Aug. 4, 1996, was a beautiful, cloudless, summer Sunday that began perfectly. Yet by the end, it was a defining day that would be etched forever in my memory and change how I view life. In remembering and writing these events almost 23 years later, I feel an anxiousness rising in my chest. I can even conjure up that initial gripping, paralyzing fear.
After attending the morning worship service at church, I was looking forward to a quiet afternoon of solitude in my chaise lounge with my book, Bodie Thoene’s A Thousand Shall Fall, and the sun shining down from a peaceful summer sky.
I have read many books in my life. I have forgotten most of the authors and the stories. But this particular book, not much of a page-turner, became, in a very real way, part of my story. It changed how I view God’s hand in the lives of his children.
I came to a paragraph in the book where a mother had written a letter to her son. In the letter, his mother encouraged him to read Psalm 91. I went inside to get my Bible, and settling back into my lounge chair, I began to read the psalm, which speaks of God’s protection and promise of help in the midst of danger. Verse 14 reads, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them” (NLT). Just as I finished that verse, the phone rang.
A desperate, sobbing voice said, “Mom!”
“Oh, no,” I thought. “My youngest son, Jay, is having an asthma attack while on his camping trip!”
“Jay?” I anxiously asked.
“No, no, it’s Al,” the voice said. My son-in-law. “There’s been a terrible boating accident, and Rachel is critically injured. She’s being airlifted to St. Michael’s, in Toronto. Meet me there—get there as fast as you can.” Click.
I immediately contacted my husband and shared the news. Our pregnant daughter was in danger. Within minutes, it seemed, he was frantically running through the front door. He stopped, looked at me and said, “You’re so calm. Why are you SO CALM?!”
I said, “I’ll tell you everything on the way to Toronto.”
We made the trip to St. Michael’s in record time. I shared, as my husband drove, that I had the utmost confidence all would go well. I, who normally would have been wringing my hands and sobbing, was calm. God had equipped me with the reading of Psalm 91 just prior to Al’s call. It was for me a confirmation of the depth of my faith. My trust in my heavenly Father did not waver during these horrifying events that would continue to unfold as the day progressed. My husband and I prayed all the way to Toronto.
Arriving at St. Michael’s, we hurried to the intensive care unit. Al, covered in blood, his face betraying his grief and despair, hugged us. We learned it had been a water-skiing accident. Rachel had been sitting in the back of the boat, acting as lookout as Al was pulled behind on water skis. As Al was taking a wide corner, the rope-feeding apparatus fastened to the back of the boat broke loose—first one side and then the other. The triangular piece of steel hit Rachel on the side of her head with a dreadful force.
In the waiting room, the hours dragged on while doctors feverishly worked to save Rachel’s life. One doctor came partway through surgery to give us a detailed report of the extent of Rachel’s brain injuries, which mainly affected her speech and motor skills. He compared Rachel’s damaged skull to a hard-boiled egg. If you were to press your thumb into the eggshell, it would crack into many pieces. Some of the pieces of Rachel’s skull had pierced her brain’s membrane.
The doctors were dealing with a very serious situation. He could not assure us of anything at that point.
The baby Rachel was carrying also was a major concern. At barely six months’ gestation, the baby would not be able to survive if labor began. The doctor’s report overwhelmed us.
Rachel, who had graduated from Calvin College (now University) with a communications degree, hoped to continue her career in radio and television after a year of maternity leave. Would this now be impossible?
The seconds and minutes seemed like hours as we waited, prayed, and pleaded silently to our Great Physician for a miracle of healing. A chaplain visited and prayed with us. There were long periods of time when we just sat numbly, shedding tears and trying to imagine what was happening in that operating room.
Rachel survived the surgery and was later transferred to the critical care unit, where we could visit. My dear, sweet girl lay in an induced coma with clicking and whirring equipment surrounding her. A nurse assigned to her sat by her side. Rachel’s face was lost in a mound of cotton gauze wrapped around her head. We thanked God that Rachel had come through the surgery.
We found out later that St. Michael’s, upon receiving a call from the clinic where rescuers initially brought her, immediately sent out their fully equipped medical helicopter, miraculously available on a long weekend. They assembled a team with one of the world’s best brain surgeons (who just happened to be available). Was it God taking care of things? Absolutely!
Rachel was in an induced coma for five days to allow the swelling in her brain to subside. Waiting for her to come out of the coma was beyond stressful. Al, who faithfully ate and slept in a chair at the hospital to remain close to Rachel, called us at work when she awoke.
“Mom! Rachel is awake, and she said, ‘Hi.’ She can talk!” Al said she had pointed at her belly and looked confused. She did not remember being pregnant.
The next day, bright and early, we headed to the hospital. I can still remember walking into Rachel’s room. There she was, sitting up in bed with Al at her side. When she saw us, a big smile brightened her face. In a childlike voice, she said, “Hi! Look!”
In a second—and to my horror—she lifted her hand and pulled this swath of bound gauze straight up in the air. It came off like a hat, and I just about fainted, afraid I would see a caved-in skull still bruised and battered. Instead, I saw stitches already healing and Rachel’s perfectly shaped head shaved partially bald.
Oh, the gratitude that flooded our souls that morning! Rachel was awake, alive, still pregnant, and talking. Oh, thank you, Lord!
I learned that day how full of gratitude a heart truly can be. The coffee never tasted better, hospital cafeteria food was a delicious delight, and when people cut me off in my bike lane later that day, well, who cared? Our precious daughter was alive! We could still be grandparents.
Max Lucado once wrote, “God will heal you: instantly, gradually, or ultimately.”
God healed Rachel gradually. As time unfolded, we found out Rachel did not remember a lot of things. Her road to recovery was going to take some time. Upon discharge from St. Michael’s, she was transferred to a rehab facility where she underwent intense therapy until a week before the baby’s due date. As she reacquainted herself to her home, she was delightfully surprised to find a sweet nursery waiting for the baby. She had no recollection of the time she spent with Al working on it.
Rachel was put on an anti-seizure medication during her convalescence, and we were concerned these medications might affect the baby. But on Nov. 6, 1996, Trista Suke was born healthy and alert. She was, in our eyes, a miracle baby. Pain and sorrow were mixed with overwhelming joy and thanksgiving when we visited the new parents and baby Trista hours after the delivery.
As her grandpa held baby Trista in his arms for the first time, he looked intently at her small face and softly spoke these prophetic words to her: “You are going to be a very special girl.”
Angels Are Watching
Psalm 91:11 reads, “For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go” (NLT). All through this ordeal and into Rachel’s recovery, I faithfully prayed, “Lord, send your guardian angels to protect Rachel.”
Rachel came to our house for 10 days where she slowly learned how to care for baby Trista. It was a very difficult time for us all, and especially for her, when it was time to go home. She was fragile, afraid, and still recuperating. I can still see her face through the car window as Al drove away. Her lips were trembling as she bravely fought back tears. My heart was heavy, but I knew I had to let this little family go to begin a new chapter in their own lives.
A couple of months later, we hosted a small dinner party, where Rachel asked our pastor if he believed in guardian angels. He enthusiastically nodded, sharing a story about his own experience and saying, “I never questioned this truth.” I shared Psalm 91:11 and how that became part of my daily prayer for Rachel. Rachel then shared something that still gives me tingles and goosebumps.
After she returned home, she was sometimes alone with Trista while Al was at work. She was still struggling with being a new mom and with her own recovery. She said she often felt a very real presence just beside her elbow as she carried Trista in her arms. Often, she would think Al had come home and she would call out, “Al?” One time she was in the mall, walking alone with Trista in the buggy, and she sensed a presence at her elbow that was so real that she turned to see who was just slightly beside her and behind her. But, she said, “There was no one there.” Of course it was a guardian angel, for one of the functions of angels is to watch over believers.
Six months after her accident, Rachel had a scheduled appointment to visit the lead surgeon. He later said that though he could always identify a brain-injured person, with Rachel he could not. When Rachel expressed her sincere thanks to him, he waved his hand and said, “Rachel, I do not deserve the credit. It was not I who worked this miracle.”
Today, Rachel is a woman who, together with her husband, works and manages two businesses. Trista graduated from Ryerson University a year ago and has her own amazing story. Her grandpa was right when he spoke those prophetic words.
For 22 years, I have wanted to tell this story. Not long ago, my granddaughter said, “Nana, it’s important to share your stories. You must write them down and share them.” So I am sharing this story—as must everyone who has a testimonial to God’s power and grace.