It was supposed to be a quick four-night getaway. My husband Mike and I needed to pay the taxes on a piece of property we own in Troncones, Mexico, but the trip was mostly an excuse to enjoy a few days of beach time in Mexico. I had reserved our first night at a favorite place, Hotel Brisas in Ixtapa. We arrived on Friday evening, November 8, 2019.
On Saturday morning after breakfast we headed down to the hotel’s private beach and waded into the warm ocean. We bodysurfed a few waves, gaining confidence, and swam further out to catch a longer ride. Mike was approximately 25 feet beyond me in the surf the moment I saw a monster wave break right over him. I wasn’t concerned in that moment about the size of the wave; Mike is an athlete and former surfer who could handle the ocean. When it reached me several seconds later, the monster wave had turned into a powerful wall of foam. I jumped in front of it and enjoyed a perfect body surf all the way to the beach. After I had gotten out of the water and collected myself for a couple minutes, I began casually looking around the beach and ocean for Mike. Eventually I noticed a man floating face down about 250-300 ft. out in the ocean at the outer edge of the big breakers. The floating man somehow didn’t look like my husband so I was shocked to recognize Mike’s colorful swim trunks visible just above the surface of the water. I watched and waited for Mike to start swimming but, instead, I saw the next set of waves toss his limp body like it was seaweed. Several seconds later, he completely disappeared under the water. Suddenly frozen with fear and shock, all I could think to do was point toward where I last saw him and called for help in Spanish. I remember hearing people on the beach start screaming and I saw the lifeguard running toward the surf. I sat down in the sand at that point and couldn’t make myself watch until I heard the commotion of Mike’s body being dragged out of the water. I tried to think how much time had passed since the monster wave hit Mike; it had to be at least five minutes…but probably longer.
The lifeguard dragged Mike’s lifeless body onto a beach towel on the sand. Mike was not breathing and, I later found out, had no pulse. A Mexican doctor who happened to be on the beach with his family began directing CPR on Mike. The lifeguard and another hotel worker took turns pounding his chest and breathing air into his lungs; I thought they might break a rib. Water squirted out of Mike’s mouth. About 15 minutes in there was a small cheer; the doctor had gotten Mike’s heart going and he could feel a pulse! The men continued to work on Mike for another 20-30 minutes on the beach desperately trying to get him to breathe and wake up. I stood near the frantic scene in shock and prayed.
An ambulance eventually came for Mike and took him took a local clinic where the doctor on call continued trying to revive Mike while nurses kept air going into Mike’s lungs for almost 2 hours with a small rubber bulb. Eventually, the clinic doctor told me Mike’s best hope of survival was to be put on a mechanical ventilator and the only one in the area was at the government hospital in Zihuatanejo.
Another ambulance ride and Mike was placed on a gurney in a far corner of the dirty and crowded emergency room of the small Zihuatanejo government hospital. Sick, crying children and bloody accident victims lined the rest of the room. He was kept alive by the city’s lone ventilator and heart monitor. This is where Mike would lie in a coma for the next seven hours. The only drugs Mike received was an IV with antibiotics. I understood enough Spanish to know that the emergency room doctor was doubtful that Mike would live.
I spent that day functioning on autopilot, assaulted every few minutes by the mental image of Mike floating face down far out at sea. I don’t have a medical background but I was fairly sure a coma was a sign of brain damage. How could Mike not have brain damage after 5+ minutes with his lungs full of seawater followed by 2-3 hours of intermittent air delivery with that little rubber bulb? I walked around and around the hospital block and prayed for God to heal Mike. I know God is good. I know the sickness, death, evil and the chaos we experience in this world is not God’s doing. God had supernaturally healed me twice in my life. I didn’t know if God would heal or take Mike but I knew from experience I could trust God to be good and take care of us. And I knew our friends would be bathing us in prayer. Actually, there were more people praying for Mike than I could ever have imagined.
Throughout the day I was on my phone, repeating the awful news about Mike’s accident over and over to family, friends and to our Kaiser medical insurance. The emergency room doctor, wearing an old white t-shirt soiled from the people he had treated that day, told me that if Mike lived through the night, I needed to have him transferred to a hospital equipped to diagnose and care for him. I stood near Mike’s gurney asking God for help. At about 4 pm, a woman from Kaiser called me to say they had arranged for a team of doctors to pick Mike up that night and fly us to a modern hospital in Mexico City. I felt so grateful; I just didn’t want Mike to die in that sad little emergency room.
I had to go back to our hotel and collect our passports and the rest of our things. In our hotel room I had the privacy to emotionally fall apart. Wave after wave of grief overtook me as I packed our bags and pictured a future life without Mike. I recalled a sermon I had recently listened to from Bill Johnson. Bill said that when circumstances around us look really dark, it is our precious opportunity to give God a true sacrifice of praise. This was my chance. I set an empty chair in front of me and ordered Satan to sit in it and listen to me. Satan, you have put me through the most horrific day of my life. Sit here and watch me worship God and declare His goodness. I thanked and worshipped God. At some point I lay flat on my face before God on the marble floor. As I lay on the floor, I unexpectedly heard God speak to me loudly and clearly. He said these exact twenty words:
“Mike is in heaven with Me. He doesn’t want to come back but I am sending him back to you.”
What? I repeated the words over and over to myself. God is sending Mike back from heaven? God is sending Mike back to me! What is happening!!! I think we are getting a miracle!!! Hope washed through me. I walked out on the balcony and saw a spectacular sunset that seemed like a sign my Father had arranged just for me. A few days later a friend sent me an email telling me about a small group in Redding, CA, who prayed Saturday night for Mike after her husband contacted them. Included in this group was a young boy. Afterward the boy said that while they prayed together for Mike, he saw God sending Mike from heaven back down to earth and Mike had the word “leader” written on him. Wow.
The medical team from Mexico City spent a couple hours that night stabilizing Mike in the Zihuatanejo emergency room before they felt he could be flown to Mexico City. I signed papers acknowledging that Mike might not survive the medical jet transfer. No, he is going to survive.
We arrived at the American British Cowdray (ABC) Hospital in Mexico City around one in the morning. I sat in an empty waiting room as the emergency room team got more seawater out of Mike’s lungs, intubated him yet again, and connected him to every kind of tube and monitor. Around three in the morning, the emergency room doctor gave me an update. In English, the doctor said that Mike’s vital signs had been improving. “Do you think Mike has brain damage?” I asked him. “Yes, I think that he does” the doctor replied sadly.
All night I pondered the words I had heard God say to me and I said them back to Him. You said you are sending Mike back to me. Help my faith. About 5 am, Mike was rolled to an ICU room and I was shown to a big, dark room with recliners lining the walls. I quickly fell asleep in a recliner.
I woke up to see a woman in sweats standing in front of me. She asked me in Spanish why I was there and so I did my best to explain with my limited Spanish about Mike’s drowning accident in Ixtapa. The woman said in Spanish “I saw Jesus with you before I walked over. God brought you to this hospital, the best in the country, because your husband is going to be fine. God told me so.” I hugged her and quietly thanked God for the confirmation. We were getting a miracle.
I was allowed a 10 minute visit in the ICU with my comatose husband before they wheeled him away for MRIs and other scans. Late that afternoon, the doctor coordinating Mike’s care met with me and my two step-daughters, Erin and Maddie, who had just arrived directly from the airport. Dra. Paola started “I have good news and some difficult news.” She informed us that, although Mike was still in danger from pneumonia until his lungs absorbed the remaining seawater, his vital signs were good. “He woke up from the coma on his own while we were doing the tests this morning. He couldn’t talk because of the intubation but was able to obey simple eye movement commands. His brain scans have been normal.” What exactly does that mean? “It means he has no brain damage…no brain damage at all”. I started crying with joy because it was happening; we were seeing the miraculous healing God had promised me!
The doctor continued, “We found a lesion on Mike’s spinal cord between C2 and C3. We think from the lump on Mike’s forehead that the wave slammed Mike’s head down on the sea floor wrenching his neck back and damaging his spinal cord. Mike is paralyzed below the neck. This is not hopeless; there is a chance he can walk again with aggressive physical therapy.” I now know that that a spinal cord injury between C2 and C3 means all movement below the neck, including the lung muscles required for breathing, are paralyzed; this was why doctors had been unable to get Mike’s lungs to start breathing. It was not statistically likely that Mike would walk again but I believe Dra. Paola was trying to give us hope. What the doctor didn’t know or understand is that, in that moment, I was full to the brim with hope. The words God had spoken to me 24 hours before had been replaying over and over in my head and were doing their work. God told me He was sending Mike back to me and I was sure that could only mean one thing, that Mike would have a full recovery.
Mike’s two daughters, his brother, his brother’s partner, my daughter, and two dear friends of mine, had abruptly flown to Mexico City on Sunday, the day after the accident, to join me at the hospital. I shared with them the latest doctor’s information as well as my news that I had heard God speak to me… God had sent Mike back from heaven; Mike would be fine. I remember Mike’s brother, Mark, looked at me skeptically, not sure how to respond. I am sure he was wondering if I was mentally stable. No doubt he felt surrounded by craziness when my good friend, Irene Blomgren, clapped her hands with joy on hearing the news that Mike was quadriplegic. “Now I know why I came! I know exactly how to pray for healing for Mike!” Irene’s son, Jason, had been left a quadriplegic after a serious waterskiing accident about four years before. Though doctors counseled the family to accept that Jason would always be in a wheelchair, Irene pressed in, praying for a miraculous healing for her son. Jason’s healing from quadriplegia was progressive over about 18 months and today he is completely normal.
After Mike woke up from the coma on his own 24 hours after the accident, the doctors had put him into an induced coma to let his lungs and body continue to heal. During that second sleep, Mike’s lungs began shallowly breathing on their own. Monday afternoon the doctors let Mike wake up. With tubes down his throat, Mike mouthed to me “I love you”. Yes!
Tuesday morning, the breathing tubes were taken out and he could finally talk to us. We had to go one at a time to visit with Mike in the ICU; I got to see him first. In his first words to me, Mike shared that he was feeling really scared; he needed me to know that he couldn’t move anything. I shared the words God had spoken to me in the hotel room; God had sent him back from heaven to me and so he was going to come back from this. I told him his brain had already been miraculously healed and his paralysis would be healed just like Jason. From that moment on, Mike joined me in expecting that God was healing him.
Mike had no memory of the morning before the accident nor of the accident itself, of being in heaven, nor of his time in a coma; but other than those three missing days, Mike’s mind and memory were crystal clear. Mike charmed his daughters with his typical “dad-talk” and found a way to be supportive and encouraging with each of us as we took turns visiting him in ICU. On Tuesday afternoon, Mike moved one of his feet! By Wednesday he could move both his feet and legs a bit. Each night our group had celebratory dinners together sharing “amazing Mike stories.” Together we were watching a miracle unfold and… it was joyful!
On Thursday, our family and friends flew back to San Francisco. Mike was moved out of the ICU into a large private hospital room with a sofa the medical staff would make into a bed for me each night. Every day, Mike and I saw that his legs and feet had a bit more range of movement. A few days later he began getting a tiny bit of movement in his right hand. There was some new bit of movement for Mike almost every day. We began a daily tradition of celebrating and thanking God for “Mike’s new tricks”.
Nine days after the accident, Kaiser flew us to Oakland in a medical jet where a waiting ambulance carried us to Kaiser Hospital in Walnut Creek. Bone tired from nights of broken sleep in the hospital room with Mike, I was looking forward to letting our son, Blake, spend the night with Mike while I headed home. I knew that the Walnut Creek Kaiser hospital would not be as amply staffed or quite as new and modern as the ABC Hospital in Mexico City had been, but I wasn’t prepared for the confusion that ensued upon arriving at the hospital. Without understanding Mike’s condition, the nurses put Mike in a minuscule hospital room shared with a man with mental issues. This choice of room was, no doubt, related to the fact that the stack of translated medical reports, emailed several days ago from Mexico City, had somehow not been uploaded to Mike’s records so the medical staff had no information on Mike’s accident or quadriplegia. The floor doctor seemed nervous to find out that Mike was paralyzed. All they could do, he said, was monitor Mike’s vital signs while we waited until the records were found, uploaded and specialists had a chance to review them. What! I was livid with this disorganized hospital. Help me God not act like a jerk! And, in that exact moment, God came to my rescue in the form of a beautiful African- American nurse, “Honey, would you like some prayer?” Fifteen minutes later the nurse was in Mike’s room with several other nurses; she led a powerful prayer meeting praying healing and peace over Mike and me. It was beautiful. I sensed God reminding me, Mike’s healing is from Me.This hospital and those medical records aren’t important. I’m the One doing Mike’s healing. I relaxed again.
About 30 minutes later, God dropped in a second person to encourage me. As I settled into a Lyft for a ride home, I noticed a big leather Bible in the rear window. This time, God had arranged for my Lyft driver to be the pastor of an urban church. I had my own private church service as my driver lovingly encouraged and preached to me all the way home. I remember him telling me, “when Jesus’ yoke feels heavy, it is because we are pulling against the direction God is trying to take us.”
Kaiser quickly found Mike’s medical records from Mexico. The Kaiser specialists ordered all new MRIs of Mike’s injury. The results concerned the doctors because Mike’s spinal cord injury appeared more swollen than in his previous MRIs. Compression from swelling is believed to permanently destroy nerves in the middle of the spinal cord. The spine surgeon who reviewed Mike’s case thought Mike should have a laminectomy, a major surgery to remove the back of the vertebrae in the neck. The surgeon explained to me over the phone that with the kind of cord injury that Mike had, although we had seen him regain a small amount of movement, his progress would stop at some point leaving him partially paralyzed. “This surgery releases pressure on the spinal cord and we believe this will allow Mike to gain more movement back before the progress stops,” the surgeon explained. I’m the One doing Mike’s healing, I kept hearing inside my head. After praying, neither Mike nor I felt God’s peace around this surgery. It is not easy to tell a respected surgeon no but we did. “Did anyone tell you that Mike started moving his abdomen yesterday?” I asked the surgeon. The next day Kaiser transferred Mike to Santa Clara Hospital for four weeks of intensive in-patient physical therapy.
I was grateful that Mike was in a hospital setting those first six weeks after the accident while he was partially paralyzed. Nurses did the hard work of caring for him and I did my best to keep us both focussed on the promise that Mike was being healed. Even when he couldn’t yet feed himself or get in and out of a wheelchair without an attendant, Mike was generally able to trust that God was orchestrating a full recovery. I remember operating Mike’s phone for him before his hands worked while he told his work group that, yes, they could list him as project manager in their proposal and yes, he planned to be back at work in a few weeks (he was). Mike’s recovery of movement was both steady and pain-free; neither of which is typical for a spinal cord injury. The medical staff didn’t want to discourage our optimism because it was obvious that Mike was making unusual progress, but I could tell they were puzzled. The psychologist quit stopping by Mike’s room early on for talks with us; she seemed at a loss to know what to say to such cheerful people.
As Mike got close to the end of his four weeks in the physical therapy program, he had enough movement back that the therapists were able to fit him with leg braces and a walker and let him try to walk while they spotted him from behind. Never, they emphasized, never was Mike to try and walk without this equipment and someone spotting him; the chance of falling was too great. Not wishing to upset these physical therapists he had grown fond of, Mike sometimes closed the curtain at the entrance to his room so staff couldn’t see that he was ignoring their orders. Mike was quietly practicing standing and walking around his hospital room by himself. It was our secret.
A week before Christmas, it was finally time for Mike to go home. Hospital staff filled my car to the brim with every manner of medical equipment and supplies: a wheelchair, walker, leg braces, compression clothing, exercise aids, spare neck braces, medications and pages and pages of medical instructions. As I drove us home, Mike tore off his neck brace and threw it in the back seat. Mike said he wasn’t sure how much of the equipment he really needed. I unloaded the car into a big pile in the garage. Other than the wheelchair, none of the medical equipment in that pile was touched until many weeks later when Mike carted it off to donate or discard. The first day at home, Mike slowly and carefully walked by himself around the house and up and down our stairs. The second day, Mike went back to work at his office in the wheelchair. Some time between Christmas and the new year, Mike decided he no longer needed the wheelchair and it joined the rest of the hospital cast-offs in the garage. On New Year’s Day, Mike felt he could safely start driving. Slowly, Mike’s left hand and arm began to have more movement come back as it had already done in his right hand and arm. In March, we went cross-country skiing. By April, Mike was back to riding his mountain bike regularly. Several times a week, Mike jogs around our neighborhood for exercise.
It has been six months since the accident. If you met Mike in person, you would never know he was recently quadriplegic. Mike moves normally unless he is tired. There are a few things left to come back. Mike’s sense of touch is confused and he can’t discern textures and pressure correctly; he drops things sometimes. Physical therapy is helping with that. And building his muscle strength back after every muscle atrophied from paralysis, is still a work in progress. But I know God will bring Mike fully back; we are still walking through this healing miracle.
People ask me what his doctors say about Mike’s recovery. I know it sounds odd, but in the months since leaving the physical therapy hospital, Mike has had only a single doctor appointment and that was with his personal doctor. Her response upon seeing him walk into her office was to start sobbing. Mike told me he put his arm around her and comforted the doctor until she could talk again. I understand her reaction; it is an emotional thing to witness a miracle. The spine surgeon who had wanted to operate on Mike and a Kaiser neurologist did contact Mike asking for follow-up appointments but Mike didn’t see the point of taking time off work to see them. He feels fine.
I recently called the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Resource Center because I was curious if they had statistics on how many other people with incomplete spinal cord injuries make a full or close to full recovery. Maybe there were more people who recovered from paralysis than we had been told. A pleasant man on the other side of the phone line answered my question, “Once in a while, we hear a story of a quite miraculous recovery from an incomplete spinal cord injury but we don’t keep statistics on them. Where was your husband’s injury?”. “Between the C-2 and C-3 neck vertebrae” I replied. “Between C-2 and C-3,” he repeated, “People don’t recover from that. That’s impossible.”