he staccato whir of the Medivac helicopter announced its arrival as it set down gently on the helipad at St. Helena Hospital in northern California. On board was a 39-year-old mother fighting for her life. The waiting emergency team rushed her to the ICU for state-of-the-art treatment. Time was running out.
It was early afternoon on October 25, 2002. This was the last resort for Nancy,* who had been referred from a small hospital to Dr. John Hodgkin. The doctor, a pulmonary and critical care specialist, was also a strong believer in prayer and God’s healing power.
Nancy had a long history of Crohn’s disease, a serious condition of the lining of the bowel. For this she had been treated with an anticancer drug to calm down the inflammation. But the medication suppressed her bone marrow. As a result, she developed fever, cough, and breathing difficulties from pneumonia.
Tests showed she had a very low hemoglobin and white blood cell count, a clear indication of the seriousness of her condition. She was discovered to have disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), an acute condition that can produce brain and other organ injury. Her prognosis was very poor: her waiting mother, daughter, and fiancé were told that the chances of her survival were grim.
On the second day after her arrival, she developed respiratory failure and had to be intubated and placed on a ventilator to help with her breathing. She went into shock, requiring intravenous (IV) medicine to support her blood pressure.
On the third day she suffered kidney failure, which then required dialysis. Nancy had now reached a critical point—three bodily systems had ceased to function. Statistically, she had a 10 percent chance of survival.
It was clearly time for more than human effort. Dr. Hodgkin offered an earnest prayer for the dying patient and anointed her with oil, according to the biblical injunction. Meanwhile, he had notified his wife, Jeanie, and their personal prayer group of her condition, and they were praying around the clock. The doctors, nurses, and other hospital personnel were also encouraged to join in prayer, along with her family and friends.
As if to test their faith, within short order Nancy developed acute pancreatitis, liver failure, and complete shutdown of bowel function. Now six systems were in failure, in spite of the strenuous efforts of medical personnel working diligently to save her life. The odds of survival dropped to zero.
But with God nothing is impossible. The reward of being involved in health care in a Christian setting is seeing God at work in response to earnest prayer.
Meanwhile, the doctors worked feverishly to keep Nancy alive. The numbers tell the story: for 14 days she was given 100 percent oxygen; for 16 days she was on IV medications, which paralyzed her and put her into a coma in order to conserve oxygen consumption for vital functions; for 24 days she was on vasopressors to stabilize her blood pressure; for 28 days she underwent kidney dialysis; for 41 days she was attached to the ventilator.
With all of these medical problems, there was a significant risk that she could suffer irreversible brain damage, even if she pulled through. So the prayer warriors asked not only for her life but for quality of life: “God, please don’t let Nancy end up paralyzed or with brain damage.” They remembered that when Jesus was on earth, He healed completely.
At the end of 16 days Dr. Hodgkin discontinued the paralyzing medication. Would she move again? The team waited—and prayed. Soon she started to follow individuals with her eyes. After two days she wiggled one finger. Excitement ran high as movement gradually returned. When Nancy signaled she wanted to write a note, it became clear that she had retained her mental faculties.
Once her tracheotomy tube was removed and she was taken off the ventilator, the team rejoiced that she was able to speak. In fact, she grew quite assertive! On December 5 she announced she wanted to go home by Christmas, a mere 20 days away and six weeks after she was admitted to the ICU as a near-death patient. Everyone praised God and continued praying. On December 23 Dr. Hodgkin, with his wife, Jeanie, assured her that God had saved her life by a miracle and had a purpose for her future. The next day he discharged her to return home. Her blood tests were normal, and she could walk, eat, and breathe normally. Best of all, her mind was clear. As she was wheeled out, not to a waiting hearse but to her fiancé’s car, there were smiles, tears, and hugs from her hospital friends. They all knew they had been part of a miracle. Seven days later, her 10-year-old daughter had the pleasure of witnessing her marriage.
God even threw in a little bonus. Nancy’s straight red hair fell out after her return home. But much to her delight, it came back curly, a daily reminder of His healing power and of His loving care, not only for Nancy but also for an almost motherless little girl. Today, several years later, she and her daughter and husband are doing fine.
If you have had the experience of praying for healing, only to be disappointed, you might consider Nancy’s story a fluke or a rare intervention on the part of a capricious God. Miracles happened in Bible times but are not to be expected today. We have science and technology, and if we can’t produce a cure with high-powered medications—CAT scans, MRIs, and sophisticated medical and surgical procedures—well, prayer is hardly a viable substitute.
After all, doesn’t God do what He wants, when He wants? Does prayer really bend His elbow to rescue us from our ills? How often do we hear of such astonishing miracles in today’s world?
Dr. Hodgkin offers this testimony: “From my experience, I can testify that God is the most important member of the healing team. Certainly God has knowledge we don’t have—even the knowledge to say No in the light of eternity. Further, He gives me the assurance I can trust Him implicitly. He knows our needs before we ask (Matt. 6:8), and His decisions are always right because He is a loving God, concerned with the whole person. Since I started some 10 years ago to include God on my team on a regular basis, I have had more answers to prayer than in the preceding 20 years of my practice. I have discovered that in today’s culture God is willing to work astonishing miracles. In my practice, Nancy’s story is by no means an isolated incident.”
The Case of the White Lung
On another occasion, a colleague asked Dr. Hodgkin to see a 28-year-old woman who had been admitted to St. Helena Hospital. During the night Rosa* had delivered a healthy baby, though she had had no prenatal care. By morning she became alarmingly short of breath, for no obvious reason. An X-ray revealed that her left lung was totally white and her right lung black. In this case, having a black lung is good. White means there is no air in the lung; indeed, no breath sounds could be detected over her left lung.
When Dr. Hodgkin saw her, she was breathing at more than twice the normal rate. The monitor showed that she also had a rapid heart rate but with a normal rhythm.
As Hodgkin started to examine her, suddenly her eyes rolled back and she passed out. While the monitor still showed a heart rate, she had no pulse or measurable blood pressure. He immediately started CPR while issuing a Code Blue, hospital terminology for extreme emergency, knowing that within several minutes she would suffer brain damage and possible death if her heart was not pumping blood. Within seconds a team converged—cardiologist, anesthesiologist, several nurses, and a respiratory therapist—to attempt to save the patient’s life.
There was no time to anoint with oil, but Dr. Hodgkin, according to his custom, prayed silently. God certainly is attentive to prayers. Later he recalled that God has given a precious promise for just such emergencies: “Before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear” (Isa. 65:24).†
The team tried every medication possible, but each time they stopped chest compression, the heart rate started going down immediately and Rosa had no measurable pulse. Realizing the situation, the chaplain turned to Dr. Hodgkin and said, “I think you should go talk to her husband and family.”
“I prayed for God’s wisdom as I tried to explain Rosa’s situation to her husband, who up to this point had no clue that his wife had any medical problems,” recalls Dr. Hodgkin. “He interrupted: ‘Doctor, my wife was fine last night. What did you do to her?’”
After providing a few brief details, Dr. Hodgkin excused himself and went back to the ICU. Rosa still had no pulse or measurable blood pressure whenever CPR was stopped for a few seconds. Everyone knew that after 15 to 20 minutes of CPR irreversible brain damage is common, but in desperation they continued—for more than an hour. Finally, in deep distress, Dr. Hodgkin walked out of the room, sat down at the nurses’ station, and bowed his head: “God, if You want this lady to live, we need Your help now, because we’ve done everything we know how to do.”
As he returned to the patient, a nurse exclaimed, “She’s got blood pressure!”
They stopped chest compression. All eyes were on the monitor as the heart rate and then the blood pressure stabilized. The team heaved a sigh of relief after their long ordeal. God had answered an urgent plea.
Blood tests confirmed that the patient had hyperthyroidism, which resulted in cardiovascular collapse, associated with the stress of delivering her baby.
Dr. Hodgkin learned from the patient that she had contracted tuberculosis as a child, which accounted for her destroyed “white” lung. In her opinion it was a sign of shame, so she never told her husband or sought prenatal care.
Within several days the doctor weaned her off the ventilator and removed the tube from her airway. Treatment for her hyperthyroid condition was also initiated.
The prayer of faith had saved the sick, and the Lord had raised her up (James 5:15).
One week later Rosa went home with normal brain function, a healthy baby, and a very happy husband.
“There is no doubt in my mind, or in the minds of those who took care of Rosa, that God stepped in and saved her life. Why? Perhaps because she was a new mother. Perhaps as a witness to her family and the hospital staff that God really cares,” concluded Dr. Hodgkin.
“And perhaps to impress me that He wants me to be His willing channel to touch others, through the awesome power of prayer. The practice of medicine has never been so rewarding as it has since I invited God to be head of our team. All the technology medicine has to offer is no substitute for His healing touch. My commitment is never to ‘go it alone’ without the Great Physician by my side.”
No matter what our calling, we too can have the assurance that “if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” Prayer changes situations, it changes results, and most important, it changes us.
*Not her real name.
†Scripture quotations in this article are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Ellen S. Oblander writes from Sonora, California.