped and laughing, rangers tearing up, everyone overwhelmed. God is amazing beyond words. The one person not present and whom our resurrected friend wasn’t even aware of was the traumatized young park employee I defused. She’s on her honeymoon.
I wonder what she did when she got the text this afternoon.