Why my heart is filled with faith; a true story of near-death experiences and the undeniable truth that there is a greater power.
Imagine with me now that you are an 18-year-old college freshman and your were just admitted into the hospital. You had awoken earlier, in the middle of the night, with an extremely uncomfortable pain in your arms and chest. You’re now alone, stressed, and scared beyond belief. Finally, after what seems like hours, a doctor walks in and is sporting an awkwardly calming, yet alarming, grin as he shakes your hand and pulls up a chair. He sits down for a moment as he looks at his clip board, then slowly raises his eyes to make contact with yours, and he tells you, “I’m extremely sorry to tell you this, but we have found enzymes in your blood stream that lead us to believe you and your heart are dying.”
As you slowly look away to the wall in front of you, he pats your shoulder as he stands and proceeds to walk out the door, saying something else on the way out, but your world and your vision is shrinking and leaving everyone and everything else behind. You begin to see flashes of images from your life. You see the good, the bad, the happy, the sad, your loved ones, and your successes and failures. You see everything, all together, just like they talk about in the movies. Your life literally is flashing before your eyes and everything is still, everything is quiet.
Then, it all — all of the sudden — starts to hit you, almost like you finally comprehended the situation at hand. You’re dying. Life, as you know it is ending.
But wait, how long? Why? What is an enzyme? And why can’t anyone fix you? And, oh my gosh, you’re only 18 freaking years old! All of this clutter and these questions fill your head and you realize you let the answer to those questions walk out the door when you were too petrified to even breath. Then you feel the tears. An uncontrollable rolling of the saltiest, heaviest and saddest tears that ever hit your cheek. You take a deep breath and…
What would your next thought be? Are you a “why God, why me” kind of person? Do you pray? Do you call people? What about saying thank you to family and friends whom you never got to say thank you to? What about those tasks you kept putting off and never finished? What about that person you didn’t tell you loved them enough, or even at all? What kind of person would you be… at that moment in time? Yourself? Someone else? Who you used to be, that you now so deeply regret not being for so long?
In February, 2010, the week of Valentines Day, this happened to me. I was, in fact, 18-years-old and I was, in fact, told I was going to die.
What went through my mind? Well, first I did what any of us do when in need. I threw my hands together and prayed. I asked for Him to do anything he could to keep giving me the gift of life, which I loved so much. I then came to the realization that I did not in fact want to die crying. I called my family to tell them the news (as they were already on their way) and turned on comedy central, which happened to be playing my favorite comedian, Ron White. It was fitting together all too perfectly.
The most bizarre thing to me at this point was that I felt the most amazing sense of calm and relaxation. I had this overwhelming sense of trust in something. What was it? What was so undeniably in the room with me, when no other human being was present? It was the undeniable presence of God and the Holy Spirit. I had just been told I was going to die, and then, I am laughing, watching television and happy as can be. I realized this and began to pray even more. I made it a point to thank him for everything in my life and the feeling of calm that had overcome me. I truly believed that I was in a really indescribable way, “ready to go.” Now don’t misunderstand that for me thinking I was the best and most perfect Christian on earth, because I didn’t. I was simply satisfied. I was so happy with the life I had been given by my God and my parents, and the groups and organizations I was involved with. I felt fulfilled and complete, not at all to be confused with feeling perfect. Let me tell you, that is one hell of a feeling. To be so satisfied, that you’re okay with anything that happens, no matter what.
After I had come to terms with what I thought was the end, I was joined by family and some friends and began awaiting more results. I was eventually told they had no clue what was happening, but that somehow I was getting better from a “medical blood test” standpoint. After various complications in that hospital, I was transported to Atlanta where much more in depth testing and research began. In no time at all, the doctors said they had a solution.
My doctor walked into the room and said “Andrew, you have been diagnosed with something called Myocarditis.” Now, in the simplest form, Myocarditis is a virus that you get like any other virus. The only difference is that it has the ability to make its way to your heart. There are various triggers in the environment that can cause this occurrence. I came into contact with one, and to this day, it is still unknown what my trigger was. All I know is that it wasn’t to happen again and I would most likely recover to a decent point where I would certainly have scar tissue, but my life expectancy wasn’t to be affected too terribly.
As I was wheeled out of the hospital and got ready to “re-enter” my normal life, I could feel a change. I could feel a difference in my outlook on life, and that was because of two main reasons. Those are “faith,” and “never regret.”
My faith before was strong and I was in full belief in God and of his power; but this was taken to an entirely new level having come so close to death. Not only this, but as I was released, the doctor said, “I don’t know how all of your tests are showing up almost normal already, that should take weeks.” And, six months later I was told that my heart was perfect, not even a sliver of scar tissue left; I had a perfect 18-year-old heart. Something, that went from almost killing me to making my life shorter, had in the end, only changed me for the better.
My faith, and the faith of friends, family, and strangers on all the prayer lists made this happen. All I could say when a doctor would tell me he “didn’t know how,” was “well I know how.” Every time, I would say that and look up, by the time I looked back at the doctor, his look of confusion had always turned to a smile.
My life was spared, I was given a second chance, and it was for a reason. I didn’t know it at the time, and looking back, wish I did. However, I have come to learn time and time again, since then, that everything, and I mean everything, happens for a reason. And for now, the reason, my reason, is to share what happened to me, and how it opened my eyes at an unbelievably young age.
I consistently found myself remembering one quote from my past after this event. It came from a camp director at a summer camp where I used to work. Every Sunday morning before the next group of kids would arrive, he would say, “Make sure the kids live their lives this week, so that if they came back and did it again, they would do it exactly the same.” I took that saying on to the fullest level. I decided that I wanted to live my life, so that if I got to come back and do it again, I would do it exactly the same. I wanted to “never regret.”
I started signing up for every class, and every certification under the sun. I wanted to do, see, and be everything. But what comes with that? I can tell you, spending all your time comes with that. I had begun losing sight of what was important. I was so worried about not doing everything I ever dreamed of in this life, that I forgot about my friends, I forgot about my family, I forgot about how I loved to drive down a dirt road to see where it went, bonfires, paying attention to all the little details in the things God created for us, looking at the stars, and more than anything, my God and my church.
This is only the beginning of my story. I thought that I had figured everything out and had so many answers to this life. I was wrong — no, I was dead wrong. My perspective and outlook was changed even more another time, as I decided to take an internship and study abroad experience in Australia. From the moment I boarded that plane, my life would be changed yet again, this time, actually for the better. It’s one thing to be given a second chance and live to tell the story, but it’s an entirely new level when you’re given a third chance and have time to reflect back again on a life you thought you had together – a life where my heart wasn’t filled with the faith that had saved my life…
Editor’s Note: Andrew Werkheiser is a new contributing writer for the Integrated Catholic Life™. His future articles will continue his story and explore the wonders of living the Catholic faith with zeal and gratitude. He is a gifted speaker. Be sure to check out his ICL Speakers Page for his biography and list of speaking topics.
Part 2 of Andrew’s story can be found here.
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