Doctors have to be ready for anything – but the emergency case that Dr. Terry Elder dealt with one night in Texas had an unusual and heart-warming ending. This is his story.
‘Dr. Elder, come immediately to the trauma centre!’ The announcement came suddenly over the intercom, on a relatively quiet evening at my local hospital. There were no ambulances out on call that we were aware of, and I had just stepped down the hall to the doctors’ lounge for a snack. A sudden call like that usually meant one thing – someone had arrived by private car, in acute distress, rather than by the usual ambulance transport.
This could often be a myocardial infarction, severe respiratory distress, or a sick infant. Occasionally it would be a knife or gun injury that occurred near the hospital. With a call like that, you could always be sure that it would be a true emergency.
As I entered the trauma suite seconds later, there was a female patient in her late twenties with two stab wounds in her left anterior chest, directly over her heart! She was in extremely unstable condition and was breathing sporadically. As I established an airway by intubating her, the nurses were completing their initial phase of treatment that included recording vital signs, setting up intravenous catheters and monitors, and taking blood for laboratory tests. I thought how fortunate it was to have such a good and experienced trauma team in a state-of-the-art trauma treatment facility. During the next few moments, it became obvious that the patient was not stable, but was deteriorating. Even more seriously, she was developing symptoms that could only mean one thing – cardiac tamponade.
Cardiac tamponade is a condition following a penetrating wound to the heart. This produces bleeding into the sac that surrounding the heart, thereby compressing the heart, and inhibiting its life sustaining pumping action. The patient’s blood pressure was steadily dropping, and I turned to the head nurse and asked for the thoracotomy tray.
In the speciality of Emergency Medicine, the ‘open thoracotomy’ is probably the most dramatic procedure. This involves making an incision between the fifth and sixth ribs in order to expose the heart, lungs, and major vessels in an effort to control bleeding. This is the procedure we initiated, and as I lifted the lung to expose the heart, it was obvious that this was indeed cardiac tamponade. By making an incision in the membranes of the sac surrounding the heart, the pressure was relieved and the heart was able to function correctly. By this time, the heart had been unable to beat for about two minutes due to compression, and an intracardiac injection of adrenaline was needed to ‘jump start’ the heart.
This was accomplished, and the patient’s vital signs returned with a pulse of about 100, and a blood pressure of 120/80. However, the stab wound continued to bleed, so I had to release the pressure around the heart intermittently. I achieved this by keeping my fingers over the incision, and allowing a release of pressure every few minutes. This went on for about 20 minutes, whilst we awaited the arrival of the thoracic surgeon, and the operating room was prepared. When everything was ready, we moved the patient to the operating room, with my hand in her chest cavity to allow continual release of rebuilding pressure in the pericardial sac.
The surgery went smoothly. The stab wound to the heart was repaired and the patient was sent to I.C.U. I returned to my duties in the trauma centre. Later that evening my curiosity got the better of me and I asked her if she remembered anything from her clinical death experience of several minutes. She was still intubated and on a ventilator, and so could not speak, but she shook her head indicating that she remembered nothing. The look in her eyes and squeeze of my hand told me she was very grateful to be alive.
Several weeks later I received a very nice thank you letter from the patient and her mother. Her mother made the comment that she knew that the Lord was guiding me that night, and I wholeheartedly agreed, as things had gone very smoothly and her recovery had been remarkable. The thank you was deeply appreciated, but I was not prepared for the rest of the story.
About six weeks later a woman in her late twenties arrived in the trauma centre with her young daughter and requested to see me. At first I did not recognise her, as I had not seen her since visiting her in I.C.U., but my visitor was that former patient who was now completely recovered. As we began to talk, she related the most amazing story to me and to the nursing staff, many of who did not know the Lord.
She said ‘On the evening when you visited me, after you left I drifted back to sleep. I awakened the next morning as the hospital chaplain was giving the morning devotion over the intercom.
As he concluded his prayer, instantly, it was as though a light came on and I remembered what had happened. I remembered the stabbing and being driven the six blocks to the hospital while in excruciating pain. As we pulled into the ambulance ramp, it was as though I fell asleep and began to slide down a long tunnel with a bright light at the end. When I got to the end, I was at a crossroads. I looked down and I could see footprints, much like the painting Footprints In The Sand. As I followed the path of the footprints to where they ended, I looked up and there stood Jesus! The love and compassion of His face was indescribable. He told me that it was not yet my time, and that I was to go back to Earth. The next thing I remember was waking up in ICU.’
As she concluded, I asked her when she had accepted the Lord as her Saviour. I was surprised, once again, as she related that as a young girl she had been active in Sunday School. However, as she grew up she fell away from the Lord, and was a backslider at the time of this stabbing. Since this near-death incident, her uncle, who was a strong Christian, had been witnessing to her and praying for her, and she stated she was now very close to committing her life to the Lord.
As she concluded, the Holy Spirit did not lead me to do anything in regards to praying with her, but He did give me a word. I told her, ‘You will soon become a Christian and know the Lord personally.’ She thanked us all again, and with her little daughter in hand, left the trauma centre.
I was thrilled when I contacted her recently. Now, nearly two years after the incident, she has been born again (see John 3:3), made Jesus the Lord of her life, and is actively involved in church life. Six months ago she was baptised in water. She was again so thankful for what the Lord had done. She commented that at the time of her near-death experience she would have gone to Hell if she had died.
The purpose of this testimony is certainly not to give any credit or glory to a doctor, but to give the glory to Jesus Christ, the true hero of this story. The Bible says, ‘From everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children’ (Psalms 103:17 NIV). This is the overriding truth in this case. I have often thought of the fact that she was having this experience ‘on the other side’ totally unknown to me. At the time that I had my hand on her heart during the thoracotomy and resuscitation.
How many times have we been unaware of the Lord’s intervention in our own lives – the ‘close calls’ that may have been ‘crossroad’ experiences? How many times has God in His mercy reached out and supernaturally brought us back into the mainstream centre of His will?
In my own experience of salvation as a freshman in college, there was not a single day that I could look back on as the time when I received Christ as my personal Saviour. There is, however, a period of time when I came to know Him and when I turned my life over to Him to use as He would. I was later baptised in the Holy Spirit. I can truly say that through college, marriage, medical school, and now the mission field, ‘the Lord’s love is from everlasting to everlasting’.
As a final note, I have always had a lifelong love of flying. Prior to college I had applied to the Air Force and Navy, but was turned down due to astigmatism in my right eye. Halfway through medical school I found out about a medical waiver, and I was taking flying lessons a month later. Now, with several thousand hours flying experience, the Lord has allowed me to combine medicine and flying in our ministry, Grace Air Medical Foundation.
We are dedicated to providing humanitarian and Christian relief to Third World situations, and we have seen many people come to Christ. Truly I can say the Lord has given me the desires of my heart as He prepared me for ministry.
This story is reprinted with kind permission from Voice – the International magazine of FGBMFI (see Web Site: www.fgbmfi.org )
The true story of Dr Terry Elder is included, with kind permission, in the free e-book BEYOND THE FINAL FRONTIER which includes 27 similar true stories, and may be freely read and downloaded from this web site.