Personal Stories: Colon Brown

Colon Brown

I am the Director of Congregation Development, the United Methodist Church, the Detroit Annual Conference. After years of serving the church as a pastor I found myself in need of the same care that I had provided to so many in the hospital. Believe me, every visit was meaningful to my family and to myself. In my present position I do lots of presentations to large groups of people on change and transformation. I also have done post-graduate work in Natural Systems Theory and self-differentiated leadership. I have a Doctor of Ministry degree from McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago, IL in the dual fields of church revitalization and spiritual formation. Needless to say, the church has played a big role in my life. But like many people my age (48) I find more meaning through community, especially when it rises up spontaneously as it did for me during my surgery and post-recovery phase. I have a wife who was on sabbatical when my aneurysm struck and because she didn't have to teach she spent many hours nursing me back into shape. I have three children, ages 23, 29. and 6. Each child went through there own trauma as they went through the surgery process as a family. I love the work that I do but the most important thing in all the world to me today is my family and my friends. I honestly believe that a balance of medicine and faith have seen me through. I also believe that it is through God s grace that any of this makes any sense to me, so every day is truly a bonus a day for me. I am also profoundly aware of the fact that not everyone has a remarkable story to tell, some die because of the same thing that struck me. For those folks I hope that they also find comfort and peace to continue to go on living and prospering in their life.

Every Day Is A Bonus Day
On Dec. 21, 2001 I experienced severe chest pains that eventually made their way into my stomach. My wife, Cindy helped rush me to the hospital. There we were told that I was having an acute aortic aneurysm (AAA). Many people have told me they have never heard of anyone surviving an "AAA". The surgeon, Dr. John Rogers, recommended immediate surgery.

Many of my family and closest friends anxiously awaited the outcome of the surgery, with no assurance of success. The hospital became for them a sanctuary, a place for prayer, crying, and close support. However, it was also a time that the family felt confused, bewildered, and regretful. For example, Nikki erased my message that I had left on her cell phone earlier that week; not knowing whether she would her my voice again she told me how much she regretted doing that. Troy began to think about what life would be like for Jono without a Dad and how he, Troy, would be able to help Jono if it came to that. Cindy told me she began feeling all the things you can feel when your spouse dies at the of forty-eight. So, every one had lots of intense feelings that were both spoken and unspoken.

In the waiting room, there was a tremendous amount of suspense. To help keep people focused was a close friend, Father Swiat, from Holy Family Catholic Church, many neighbors, and friends of Troy and Nikki. Cindy's sister and brother-in-law made their way from Ohio. Many other friends and neighbors also waited in that place hospitals call, "the waiting room." For what they were waiting, no one knew for sure.

Throughout the day we also received numerous phone calls. We figured God had heard from every religion on the face of the earth. It is important for me to know how much people cared enough for me to pray and to "wait".

As the surgery progressed, the entire aorta was dissected from the arch, which begins at the top of the heart, continuing down two inches. The kind of surgery that Dr. Rogers uses is called "extreme hypothermia". They wrapped my body in special blankets that were designed to take my body temperature down to 17 degrees Celsius (he literally froze me). I was in a state of suspension; they do this in order to preserve the tissue and to minimize brain damage. When they began re-warming my body temperature, they noticed a leak in one of my repaired aneurysms. In order to fix the problem they had to perform extreme hypothermia again. The nurses put ice packs all over my body, including direct contact to my face, which resulted in frostbite on my cheek and forehead. The normal time to keep the body in such a frozen state ranges from 30-40 minutes, each second being extremely critical. In my case, I was cold for 50 minutes the first time and 55 minutes the second time. The doctors were concerned with the amount of oxygen that was getting to my brain during that time. This is because that the three main arteries to the brain had to be cut back from the aorta while the surgeon repaired the aneurysm.

The results of the lack of blood and oxygen to the brain left me with a mild stroke...mild speech problems and some weakness in the right leg. My surgery lasted more than 8 hours. The surgeon told my wife, Cindy, that I had a 10% chance of surviving the surgery. Cindy, Nikki and Troy spent the rest of the 48 hours at the hospital along with Nikki's boyfriend, Scot, her best-friend, Stacey, my sister, Bonnie and my dad. Nikki's old college roommates stayed at home to watch Jono, while neighbors ran back and forth between the hospital and our home, trying to help in every way possible.

One incredible story occurred on Friday regarding Father Swiat. He pulled our neighbor, Sue, aside and gave her $200 from his billfold. He humorously stated that, he didn't know if I had finished my Christmas shopping for my family, being a typical male...last minute shopper. Sue was sent out to purchase gifts for Cindy, Nikki, Troy, and Jono, making sure that they had something to open on Christmas. In addition, he had two of Troy's friends bring over a Christmas tree to the hospital, trying to keep every one's spirits up. I learned later that in order to take their mind off of the emotional stress, my family put together about 10 different puzzles in the waiting room and conversed with other families, each comparing stories and all searching for hope during a "joyful" time of year.

On Sunday night after the initial surgery, I spoke my first words. The family tells me I said, "stop it" because the nurse was changing my position. About 10pm that night my family came in to see me to say good night. I woke up for a minute and heard them (I still couldn't see). They said "We love you" and I said, "I love you too." My dad told me that the Detroit Lions lost 47-14 and I said "Oh" and groaned.

It was now Monday, Christmas Eve night. The family was wondering why I wasn't talking more that night, from their point of view, I had a bad day. I was completely out of the anestic and I should have progressed enough from that point to get my speech back, but some of my family expected an "immediate awakening, which wasn't realistic." At this point each family member reacted to this by taking a walk etc...even though my family's heart wasn't in celebrating Christmas. They told me later that I would want them to for the sake of Jonathan. My family tells me I gave them the best Christmas present on Christmas Day, in the morning, I was asking about them, and wanted to chat. After a week of being in the hospital I was moved from ICU to a "step-down" floor. I began to ask for different things to eat from restaurants. My daughter, Nikki, wheeled me around on 2nd floor so I could see all the surroundings. I could walk a few feet hanging on to the wheel chair.

I pretty much spent the first days at home doing all sorts of therapy; speech, occupational, and physical. I couldn't walk very well and had to helped to get out of the chair. Someone also had to feed me because my hands shook so much.

After six weeks I began my out-patient therapy. This part of my therapy lasted about seven weeks. It was during this time that I learned to drive again as well as got ready to go back to work. My blood pressure continues to normalize with several medications being closely monitored by my doctor. My cardiologist is doing his best to regulate it properly, thank God. I returned to work after three months. For the most part this has gone well except I notice that I get tired more easily.

After five months I have much for which to be thankful. I still have numbness in my thigh and my speech, when I get fatigued still slurs. Other than that, I am doing great.

Things don't work out exactly as we thought. I never thought I would experience a "near-death" trauma. But these things all of us. When they do, we pick up and keep going and do so in the strength God gives us. I now know, beyond all doubt, that God gave me my life back. Many times a day I think about that. God saved me not only in some kind of metaphysical way, but literally, in a physical way. I can never be the same. I have more love, more tolerance and compassion than at any time in my life. It has changed me in ways that if I had "skipped" I would have never known. But there is no question that every day is a bonus day.

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