Friday, 30 May 2008

Meeting your Maker

Dave Roberts is an Episcopalian priest ministering in Utah, USA and the co-founder of Intermountain Christian Ministries whose purpose is described on his web site:

Intermountain Christian Ministries (“ICM”) was founded in 1983 by Rev. Dave Roberts and Jeff Freeman in response to the call of the Lord Jesus Christ to establish a Christian mission in the Rocky Mountain West.

The Lord’s direction for ICM was, first, to be a clear, Christian presence in Utah and, second, to pray. Unlike other mission efforts based in Utah, ICM was not to target any specific group of people exclusively. As a result, through a network of varied opportunities, ICM has often ministered to a cross-section of the population, e.g., in the Cowboy & Rodeo circuit, to the Deaf community, among local African-American and Hispanic communities, the predominant Latter-day Saint (“Mormon”) population, as well as Slavic immigrants, Foreign and Domestic University students and, at times, some polygamous groups. ICM has also been supportive of persecuted Christian churches and Christians’ Rights groups in developing countries, people in religious transition out of aberrant groups as well as prisoners and parolees.

Dave has suffered for years with Atrial Fibrillation and recently underwent a heart procedure. His account of his experience is truly faith promoting, especially the rare opportunity he had to share his faith the night before the procedure. I will let him speak for himself.

I appreciate the prayer support more than you know. Atrial fibrillation, the way I would get it at least, is so debilitating and discouraging that there were times I would despair of life. I don’t mean that I was suicidal, but I couldn’t imagine going on for the rest of my life fighting with it and never being able to make plans or travel any distance. I’ve had it start up in the middle of weddings I was performing causing me to have to sit to finish the ceremony. Or not being able to wait in the grocery line or post office because everything started going black. I never knew from one part of the day to the other if I would be laid up for the next thirty hours, unable to get vertical, or having to check in to an emergency room somewhere to be cardioverted.

I never had to be cardioverted. (That’s where they knock you out and then put the paddles on your chest to jolt your heart into normal sinus rhythm electrically). For the nearly 70 times in 14 years I had had this, it would convert itself back within 30 hours but I could get no sleep during that time because of the explosions and violent shaking in my chest with a heart that was already exhausted and, I found out from my cardiologist, facing the danger of the heart just giving out if it didn’t cause a stroke first.

Lately it had been happening sometimes for one day out of three and it clearly was getting no better. The only thing standing between my going into another bout was the beta-blocker I was on called “Sotalol,” the maximum dosage allowable, and even that wasn’t 100% effective.

When I found a heart specialist who would do the procedure, Dr. Chun Hwang, at the Utah Valley Medical Center in Provo, Utah, about 35 miles south of my home, I discovered from his staff that he is one of the top three in the world for certain procedures. He went over the MRI results with me and seemed hopeful and said he’d be doing it 15 days later—May 21st.

Then two things happened that I attribute to peoples’ prayer:

1) For the next 13 days before the procedure, I had NO bout of atrial fibrillation, not even a hint of one. The heart was skipping a bit but no discomfort. It got to the point to where I wondered if maybe I didn’t need the procedure. (But when they went inside with their catheters, it was clear that I did).

2) When the nurse called the week before the procedure, she said “you are going to have to go off the beta-blocker and the Coumadin (anti-coagulant) for the three days before.” I told her that would send me into a-fib for sure, being without the beta-blocker, which was the only barrier between me and that severe arrhythmia starting up. She said that would probably happen but I was to “stick it out” until they got in there to operate because Dr. Hwang would need to see what was going on. To prevent the buildup of blood clots and a stroke during that time while I was waiting for the surgery, I would start injecting myself with Lovenox twice a day. I DREADED those three days: Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, May 18th, 19th and 20th, because I knew that I undoubtedly would go into a-fib and not come out of it; I could be in it for as much as 83 hours!

I went off the Sotalol and the Coumadin on Saturday midnight and waited. And waited. I waited all day Sunday and nothing happened! On Monday, at 3:17 a.m., I went into a-fib and realized it would be 56 hours until I went into the surgery– a long, miserable time to have trouble being vertical long enough to be able to heat something to eat or even to shower! This is where I believe your prayers came in again: After 10 hours and 30 minutes, my heart suddenly went into normal rhythm with nothing in my system to keep me from doing so and REMAINED in a regular rhythm until I went under the knife! I had no discomfort. The heart was functioning normally, although not perfectly.

Pastor Mike Menning came by to pick me up Wednesday morning, the 21st, and we got to Provo Hospital Admitting right on time at 11 a.m. I was on the operating table at 12:31 p.m. when they said they were going to put me to sleep and the next thing I knew, with no sense of passage of time, I awakened in my hospital room at 4:30 p.m. and could FEEL my heart beating perfectly! Mike had planned to wait around but the assistant surgeon came out to tell him that the procedure was taking longer than they had expected because they had encountered a lot more tissue that needed to be ablated on both sides of the heart. In short, there was no way this would have ever corrected itself and it makes me wonder what folks did not that many years ago when they had this. Mike left and came back to Salt Lake while I was still under and told me later what they had done because I remembered nothing and knew less!

In less than 23 hours, I was walking out the door of the hospital with Randy Lund, one of our ministers at Church of the Risen Christ, who has been through this procedure three times himself for the same thing. They finally got his heart into rhythm and it has stayed there for nearly two months now; his procedures were done at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake. We dropped off my prescriptions at the pharmacy, went for Mexican food at the Cancun, then he dropped me off at the house so I could grab my truck and head back over to the drugstore to pick up my new beta-blocker, plus a one-week steroid for inflammation and another drug to prevent acid reflux because the procedure is done so close to the esophagus. Within a few months I should be off everything associated with this including Coumadin. After picking up these drugs, I still went to Blockbuster, the post office, the bank and the supermarket before heading home. I might have been crazy seeing as I was out of the hospital only three hours before but I couldn’t believe how much better I was feeling. The only signs of what they did were three plugged punctures in the right jugular vein and both femoral arteries.

By Day Three, Saturday morning, I woke up and realized that my heart felt new – better than it had in the past 14 years! Even when it had been beating in rhythm between bouts of a-fib, it still wasn’t beating as well as it was now, even at 65 years old! I don’t know how much this whole thing will cost but the fact that I had it done two months after I went on Medicare plus a backup insurance with State Farm for everything Medicare doesn’t cover will make a difference.

Because of some scarring and the trauma the procedure was to the heart, I can still expect it to skip and jump a bit, like it did on Day Five. But overall, I’m doing great and I don’t think I would have been if it had not been for your intercession and God’s Favor.

Thanks to Him and to you. I hope this answers your questions and, if you know anyone who is facing this or living with the misery of severe tachycardia and arrhythmia who would want to talk with me about it, I’d be open to hearing from them. Hopefully I can encourage others as I have been encouraged beforehand by several who’ve been through this as well as supported in prayer by the rest.


Most of you know that I'm a pretty high-strung guy on occasion. Maybe it was another answer to your prayers that I was very calm about the whole heart procedure last week (a week ago today, in fact! Wow! That went quickly!)Anyway, I was so calm about it and that my heart was miraculously beating just fine the night before I was to go in that I decided I may as well go to my Water Aerobics Class at the gym and then still swim a half-mile afterward like I normally do.

This class is mostly middle-aged Mormons, maybe twelve women and five of us men. For months, most of the Mormons were polite but distant whenever I came into the class because of the paranoia the Mormon Church puts into them about evangelical Christians and the ever-present xenophobia about anyone who "is not a member" [of the Latter-day Saints -- "LDS" Church]. So for months it was just my giving a greeting and maybe getting a nod back but few words.As time went on and they realized that I wasn't Satan, more and more of them lightened up and now always greet me with "Hi Father Dave," when I get into the pool for the class.

Last Tuesday night, though, word had gotten around that I was facing this procedure the next day so all of them were wishing me "Good Luck." I know folks mean well when they say that but as a Christian I don't believe in luck. But I understand that this is just an expression. Only "Sid," who left Mormonism and became a Roman Catholic last year -- and I think had a genuine Christian conversion, said "I'll be praying for you, Father." And he did. (His wife is being pressured by the LDS Church to divorce him for his having left Mormonism. They have two small kids).

After the class, I thought I would be pushing it this close to the procedure to try to swim a half-mile so I decided to just sit on the edge of the Jacuzzi with the rest of the class who were winding down. Two or three of them then remarked, "Fr. Dave, you seem so calm about this whole heart problem. I'd be so nervous." I answered the whole group of them that I felt it was prayer support [yours] that was carrying me through it and, besides, if the worst possible thing happened, that I died, it's OK because I have the assurance and hope God gives that I'm ready to meet Him. Either way, it's a gain, a win." Some of them couldn't understand that but just politely nodded but one middle-aged LDS woman to my right mumbled under her breath, "I wish I could say that."

What is so sad is that Mormons die with no hope and no assurance that they've done enough good works to warrant God's salvation. One of the most depressing things a Christian in Utah can experience is a Mormon funeral because it is so empty. Not evil, just void of life and hope.THIS is why I'm in Utah. And if it took a heart problem for me to open up the subject of assurance for some of them, even one, then it will have been worth it. It could be a year later but I can guarantee that that one LDS woman who said that is thinking and will one day ask me or someone "to explain the Hope that is in us."

Dave Roberts.+

No comments: