Daniel’s Story

September 20, 2018
Susan Stratman

The declaration, “Your son won’t live through the night” stung like an arrow piercing our very souls. I had a healthy pregnancy – or so I thought. No one detected a heart murmur and definitely not a fatal one. How could this be? As Jay and I listened to the Emergency Room doctor’s excruciatingly painful report, we knew what we had to do.

We walked out that door, tears streaming down our faces, straight to the telephone booth where we would soon make phone calls no parents ever want to make—calls to loved ones who would plead for our son, and for us. Through our tears we breathed words to the Lord we never dreamed we would utter only five days after Daniel’s birth. “Lord, he is your child. We love him dearly, but he’s really yours. We give him back to You now. If you want him, You can have him.”

Around midnight on October 22, 1984, our precious Daniel underwent the first of three open-heart surgeries to repair his congenital bicuspid aortic valve defect, known as Severe Aortic Stenosis. And while that initial surgery went well, even though they only gave him a 20% chance of surviving it, he then had to have two more intricate, open-heart surgeries when he was eight and eleven years old. Although he had a few complications during his hospitalizations, he soon was doing what he loved—playing baseball, basketball and soccer. Looking back, we realize our gracious Lord was using these events to affirm His love to us, to teach us the meaning of trust, and to prepare us for a monumental trial still to come.

When Daniel was eleven, six months after his third open heart surgery, we discovered an inguinal hernia which we scheduled to have repaired at the end of July 1996 at a small hospital near our home. However, at the advice of Daniel’s cardiologist, we rescheduled the surgery at the same hospital where he had had the previous three open heart surgeries. We figured he would be safe there; if anything went wrong, they could easily treat him because the heart team knew him and his heart so well.

On July 5, Daniel tried out for and made an elite soccer team and on the recommendation of his new soccer coach, we moved the date up to July 10 so he wouldn’t miss the upcoming season. This surgery, we were told, would be a “piece of cake” after three open-heart surgeries. I promised Daniel no tubes, no catheter, no ventilator, no ICU. He would be in and out in a matter of hours, and we would soon be on our way to Steak ’n Shake for lunch – Daniel’s favorite place. Soccer games would again be in his not-too-distant future. Well, that was not to be.

Because of several mistakes made by the anesthesiologist, our precious, energetic, active little boy was given back to us severely brain injured and fighting for his life. To sum up what we were told four weeks later, the anesthesiologist set the anesthetic administration too high for too long; she put a blood pressure cuff on his arm but never set the machine to read it, and then she left the room, leaving an observing nurse anesthetist student in charge. Several minutes into the surgery, because he was not being properly monitored, Daniel’s heart stopped, and the “Code” was called out. The medical team revived him using Epinephrine and chest compressions, but the damage was done— nearly eleven minutes without oxygen to his brain.

We were totally devastated! Our little boy could no longer breathe on his own and nothing worked except for his beating heart and hearing. A month after “living” in the Intensive Care Unit and finally breathing on his own, Daniel was moved to a room where he would spend the next three months. At that time the doctors informed us that Daniel would survive, but according to their prognosis would live in a vegetative state—never able to walk, talk, eat, see, go to the bathroom on his own, or take care of his own needs.

We were shattered! How could this be? Why would the Lord allow him to survive three very serious open-heart surgeries just to leave him in a vegetative state for the rest of his life? None of this made sense and we wondered at times where God was. This event rocked our world in every way. While our brains knew that God was in control, that He still had a plan for Daniel’s life and ours, that He was a good and loving God who always did all things well, we had moments when we completely lost sight of that. Like Peter, we began to drown. I became angry at God, blaming Him for allowing this to happen, accusing Him of not caring, of not loving us at all. “Where were You?” I remember asking Him. “Why didn’t You stop this from happening?” I am not proud of the way I addressed the Lord God during those moments, yet He always tenderly, lovingly, faithfully wooed me back to Himself, showing me how much He loved me and how much He loved and cared for Daniel.

One of those times, about two months into Daniel’s hospital stay, as I walked around the huge hospital complex, I cried out in anger and frustration to God. All of a sudden, on a sidewalk I had passed dozens of times as I ranted and raved, lay a little sparrow—dead— right at my feet. That little bird immediately stopped me in my tracks—literally! It was as if God said to me, “Don’t you know that if I see every sparrow that falls to the ground, that I will love and care for you and for Daniel even more? Don’t you know how much I love you, how much I love your son? All I’m asking you to do is trust Me. I am in charge, and I have everything under control. This will be okay; just trust Me” (Mt. 10:29-31).

By God’s grace, Daniel has made significant progress. He now walks with assistance, goes to the bathroom, and eats with enthusiasm. He talks, although unintelligibly for the average listener, and he graduated from Emmaus Bible College in 2011, after seven long, difficult years of intense study. Sadly, he does not see, having lost most of his vision during the anoxic episode, and he does require 24-hour care. But we are grateful to our wonderful God for what He has done for Daniel and our family, and grateful for so many who came alongside to help and to care. “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.” (I Sam. 7:12)