Personal Stories: Craig Stripling-A Lesson in Prayer

Our tropical Holiday vacation quickly turned into a nightmare and a lesson in prayer.  All of my boys (including my husband) were excited as we embarked on our journey from South Carolina to the Florida Keys.  I couldn’t shake a feeling of dread that hung over my heart, but my oldest son, Zachary, was enthusiastically regaling tales of snorkeling and my youngest son, Zane, was so thrilled about going to the Pirates in Paradise Festival that I put the feelings aside and settled in to co-pilot the 40 foot motor coach on the Interstate.

            Monday morning dawned beautiful (just as you would expect for a tropical paradise).  We were geared up for a full week of snorkeling, museum tours, and deep sea adventures.  Key West beckoned to us and we made our way from the Sugarloaf campground to the Southernmost Point.  We were enthralled by Duvall Street and spent hours going into shops, Ripley’s, and Mel Fisher’s treasure museum.  At lunch, my husband, Craig, complained of acid reflux.  This wasn’t an uncommon thing because for several months, he’d been experiencing a pain in the center of his chest.

            When we got back to the campground, I started doing laundry (it is amazing how many clothes boys can go through in 3 days).  I left a load of clothes in the dryer and asked Craig to go back to get them in about 20 minutes.  When he left, I pulled out the boys’ pajamas and told them to get ready for bed.  I was getting things settled for the night when Craig lumbered inside.  “I think I’m having a heart attack.  Call 9-1-1.”  I looked at him in disbelief – he was sweating profusely and his color was terrible.  I found my cell phone and dialed the number trying to stay calm and to keep the boys calm.  Craig walked to the back of the motor home and lay across the bed.  He was talking incoherently at times but he told me that when he went to get the clothes, he saw some people who were having trouble rolling in their awning.  He went to help them and as he was reaching above his head to unlatch the awning, the wind whipped it up into the air.  He pulled down against the wind and said that it felt like someone had “thrown a bowling ball at his chest at 60 mph.”  He tried to walk towards a light, but he passed out momentarily.  He said that the people walking by just laughed at him as he reached up for help. It is a miracle that he was able to make it back to the motor home. 

            In just a few minutes time, I heard a siren in the distance.  I left Craig’s side to go up front to open the door.  That’s when I saw my boys.  My two children were both on their knees – praying fervently and earnestly to God.  They prayed that their Daddy would be okay.  “Please God – help him.  We love our Daddy and want him to be well.”  Even in the midst of a crisis, I felt a wave of calm flood over me.  I watched their unwavering faith in God and I learned a lesson. 

            The EMT crew came in and after working with Craig for a few minutes, they took him by ambulance to the hospital in Key West.  His vital signs looked okay and they thought that he would be alright.  One man tried to reassure me, “This is more of a precaution.”  Again, my feelings of dread crept in and I knew in my heart that something was wrong.  I went back inside and got the boys ready and we drove to the Key West hospital.  As we waited in the Emergency room, my children prayed again.  We all did.

            When we saw Craig, he looked much better and was more coherent.  He said that he felt a pressure in his chest, but that he wanted to go back to the campground.  The children and I stayed until 2 a.m. and his vital signs were good.  The doctors were scheduling a stress test for the next morning.  Craig stubbornly wanted to leave the hospital with us.  He promised that he’d come back if he didn’t feel well.  I told him strongly that he needed to stay.  Despite my protestations, he had almost talked himself into leaving until the nurse brought the dismissal papers.  The doctor had written on them that Craig could face death if he were released against medical advice.  The warning scrawled in the doctor’s handwriting convinced him to stay….Thank God.

            The next morning, the children and I arrived at the hospital around 10:30 a.m.  We had not been in a hurry to get there because they were supposed to be doing a stress test.  We found that Craig had been moved to ICU.  I left the boys in the waiting room outside of the ICU and went in to see him.  I carried a present for him because it was our 8th anniversary.  He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “This is not how I planned for us to spend our anniversary.”  I didn’t have time to respond because a doctor came in and told us that there was fluid around Craig’s heart.  He asked us if Craig had suffered from a virus recently, but we told him, “no”.  He said that a cardiologist would be in momentarily to check Craig.  He went on to say that the worst case scenario would be an aortic dissection.  He smiled at Craig, “Hopefully, it’s not that.” 

            My mind raced.  I had just read about that condition… John Ritter had died of that very thing.  What happened to good vital signs and the stress test?  The door jarred and jerked me out of my reverie as the echocardiogram machine was wheeled into the room.  The Cardiologist introduced himself and the technician started the test.  I watched as they moved the wand over the area he had complained about so many times.  The doctor had the technician zoom in and I could see (with my untrained eye) the flap hanging down.  The doctor’s mood changed abruptly and he called for a helicopter to take Craig to Mt. Sinai Hospital in Miami.  I asked, “Can we fly him home?”  The doctor shook his head and said, “There’s no time.”  He walked behind the head of the bed and mouthed to be silently so Craig wouldn’t hear, “This is very serious.”  My legs felt weak and I knew that I could possibly lose my husband.  I wanted to cry, but I didn’t want to upset Craig so I rubbed his forehead and held his hand. I told him that he was going to be fine.  I, then, thought of the boys. “Doctor, our children are in the waiting area, can they come in and see him?”  In my mind, I was wondering if it would be the last time….

            I went out of the room and brought the boys in while the Medical Staff prepared Craig for his flight.  The boys talked to their Daddy while I signed papers and got directions to the hospital.  I took the boys back out of the room.  Craig had tears streaming out of his eyes when I walked back in.  “You are going to be fine.  I will see you in Miami.  Don’t worry.  I love you.”  He pulled me close and whispered, “I will love you forever.  Take care of my boys.”  The sedative they gave him took effect and he went off to sleep.  I walked in the hallway and tried to compose myself.  The doctor asked if I needed anything and then he explained Craig’s condition.  He told me that Craig’s aorta was 4.8 cm when it was supposed to be 3.5 cm.  He called it a Type A dissection with an aneurysm.  The flap I saw was the tear that had gone inward.  Blood was collecting around his heart causing it to compress and he had to have surgery immediately.

            I called Craig’s parents and my parents and told them that the situation was not good.  My mother called my aunt and they arranged for a flight that day.  My father just had open heart surgery a month before so he could not come.  My in-laws decided to drive and left South Carolina as soon as they could.

            I talked to my children and we went back to the motor home to pack clothes to take to Miami.  I have never packed so quickly in my life.

            It took us almost 5 hours to drive from Key West to Mt. Sinai hospital.  We caught rush hour and holiday traffic.  The children and I prayed aloud.  We talked and then they slept.  I talked on the phone to family and friends.  I called the hospital several times, but received no information other than Craig was in surgery.

            We rushed into the hospital and found the surgical waiting room.  It was right across from a small Chapel and we were the only ones there since it was 8:30 p.m.  The children watched cartoons and I pondered every scenario imaginable in between answering my cell phone.

            The surgeon came in at 9:30 p.m. and told me that Craig was a very lucky man.  He said that the aneurysm had ruptured and that he was fortunate to have made it to the first hospital much less the second.  He said that the next couple of days were critical and that Craig could face many complications including paralysis and death.  The surgeon was very kind and asked if we had arranged for a hotel.  We told him that we had not and he gave us the names of some hotels nearby.  My mother and aunt arrived after that.  They looked like angels to me and I was so relieved to have my family with us.  My aunt, Lillian, watched the children and my mother and I went up to see Craig.  He looked pale and was hooked up to so many machines.  I whispered in his ear, “Fight hard.  Too many people love you.”

            We left the room and found the hotel.  Craig’s parents called at 5 a.m. Wednesday morning.  They had just been in ICU to see him.  He still had the tube in his throat so he couldn’t talk, but he moved his arms and legs.  I was elated – he wasn’t paralyzed!

            We saw Craig at every visitation time.  He was doing well and would write messages to me on a piece of paper.  By the end of the afternoon, they had taken the tube out of his throat.  My mother and aunt offered to take my children home.  They drove my car and left Wednesday evening.  They were able to make it home in time for Thanksgiving dinner.  I hated to see them go, but I knew that it was better than staying at the hospital.

            Craig’s brother and sister-in-law arrived and we had Thanksgiving dinner in the hospital cafeteria.  We had so much to be thankful for – God had blessed us in the best way possible.  Craig was moved to a telemetry room that afternoon and he talked to the boys late Thursday night.

            We got home on Wednesday of the following week.  We are so grateful for the miracle that God granted us.  My children learned a valuable lesson about the power of prayer. Zane said, “Who knows?  My prayer may have saved his life.”  There is no doubt in my mind that God heard their prayers.


Kimberly Stripling


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