Two Year Anniversary of Almost Dying

Two years ago tomorrow, I nearly died of a dissection of my ascending aorta. 2006 was a traumatic year for our family and friends.

On February 2, at about 10:30 PM, I felt like somebody threw a spear through my back. I ran upstairs and woke my wife Linda - "Call 911!!"

I writhed on the floor in pain as Linda made the call. As she was talking to the 911 dispatcher, I stopped breathing. Linda hung up on the woman and gave me CPR, all 100 pounds of her compressing my chest to revive me. When I woke up, I was so angry with her - "Why did you wake me? Now I am in pain again!!" I didn't understand that she had just saved my life.

At the hospital, they could not figure out what was wrong with me. The blood tests showed that I was not having a heart attack. It wasn't until they looked at my chest xray and then a CT Scan that they saw a football-shaped aneurysm in the ascending aorta (the main blood vessel that comes up out of the heart - see daigram). When they saw this, everything changed. I was rushed into surgery, which lasted 12 hours.

Against all odds, I survived the tear of the aorta and the trauma of the surgery. But I wasn't out of the woods yet. I developed Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) and for four weeks was placed in a medicated coma. The mortality rate for those with ARDS is extremely high. Each day my vitals were up and down, and they could not risk bringing me out of the coma. After four weeks of this, Linda confronted the pulmonologist, asking him when he thought this would end. He said that he did not know if or when it would end. The next day I was sitting up in a chair! Praise God.

During this time, my wife, friends, and family had no choice but to rely on God for strength, peace, and comfort. And that is a good thing. All too often, we feel we are God - that we have total control of our destiny. But times like these remind us that this is only so in a limited way. God is God, and we are not. When the hard times come, like when we face mortality, it speaks like a megaphone into our souls (to borrow an image from C. S. Lewis) that we are in need of God. The witness of Christian reliance on God and the hope of eternal life was a tremendous testimony to friends, family, and the medical staff at the hospital. While in that hospital, I had a very real sense of the presence of God. Seven weeks after the emergency surgery, I was finally released from the hospital.

One month later, I was life-flighted to the Cleveland Clinic when I was in yet another acute medical emergency: the discovery of another aneurysm at the base of the aorta. I had to have a second open-heart surgery in September 2006, which reconstructed the entire thing and inserted an artificial aortic valve.

Two years after the initial event, I just want to thank our God for his grace and mercy. He spared my life. And he did so not for any of the reasons I've heard people say - it was not because I am in Christian ministry; it is not because I such a 'godly man; it was not because I deserved it. None of that is true of me. I am a sinner in ways that deeply shame me, and I am no more in 'Christian ministry' than the next Christian in his or her vocation.

God showed mercy to me, and I cannot pretend to know why. Why me, and not the next person? All I know is that God says, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion" (Exodus 33:19, Romans 9:14). I just trust that. And I rest in the belief that God is God, and I am not.

I thank God for my wife, Linda. Not just because she knows CPR (smile), but because she was there every day, praying for me and reading Scripture to me and playing recordings of the children to me as I lay in a coma. If the roles were reversed, I don't think I could have been as strong and steadfast. I would have been an emotional wreck. God is good.

I also thank God for friends and family that were there through that horrific event two years ago. Our neighbor, Liz Heiser, came over at 11:00 and watched the kids and cleaned up (yikes!) the vomit that was all over my family room. My sister-in-law, Karen Eckart, came over and cared for the children through the night and the next day (as well as a lot over the next seven weeks).

My friends Miche Spring and Matt Robinson (pictured, left to right, with my children, Joel, Trey and Kaira) were the first to arrive at the hospital and stood by our side through the crisis. They called Amber Hale (pictured with Kaira) and she came in and was able to care for Linda during the ordeal. Amber has been a dear, dear friend for our family, ever since she started babysitting our children years ago. She was always more than a babysitter; she really loves our kids and has actually helped raise them. She spent several nights with Linda, helping her care for the kids.

One of the first to arrive was Darren Noble, who is one of the most compassionate friends a person can have. My friend Tim Miller was there once he heard about the situation. He'd come in all the time to pray and to read the Bible with Linda next to my bed. Eloy and Pat Pacheco, friends of the family, was there immediately and was able to care and comfort at this time of need (Eloy has recently retired from a long-time care ministry, visiting and caring for people in the hospital). His loving, gentle, and wonderful pastoral care is greatly appreciated.

Linda's parents, Richard and Carolyn Eckart, were caring and very helpful as they watched their daughter go through the worst possible situation.

My mom, Sandi Robinson, was there - praying and loving everyone. I loved seeing 'my mommy' when I woke up from my coma. My brother, Doug, and sister, Jackie, were there all the time, concerned and helping in any way they could.

My dad, Jack Robinson, and his wife Sharon, were workhorses - caring for the children as Linda would visit me in the hospital. My dad (pictured with Joel) is an amazing man. He never missed a day to visit me while I was in the hospital. He nearly died of a heart attack 20 years ago, and I can only imagine what it must had been like to face the possibility of one of his children dying before he did.

I thank God for my ministry community in the CCO. Everyone faithfully prayed and fasted on our behalf in this time of need. Herb Kolbe, my supervisor, came and visited on a regular basis. Dan Dupee, the president of the CCO, was instrumental in making sure we were cared for. Bob Cunningham, the CCO's Vice President for Finance and Administration, worked long and hard as a liaison between Linda and the insurance company.

I also thank God for the internet community. Byron Harvey, a friend from my pastoring days in the Evangelical Free Church, made people aware of the emergency. Emails from Linda, our friend Wendy Nowak, Tim Miller, and Matt Robinson went out to the four corners of the earth as people passed them along; people all over the world were praying for us. These updates were also posted by Scot McKnight (pictured with me in a doctored fake photo, since I don't have a picture of the two of us together!) at his extremely popular blog, Jesus Creed. So many of the readers of his blog (who occasionally pop in at this blog) were praying as well. Amazing. So I thank God for all of you!

To trace the story, read some of these blog posts:


Matt said...

Praise God for His amazing grace.

Bob, we're glad you're alive and kicking!


Ted M. Gossard said...

Amen, Bob. Praise God for his goodness to you, and to us all, even through it all!

Scot McKnight said...

I'm not just glad for Linda and your kids, but I'm glad for us. We're glad to be with you.

Miche said...

What a GREAT day to be alive!


joe said...

wow bob. good to have you still. i am sure we are not near as glad as your family though. blessings to you.

Anonymous said...

I will tell you right now that I feel a bit awkward writing this comment, but I feel compelled to do so all the same.

Thank you for sharing your story. It is such a blessing that you survived. Since I'm a regular reader of Scot's blog, I'm sure that I read about your struggle when it was happening. However, this time when a link was included over there, I clicked over and the story, the diagram, everything caused my stomach to twist into knots.

You see, my mother suffered a very similar emergency. Unfortunately, her aneurysm and resulting aortic tear were in the descending aorta and there was nothing doctors could do. We stayed with her and prayed and talked to her for three days before she went home to be with the Lord for Christmas.

I don't tell you this for any kind of sympathy or such. It's just that I want you to know how much I appreciate what you said about questioning "why me?" We asked the same thing and, from the opposite side of the equation, came to the same conclusion - God is God, we just have to rely on him for peace, strength and comfort.

And He has been just that.

God bless you in your work with CCO and may he give you many more years in doing so.

Jeff Greathouse said...

just a wow

Byron Harvey said...

What do you say other than "praise the Lord for His mercy"? I've got tears in my eyes remembering those days. The world needs all the Bob Robinsons it can get, and we're so thankful to the Lord that He kept you around awhile longer.

And by His grace, if you stick around long enough, we'll straighten you out... :)