We are not promised tomorrow. We are not even promised our next breath. These truths became clear to Pam Dumont when she discovered her husband, Jim, lying on the street without a heartbeat. In full-time ministry for more than 30 years, this couple never faced a crisis like this.
They had traveled from Pennsylvania to Maine to take their turn caring for Jim’s mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease. As Pam cooked over the stove, Jim asked how long it would be until dinner. “Maybe 25 minutes,” Pam responded. It was a beautiful fall day, so he said he would go for a quick walk in this lakeside community.
“Jim is athletic and goes for jogs or walks all the time. I never worry about where he is,” Pam explains. “I was cooking dinner and my mother-in-law often tried to help me, so I had to guard the pots. Once the food is on the stove you don’t let her near it.”
But suddenly, Pam knew in her heart that something was wrong. It had only been 15 minutes since Jim left, but it was as if alarm bells were ringing in her spirit.
“I looked at this lovely meal that I had prepared and thought, ‘if she ruins it, she ruins it.’” Pam covered the pots and hid anything that could possibly be dangerous. She took the knobs off the stove and prayed that her mother-in-law would not touch the pots and get burned.
She knew she had to go.
“There was no sound that alerted me,” Pam remembers. “People say, ‘you heard the ambulances.’ No, I didn’t. The Bible says believers can hear God’s voice. Over the years, I have practiced hearing His voice. I’ll test and say, ‘OK, Lord, is this you, or is this me?’ I’ve done that diligently for many years. I knew this was the voice of God.”
Pam walked out the door full of concern.
“I knew something was terribly wrong. I got to the end of the long driveway, looked down the road, and I saw two ambulances and a police car. It was right next to the boat launch, so I thought Jim was praying for someone who was hurt there.”
Six EMTs were vigorously performing CPR on this man, but Pam didn’t recognize the person on the ground. “Jim doesn’t have an ounce of fat on him. When I came up to the man lying in the road, I saw that he had a big pot belly. I felt a little guilty when I had the thought, ‘that’s not Jim.’”
But it was Jim.
As the EMTs worked to get air into his lungs, some of it went down into his stomach, which is why he had the pot belly. When she saw the pants the man was wearing, Pam received a shocking realization.
“Those are Jim’s pants,” she thought. As she got closer, she could see Jim’s eyes and she started to weep. “That’s my husband,” she cried, as a police officer pulled her back.
One of the EMTs looked over and implored her, “Ma’am, please stay away.”
At that moment, they took the mask off to check to see if Jim was breathing on his own. He was purple and his eyes were like glass – they were red and yellow.
He was dead.
A Surreal Moment
“It was the worst moment of my life,” Pam recalls. “You never know how much you love someone until you see them like that. It was surreal.”
The EMTs calculated that Jim was without a heartbeat and oxygen for eight to thirteen minutes. After six minutes without a heartbeat or oxygen, typically you are brain dead.
There was nothing she could do for Jim at that moment. She knew she had to find someone to care for his parents before she could go to the hospital. The police officer went with her to give the news to Jim’s parents. He also knew Pam was in a state of shock. He wanted to make sure she didn’t drive to the hospital.
“I only had time to make one phone call, so I called our church board member and dear friend who had been with us for many years. ‘Paul, you have to pray,’ I said.”
“I learned long ago that we need each other. When you’re in crisis you may not be able to pray, but you can praise. There is strength, stamina, and energy required in prayer. In a crisis, other people can pray for you.”
Within ten minutes, this elder, along with the associate pastor, had organized a prayer meeting through texts, phone calls, emails, and Facebook. People dropped what they were doing and rushed to the church. Others prayed across the country.
“More than one hundred people showed up at the church to pray,” Pam explains. “It was amazing.”
Pam was able to find a neighbor to drive her and Jim’s parents to the hospital. They were not able to see him for three-and-a-half hours. “During that time I thought my husband was dead. But our church would not stop praying the prayer of faith for Jim’s healing. They would not be satisfied with a no. They also prayed for me to withstand all I would need to face.”
Into a Coma
The doctors did not yet know what had happened to Jim. To protect his brain from swelling they placed him into a low-temperature coma.
Jim was supposed to come out of the coma within 36 hours, but he didn’t wake up. The big question was, how long was he without oxygen?
Pam’s son, Justin, and his wife, Anna, are both physicians. They drove up from Pittsburgh with their 4 children the next day.
“Our son, who is a physical rehab doctor, yelled at his father, ‘wake up, Dad.’ He exercised him, trying to get Jim to respond. As the days went by, Justin and Anna, became more and more quiet. And that concerned me.”
Overnight on Wednesday, Pam faced the possibility that Jim might be brain-dead.
“The only thing I could do was praise,” Pam recalls. “I couldn’t even sing. I had my little Spotify and I was just playing worship music. At three in the morning, I was holding Jim’s hand and raising the other hand in worship to the song, ‘It is Well.’ Suddenly I saw Jim’s leg move. Then he turned his face toward me and opened his eyes – but there was no recognition.”
“So we went from thinking he was brain-dead, to now facing the possibility that he was brain damaged.”
Over the next few days, as the doctors came into to check on Jim, each would take his keys and poke the bottom of his feet. Jim never responded. On Friday night, Justin and Anna had a conversation with the lead doctor to discuss the options.
“That same night, our four grandchildren came in to visit Jim,” Pam recalls. “It was difficult for them to see their grandfather in this condition. But these four children began to pray – we call them ‘the power team.’”
The following morning, one of the lead intensive care doctors had a difficult conversation with Pam. “He has brain damage,” he declared. “He has failed every test.”
“But he opened his eyes,” Pam said meekly.
“Yes, but he has not responded to pain,” the doctor replied, offering little hope.
The grandchildren had to go back to Pittsburgh that day, so they came to say goodbye at 10 a.m. – the sixth day of the coma. The hospital only allowed a certain number of people in the room at one time, so Pam went down to the waiting room while the kids were visiting Jim.
As they stood next to Jim’s bed, the children sang songs for their grandfather that they had made up to worship the Lord. Suddenly, they started to notice a change. As the grandkids sang their songs, Jim woke up!
Justin ran to get Pam from the waiting room. As they approached Jim’s room, one of the nurses tried to stop them from going in. “There’s a miracle happening in there,” Justin cried out. “He is coming awake!”
“We entered the room and started to ask Jim questions,” Pam remembers. “He nodded his understanding to every question we asked. It was an absolute miracle.”
Nurses spread the news across the ICU and as hospital staff came in to see Jim, they teared up. “We’ve never seen anything like this,” several said in amazement.
When they removed the breathing tube, Jim’s first words were, “When can I get out of here?” When the doctors told him that he still had a long way to go in his recovery he started singing, “I’ve gotta get out of this place!”
The doctors finally concluded that Jim’s LAD (Lateral, Anterior, Descending) artery had collapsed and then reopened, causing his heart to stop. They are not sure why this happened. The LAD is the classic “widow-maker” artery – termed such because most do not survive such an event. After Jim emerged from the coma, doctors inserted two stents and assured him this will never happen again. Amazingly, there was no damage to Jim’s heart or brain.
The local newspaper called the hospital around Christmastime and asked if they had any miracle stories. They answered, “Have we got a story for you!”
Jim was transferred to a rehab hospital in Portland, Maine. The rehab doctor who examined him was also amazed. “The prior patient who had been without oxygen for only a few minutes couldn’t sit, walk, or talk. You are astounding.”
The recovery that Jim made for each day from this point forward equaled one week that someone with this kind of injury would normally take. Jim was only in the rehab hospital for 5 days before being discharged – another miracle.
“It’s really hard for me to wrap my head around the whole thing,” Jim explains. “First of all, you don’t plan on dying. To realize how close I was to leaving this earth and then coming back, it’s like being born again, again.”
“I had a dramatic conversion experience that Pam was a part of more than 40 years ago. This is not unlike that. I get to have a fresh start.”
Jim and Pam were in the process of transitioning out of leadership at the church that they planted and have pastored for 30 years. They had planned to make a formal announcement after they returned from his parent’s home. “If we ever had a doubt that this was what we were supposed to do,” Pam explains, “this event erased all doubt. What looked like a huge setback for us, has turned out to be the biggest set-up for future ministry!”
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