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Mystery Illness Brings Pastor to Brink of Death

Shannon Woodland - 700 Club Producer
Danielle Thompson - 700 Club Producer

As the pastor of a thriving church, John never had time to be sick.  But that was about to change.

He explains, “I felt something in my throat like a lump or something.  So when I went to the restroom I spit it out. It was a gulp of blood.”  

Even then, it took five days of debilitating fatigue, fever, and chills, before John went to the doctor.  In fact, he went to three, including a trip to the ER.  But no one could find a cause.

John shares, “I had just come from traveling out of the country.  I just started thinking, ‘Well, I hope I didn't get into contact with someone that was sick,’ or what have you.”  

One morning at his twin brother Michael’s home, John started throwing up.

Michael says, “That just started to progress, and then all of a sudden he just kept saying that his head is numb.”  

John recalls, “It felt like my head was about to explode.  And I said, ‘Call 911, it doesn't feel right, call 911.’”

Michael shares, “I felt too weak to pray.  The only thing I had the strength to say was, ‘God, help.  Just help.’”  

John says he thought, “If I don't get the help I need, God, if you don't heal me, I feel like I'm going to die.’”

John was taken to Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Lafayette, Louisiana.  By then his whole body was numb; he couldn’t talk or hear, and was having trouble breathing.  While doctors put John on life support, Michael started recording, believing for a miracle.

Michael says, “I wanted to document it for the doctors to see, and I especially wanted to document it for him to see whenever he got out.  That was my hope.  That was my faith.”

After four days of testing and still no answers, neurologist Dr. Kevin Hargrave finally figured it out.  

He diagnosed John’s condition as “Acute demyelinating encephalomyelitis, which is easier to abbreviate as A-D-E-M.”

Usually triggered by a viral infection, A.D.E.M. is a disease that causes inflammation in the brain and spinal cord, resulting in a host of problems: nerve damage, paralysis, and in severe cases, death.

Dr. Hargrave explains, “The brainstem was completely obliterated with inflammation.  If you look at the images, I mean, there's no square pixel of a brainstem that was not affected.   This was the worst case that I've seen.”

Michaels says doctors told him, “‘We just – we give it a 10%, it was a 10% chance of surviving this.’  It was tough to swallow.  It was, you know, it was – it was something I did not want to hear.”

They treated John with anti-inflammatory drugs, hoping to at least keep him alive.  At times, he was aware, but still unable to move, hear, or communicate.  

John remembers, “I felt so helpless.  I literally felt – I felt death.”  
Dr. Hargrave says, “I feared and predicted that, you know, if he did have a prolonged survival, he'd be ventilator dependent with a tracheostomy and a feeding tube.”

Still, John, his family, his church and now, people around the world prayed, believing for a miracle.

Michael says, “I may not have known it in my natural sense, but in my spirit, my spiritual sense, I knew he was going to come out.”

Then after one week in the hospital, things began to change.  Dr. Hargrave explains, “He was able to move fingers or toes a little bit.  When a patient, you know, in his situation shows any degree of improvement, that's the best sign of further improvement to come.”  

Michael says, “My faith is just it's activated, it-it's holding me up, you know?  The prayers that was going forth.  ‘Cause I was needing it too.”  

With the help of a trach, John’s lungs started working on their own.  Doctors also attached a voice box so he could talk - and worship God.   One of Michael’s videos shows John praying aloud, “Oh God, I know I have been healed by Your stripes.”

About four weeks later he was moved to a rehab facility where he continued to improve.  Michael remembers, “As soon as he rose out of that wheelchair, off that walker, and he started walking again, that's when I—I realized, ‘Okay, yeah, he's going to – he's going to make a comeback.’  Oh yeah.”

John says, “Different doctors would come in, it's like ‘Wow, you're a miracle.  You're a miracle.’”

Then after a month in rehab, John went home.  He says, “I just was thanking God.  ‘Lord, I thank You for giving me a miracle.  Lord, I thank You for Your grace.’”  

Dr. Hargrave shares, “In the past, honestly I was a big skeptic even though I'm a Christian.  But I’m no longer a skeptic.’”

John is still the pastor of Living Life church, and recently married Lori.  He says, “I’m just living with the peace and just a joy and this sense of gratitude to be alive.  It has taken my faith to a whole 'nother level.  I'm believing for things that I have never believed before.  It's like, if God spared me from that, oh, my God, I trust Him.”

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