A few years after these spiritual experiences, our oldest son and his wife had their first baby. We watched as our son and daughter-in-law went from being elated new parents to being devastated three days later when he learned their newborn son had multiple heart defects that would require emergency open-heart surgery in order to survive.
Fortunately, the world-renowned heart specialist Dr. Vaughn A. Starnes of the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital chose to have an opportunity to look at our new grandson to see what he could do to help. It is very difficult to operate on a newborn’s heart because it is so small―about the size of a walnut―so we were very pleased to have such an experienced surgeon willing to help. A few days later, our grandson had his first open-heart surgery. The objective of this first surgery was to repair one of the valves which was so small that it practically didn’t exist. After the surgery, Dr. Starnes was very pleased to tell us that everything had gone well, and his surgery was successful.
Unfortunately, the valve that the doctor basically created was quite primitive and was leaking. So they closely monitored his heart over the next few weeks to see how it healed. Unfortunately, our grandson didn’t heal properly. This was a serious problem because he kept bleeding in his lungs because the valve was leaking. This complication was also the result of another serious defect―a constricted artery coming out of his heart. It functioned like a kinked hose. So when the heart pumped, the blood would hit that restriction, flow back through the leaky valve, and release the pressure through his lungs. There was no way to stop this bleeding without another operation. The doctors had originally planned to do the second operation six months after the first so our infant grandson could heal and the heart could grow larger. Unfortunately, there was no time to wait.
Our grandson’s second open-heart surgery was very risky. The baby was weak from the original surgery and his heart wasn’t functioning properly so he wasn’t receiving the nourishment he needed. They would have to also repair the artery coming out of his heart, and they had no option but to install an artificial valve, which they never wanted to do on an infant that small. An artificial value would require our grandson to have multiple heart surgeries throughout his life to replace the valves as his heart grew. The surgery on the artery was also very dangerous. They had to go in and replace a section to broaden its circumference. Even if everything went well, there was a high probability that they would not have time to finish both procedures before his weak body expired. Each of those procedures was very risky on its own. The doctor said that there was about a 50 percent chance of survival if they were only doing one of these procedures, so it was impossible to estimate the chance of success when combining them in one operation. But we had no choice. Our faith was tested during this experience, and interestingly, it also grew dramatically. Our family pleaded with the Lord to please inspire and guide the heart surgeon as he performed that operation so the baby would survive.
After the long operation, the doctor came in and told us that it went very smoothly and was a total success. He said they did not need to replace the valve after all. He said that when he was beginning to work on the tiny heart, he got the idea of cutting a piece of tissue from the sack that holds the heart and putting it over the hole in the valve as a patch. He tested it, and it worked. This was fantastic because this tissue would bond with the valve and continue to grow as the baby grew. This way, he hopefully would not need further open-heart surgeries. We were elated and grateful for this answer to our prayers.
We soon discovered that we were participants in an even greater miracle. Moments before our grandson went into his second heart surgery, John, the father of another child who was in the ICU, saw me standing in the hall outside. He walked right up to me and said, “Grant, your grandson is going to be just fine. My family has been praying that the valve will work OK so they won’t need to replace it.”
Of course, replacing the valve was one of the purposes of the operation. So I politely said, “Well, I hope so.”
John vehemently replied, “No. Not just hope. They will not need to replace that valve. Otherwise, your grandson will need to have more surgeries, right?”
I said yes.
He confidently declared, “Well, that’s not in God’s plan. We’ve been praying that that valve will work, and it’ll be just fine.”
Sure enough, that is what happened. Because the second operation was so risky and not your standard, normal open-heart surgery, the news of its success quickly spread through the floor of the ICU. John came looking to congratulate us and tell us how happy he was for us. He found us in the family lounge. I thanked him for his prayers and told him I strongly believed that his prayers were influential in the successful outcome for my grandson.
John paused, and then he said, “Well, let me share something with you. My son was born a few weeks later than your grandson with a similar condition. And they were going to turn his heart into a three-chamber heart because they measured his mitral valve, and it was only four and a half millimeters wide when it needed to be nine millimeters.” John said he insisted that they remeasure it. This time, it was six and a half millimeters. The doctors explained that the valve’s actual size was five and a half millimeters because there’s a margin of error of one millimeter, plus or minus. So five and a half millimeters is right in the middle. That is what they said accounted for the discrepancy.
Several days later, the doctors conducted another battery of tests to prepare for the operation the following day. The medical staff did another echo index echocardiogram and measured his valve. Surprisingly, it was now seven and a half millimeters. The doctor said they had no explanation for it, but it was still too small, and they would still need to turn it into a three-chamber heart. The next morning, they did the operation. And when they went in, they measured the valve, and it was exactly the right size: nine millimeters. They did not need to turn the heart into a three-chamber heart after all. They still needed to do some repairs, but the infant would be able to fully function with a four-chamber heart.
John then said, “God answered our prayers for our son, so we knew He would answer our prayers for your grandson as well.” John’s love and faith touched my heart. I know that God does answer prayers of faith and loves his little ones.
Not all prayers are answered the way ours were, but sometimes God gives us a glimpse of His will so we can exercise more faith in him. Sometimes Jesus knows that it is more beneficial for us to suffer with him in order for us to realize a deeper union with the Divine than is possible in any other way.
Seeing God’s hand heal these two small boys was a remarkable miracle. But there is an even greater miracle that many people have witnessed. Everyday God heals hearts broken by betrayal, infidelity, and abuse. Jesus is the balm of Gilead and can sooth our pains and sorrows. We each can experience a miracle when we allow the master surgeon to heal our soul while he performs surgery on our open and willing hearts.