Life was good. I was a Director in the family bulb growing and exporting business, and had a lovely wife and family, and a beautiful home. I travelled on the Continent on sales trips from time to time. It was in April 1986, whilst on one of these trips with my father, that my life was irrevocably changed.
It was the last week of our trip to Germany and Austria. We were staying in a hotel in a beautiful town. I awoke that morning feeling as if someone had stuck a knife into me, and must have gasped out in pain, because at the moment I collapsed. My father woke up and immediately called for an ambulance. As the driver raced through the streets I had a cardiac arrest. For 10 minutes, until we arrived at the hospital, the paramedics kept me going with cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
The doctors at the hospital started electric shock treatment in an effort to correct my abnormal heart rhythm. The doctors gave me an injection of potassium to correct a chemical imbalance in the blood . After another electric shock my heartbeat returned to normal rhythm.
Meanwhile my wife Jill, who was decorating the bathroom of our farmhouse, received the call to tell her that I had suffered a massive heart attack. She flew out fully expecting to take me back home in a coffin. I was still alive, but in a deep coma, when she arrived at the hospital. On the third day, according to the doctors, I suffered a stroke that paralysed me, and caused severe damage to my brain.
For two and a half weeks I remained in a deep coma in Intensive Care. At some point I went to Heaven.
All my life I had gone to church and acknowledged God, but I had not always lived the way I should have lived. At that moment of arrival in Heaven I came the realisation that I was not really prepared. I had always planned to get my relationship with God put to rights, but now there was no more time. Even as I realised that, I also knew that I was not alone. God was there, and I asked Him to forgive me for not always living my life as He would have wanted. As soon as I had prayed that prayer, a tunnel of light opened up in front of me, and I had the feeling of being completely changed. God not only forgave and cleansed me, but He also poured out His love on me.
I knew that I was in Heaven. I had no fear. I had only a tremendous sense of security, as if I had been picked up by God and cuddled, in the same way as a father cuddles his baby. At this stage I could see my body in hospital, but I felt detached from everything of the past. The light in this tunnel enveloped me, and I just knew I was in the presence of God. In the sense that we understand sight on Earth, I could not see Him, and yet I could see Him. He was the essence of the light.
Then I was held by my hand and led into a beautiful garden. We went through an archway of honeysuckle, and saw flowers of such wonderful colour that it is impossible to describe them. This was not a large garden. It was small and compact, as if it had been prepared especially for me. Not only were the colours incredible, but everything sparkled as if covered with dew, and the flowers dripped light. It was so magnificent, but also peaceful. I walked through the garden until I came to a wrought iron gate at the far end. As I came to it, the gate swung open.
In an instant the whole burden of life came back upon me. I desperately wanted to go back into the garden and stay there, but God told me it was not yet time for me, my life was not complete. It took some persuading me to return. I did not know what I was coming back to, and it was in many ways a step of faith. What would happen to me? What would life be like? Whatever came, I knew that God was with me. He also told me, so clearly that it was imprinted on my brain, that when I returned I must go on a retreat, and I would receive further instructions for my journey.
Before I was moved from the hospital, a brain scan revealed that my brain had been damaged in certain parts that would affect my eyesight and movement. Jill had heard God speaking to her in the hospital chapel saying, ‘He will be healed – it will just take time’. She hung on to that hope.
At first I was paralysed, blind and dumb. It was difficult for me and my family to come to terms with what had happened. I did not forget about going on a retreat, and as soon as it was physically possible, Jill and I went. God did show me how I must face the future. He told me that I had to be willing to give up everything I held dear – my position as director in the firm, my friends, and even my family. It was not easy. I fought God, especially regarding my family, but eventually I said I would do as He asked. As I surrendered everything to God, He freed me to face up to the difficulties that lay ahead.
Now, some eight years later, I have made a wonderful recovery. It has not been an easy time for any of us. Jill had to give up her job as company secretary to look after me. Clearly there was no possibility of me returning to work in the firm. However, although registered blind and disabled, I have run two charity marathons with a sighted guide. I do have some sight, and have taught myself to read again. I attend adult lecture classes to encourage my thinking and brain activity. I am also a member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church choir, where my family worship. Whilst my co-ordination and memory in many areas are still poor, I have no problems in recalling my experiences during that time in 1986.
David Verdegaal’s story was featured on British television.