On a summer evening in 1991, my granddad suffered a major heart attack. The heart attack was so massive that it lasted from the time my grandma took him to the hospital right through to the next morning.
Following a sleepless night, my grandma was told by nurse, “We nearly lost your husband three times last night.” By all accounts he should have been dead.
Eighty percent of his heart was damaged. They didn’t know how to handle him (because he kept having heart attacks) so they transferred him from Markham Stouffville Hospital to St. Michael’s Hospital.
When they finally got him stable, he was told that surgery wasn’t an option because it was too risky.
He was to live out the time he had left and take life on a day-by-day basis.
In 1992, my grandma pleaded with the cardiologist to perform surgery on my granddad. To get the surgery approved, it had to be cleared by the Ontario Medical Board. When they received his case, they rejected it, again saying that it was too risky.
My grandma didn’t let up; she kept phoning and phoning. “You’ve got to do something. You’ve got to do something!” she pleaded.
Finally, the cardiologist presented his case again and they agreed to allow the surgery even though they didn’t think he would survive it.
Later, on a scheduled date, my granddad was admitted to Sunnybrook Hospital and had a quadruple bypass.
He survived it.
Following the surgery, my granddad got himself into the regular exercise routine of walking around the block every day. In 1994, something strange started happening. During the course of his daily walk, he began tripping.
Their family doctor couldn’t diagnose the issue so he referred my granddad to a neurologist at Markham Stouffville Hospital. The neurologist couldn’t figure it out so she sent him to St. Michael’s Hospital and Sunnybrook for further testing.
Four years later in December of 1998, they finally came to a diagnosis: my granddad had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
ALS is a debilitating disease with varied etiology characterized by rapidly progressive weakness, muscle atrophy, muscle spasticity, difficulty speaking (dysarthria), difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), and difficulty breathing (dyspnea).51 Only 20% of people live longer than five years after onset of symptoms.52 My granddad had already lived four.
And that’s what baffled the doctors. Although my granddad clearly had ALS, there was nothing rapid about his decline. In a matter of four years, the only thing that he lost was some muscle in his leg. He had no difficulty breathing, no difficulty swallowing, no speech impediments and no progressive weakness.
As far as Sunnybrook Hospital was concerned, he was a walking miracle. The head of ALS (Neurology) at the time told my grandma that he was absolutely amazed that it wasn’t progressing, as it should.
My grandma responded, “Well doctor, let me tell you… I pray for my husband every day.”
He looked at her and said, “Well, I’ll tell you… your prayer has done more than anything I can do.”
Fast-forward nine years to March 13, 2007, about 16 years after his massive heart attack, and 13 years after he first felt the onset of ALS. My granddad was diagnosed with lung cancer.
Before he went into lung surgery at Southlake Hospital, they took an angiogram—a medical image that shows blood vessels and organs within the body. The test was necessary because of my granddad’s heart attack years earlier.
Looking at the arteries of my granddad’s heart on the angiogram, the doctor was perplexed. “In all of the years I’ve been in practice, I have never seen a bypass surgery where the arteries are so pristine after all these years,” he proclaimed.
My grandma acknowledged that, “When doctors see things like that, they know something’s happened, but they can’t explain it from a medical point of view.”
“God is the great physician. He has left a lot of doctors astonished.”
51 See Wikipedia: http://g7.gs/als
52 Stats provided by the ALS Association; see http://www.alsa.org/