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
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
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
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
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.
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