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THE TRUE STORY OF WHAT HAPPENED WHEN PAT BOONE ASKED THE WORLD TO PRAY FOR HIS GRANDSON'S SURVIVAL
By LINDY BOONE MICHAELIS, Susy Flory
TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC. Copyright © 2013Lindy Boone Michaelis
All rights reserved.
THROUGH THE SKYLIGHT
We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.
PIERRE TEILHARD DE CHARDIN
Ryan and his roommates were always on a quest to look good. After all, they were young guys living in LA and hoping to make it in the entertainment business. Even though the dangers of skin cancer were well known by 2001, a golden tan was still status quo in Southern California. In that way, I think Ryan took after me and his grandfather Pat.
The problem with his quest for the perfect tan was that Ryan lived in an old stucco Brentwood apartment building far from the beach. He did have access to a swimming pool next door, but the apartment buildings on Dorothy Street were built around central courtyards, almost like a picture frame, and the sun's rays didn't last long before they passed into shadow.
In the middle of Ryan's building was a garden with concrete pathways. Framed around it were three stories of apartments. The front door of each apartment opened up to a walkway that ran around the inside of the frame. Instead of a metal railing, each walkway was bordered by a three-and-a-half-foot concrete wall on the courtyard side. Ryan and his roommates lived on the second floor in apartment 208. On the third floor was a stairway that led up to a roof-access door. The building was full of young professionals, so it wasn't uncommon for people to head up to the roof to sunbathe once the sun's rays moved on from the courtyard.
One sunny June day, Ryan got home from his job at California Pizza Kitchen at about three in the afternoon; his job on a television show was on hiatus so he worked as a server at the pizza restaurant to pay the bills. Ryan changed into shorts and flip-flops, threw on a black backpack holding his keys and a few other odds and ends, grabbed a towel, and invited his two roommates to come along. Grant was playing a video game and passed, but Steve decided he could use some sun too. The two of them headed upstairs, laughing and joking about their latest get-fit-and-good-looking schemes. They climbed the stairs to the roof-access door. It was closed but unlocked. Ryan went first.
After he stepped out into the bright afternoon sun, Ryan skirted to the left around a metal railing and then turned right to walk alongside it. To his left was a skylight flush with the roof. The skylight was designed to let in fresh air and natural light to the darker nooks and crannies of the apartment walkways. But at some point, probably due to the heat of the sun or maybe even rainwater problems, the four-by-eight-foot opening had been covered with a corrugated fiberglass panel, tacked down around the edges. Over the years and with exposure to the elements, the fiberglass cover had grown brittle and faded to almost perfectly match the color, and even the texture, of the rocks and pebbles on the tar-and-gravel roof.
Ryan walked along the pathway between the metal railing on his right and the skylight on his left. The path was no more than two feet wide; Steve followed about four feet behind. Ryan was almost past the skylight when Steve saw his roommate's left foot come down on the corner. Ryan's size 14 flip-flops bridged over the corner with his toes and heel still on the roof but the middle of his foot, bearing his weight, pressed down and the fiberglass started to flex inward. His right foot was still on the roof but as the fiberglass panel began to give way, his left foot started sliding toward the middle of the skylight. There was nothing beneath to bear his weight. As his foot slid inward, his body rotated around toward Steve, and Ryan looked straight into his roommate's eyes, surprised, and fell down through the fiberglass panel. There wasn't much noise except for the cracking of the fiberglass and a few thumps. Ryan was gone.
* * *
I was dreaming of sunshine and beaches when the phone started ringing.
Where am I?
It was dark, and I was disoriented. Finally I remembered. I was on vacation with my husband, Mike, and our thirteen-year-old son, Tyler, in Málaga, Spain. We'd been at a timeshare condo for about four or five days. During the day, I worked out and enjoyed the pool while Mike and Tyler played golf. One day we'd driven our rental car to a picturesque village at the top of a narrow, winding road. On another, Tyler had tried out parasailing. We'd even talked about a day trip to Morocco.
But for now I was sound asleep after a full day of sun and seafood. So where is that ringing coming from? Mike was still asleep, so I got out of bed and bumped my way out of the bedroom toward the sound in the living room. Tyler was asleep on the sofa bed—I couldn't believe he slept through the noise.
I finally found the phone and picked it up. "Lindy, we've been trying to reach you."
It was my sister Debby. Between the late-night call and the tone of her voice, I knew I'd better brace myself. It had to be bad.
"Nobody knew the number where you were staying. It's Ryan. He's had an accident." My breath caught in my throat.
"Not a car accident. He fell when he was on the roof of his apartment building. He and Steve were going up to get some sun but Ryan somehow stepped on a skylight and it broke."
My stomach clenched into a tight ball. Time slowed and my brain felt numb. I tried to concentrate on my sister's voice.
"He's at UCLA Medical Center now, and I believe he's being operated on. Mama and Daddy are there. I stayed home to try to reach you. I finally got hold of the people staying in your house and they gave me this number."
I felt like a thirsty sponge soaking in the information but, at the same time, like I was being wrung out.
"Lindy, all I know is that he has a skull fracture and they already had to remove his spleen but I know you can live without one of those."
What am I going to do? I'm in Spain. Ryan is in California. How long before I can get to him?
Ryan had dropped us at the airport just a few days before. My warm and wonderful twenty-four-year-old son had wrapped his arms around me and bent over to give me a good-bye kiss on the cheek.
It was nice not to worry much about him anymore. He'd finally graduated from Pepperdine and landed a job as a production assistant on a TV show—maybe the first rung on the ladder toward becoming a writer for television and film. And he had just proposed to the love of his life. Ryan was ready to be a grown-up and take care of a family of his own. Now this!
It can't be happening. He has to be all right.
I have to get home.
Mike had woken up, heard my panicky voice, and wandered in to find out what was going on. Tyler, too, was now sitting up on his sofa bed. After I hung up, I told them that Ryan had had an accident and then we joined hands in that little living room and prayed, pouring out our fears to God.
As we held hands, my mind raced. I didn't know the details, so I could only guess at how bad Ryan's condition really was and what exactly I should be praying for. A skull fracture? What exactly does that mean? Is that always terrible or do people get better from that?
It was a mother's nightmare—the worst thing that had ever happened to one of my children and I was too far away to be able to get there quickly. Yet somehow I knew that God was with my son and that I would have to connect to God to be able to connect to Ryan. I have never been so grateful for the gift of prayer. When we called out to God, it didn't feel like a feeble ritual but rather a powerful intervention.
Maybe God would heal Ryan—but I had no guarantees. Maybe the doctors could keep him alive and make him well—but I really didn't know. All I did know was that God loved Ryan, God was with Ryan, and God was with the doctors.
As we stood together in that dark room in Spain, I prayed my heart out. "Lord, please surround Ryan with your love and let him live and recover from this awful accident. Help us get the plane flights we need to get to him as quickly as possible. Guide the doctors, nurses, and every human being who has something to do with Ryan's care."
After we said amen, we started hashing out our plans. Mike suggested waiting until we had more specifics on Ryan's condition. "Maybe it isn't so bad," he said. "Maybe Ryan will be safe in the hospital recovering and there is nothing we can do anyway if we go home. It can't be that bad that we can't hang here for a while. Maybe we shouldn't jump to conclusions."
But all I could do was tell Mike I was leaving. "You and Tyler can stay, but I will be on the first flight home." When he heard my voice, Mike quickly started packing too. He knew that even if Ryan was okay, I would need his support until we knew exactly what had happened and what we needed to do.
Mike took the lead in handling the logistics. After he'd spent an hour on the phone arranging for our tickets, we quickly packed, checked out, and headed for the airport. Then we began an agonizing twenty-four-hour journey on three separate flights—from Málaga to Madrid, from Madrid to Miami, and then a final flight home from Miami to Los Angeles. Each time we landed, I found a pay phone and called Debby. Each time I talked to her, I realized more and more that Ryan's life really was at stake.
The longest leg of the journey was the eight-hour flight across the Atlantic. Up to this point I was both numb and agitated, but I hadn't really absorbed the news. Now it began to sink in, and sitting still on that long flight got harder and harder. I felt impatient as time crept past.
Then I sat up straight. I know what I can do. I need to write. I need a pen and paper so I can write everything I'm feeling. And if I don't, I'm going to explode.
It took me a few frantic minutes to find a pen. Mike pulled some legal paperwork out of his briefcase, and I turned the pages over to write on the back. The words started pouring out and I wrote as fast as my shaky hand could write.
Trapped! It's a feeling of being trapped when you find out a child is hanging on the brink of life and death. Then to try to get to him, to be near him, tell him you love him, then to be on a plane, elbow to elbow with people who don't know and don't care and to spend hours and hours thinking he could have died and I wouldn't even know it—I'm doubly trapped! I want to scream and let the whole plane know I'M IN PAIN! I'M SCARED!
I thought hard about what Debby had said in one of our calls. She told me doctors were having a difficult time getting a CAT scan of Ryan's head to determine the extent of the damage. He was on life support, and doctors were afraid that switching him to a portable unit in order to get a CAT scan was just too risky. That fact alone told me a lot about his condition, and the farther we got across the Atlantic, the more I awoke to a real, live, lasting nightmare. I was beginning to understand Ryan's situation and I knew the nightmare would not be over in a week or even a month.
I want to get home desperately, but once I do, I know I'm going to dread seeing him. Please, God, let him look like Ryan. I don't know how I'll react, and it matters to me that I behave in a way that will help him and honor him. If he can hear me, I don't want to scare him with my tears. I want my voice to comfort him.
As the news continued to sink in, I felt claustrophobic and then became very irritated at the people on the plane with us. They seemed blissfully unaware of my pain, acting as if all was right with the world. I watched them eating their prepackaged airplane food and laughing at the movie. As if there was anything to laugh about on this particular day! I knew I wasn't making sense but I felt as if I was on the verge of screaming.
My thoughts raced.
I want to be strong for Jessi and Tyler but I feel like I may fall apart and cause them more trauma.
I think Mama is trying to be strong for me. She must want to scream and crumble too. I know how she adores Ryan.
And the men—I feel sorry for Doug and Mike and Daddy. There's so much pressure on them to maintain composure. The women are expected to weep in front of the whole world but the men try to wait until it's private. Is it really easier for them to stay optimistic?
And Ryan's fiancée. Kristen. What must she be going through? I feel a need to do and say the right thing for her. But what is that?
I wondered what had really happened. Was the sun in Ryan's eyes? Was that why he didn't see the skylight? Did he trip? Or did he think the surface was strong enough to bear his weight? I didn't know the details but my imagination stopped there. I couldn't allow myself to picture anything else.
I've given Ryan to God; I can imagine facing either a funeral or nursing Ryan back to health and then dealing with rehabilitation. But my absolute worst fear is serious brain damage. I've heard of brain damage where the patient has to relearn how to eat, talk, and walk. I can do that. But irreparable damage? I suppose I fear that the most.
* * *
My parents live only five minutes from UCLA Medical Center, so my mother got there just as the paramedics who had transported Ryan from his building to the hospital were coming out of the emergency room. Mama went up to one of them and said, "That was my grandson. How is he?"
All he said was, "Lady, don't get your hopes up."
At this point, I was still asleep in Spain and unaware that my son's body had been broken. But Mama knew this was the start of a battle, and being a fighter, she rose to the occasion. As she always has. Mama has prayed for Ryan and for the rest of our family every day for as long as I can remember.
Mama waited for the doctors to fill her in on Ryan's condition. When the report came, it was all bad news. Ryan's lungs had collapsed from the impact. It wasn't clear how long he had gone without sufficient oxygen. Doctors had removed his spleen, which had burst, and he was still bleeding internally. Ryan's skull was fractured, and his jaw was broken. They suspected a spinal cord injury in the cervical column, and on top of everything else, he had a couple of cracked ribs and other serious internal injuries.
The doctors made it clear that people in Ryan's condition don't usually make it. Mama immediately called my father to inform him the accident was serious. He came down right away to join her.
Mama has always loved Ryan as if he were her own son. And somehow, what the doctors said didn't instill any fear in her. As my mother tells it, although she had clearly heard the warnings of both the paramedic and the doctors, she heard an even louder voice coming from within. All those years of studying the Word of God, committing those words to memory, and storing them in her heart had made her ready to clearly hear the Lord in Ryan's situation.
Deep down in her being she heard and knew this: He will live and not die and declare the glory of God. Mama felt no fear, shed no tears, felt the peace that passes all understanding, and knew this Word was from God.
Those twelve words from Psalm 118:17 are the reason Mama didn't experience fear when I would have collapsed in panic. I often wonder if, in the divine plan, I was placed halfway around the world from Ryan while my mother was just five minutes away because the need of the moment wasn't fear, but faith.
My parents sat in the waiting room and prayed, resisting fear whenever it threatened to rise up within them. Calls went out to family and friends, and the waiting room quickly became a gathering place for those who loved Ryan. Then our family began to try to reach us by phone. The only people who had the phone number to our condo were relatives of Mike who'd been house-sitting for us, and they weren't answering the phone. Several hours later, someone tracked them down and I finally got that middle-of-the-night phone call.
Ryan received thirty-six pints of blood over the next several hours as the medical team worked to stop the internal bleeding caused by organs hemorrhaging from the traumatic impact of the fall. Stopping the bleeding and getting Ryan on a respirator were the highest priorities right then. Later I was told that Ryan's heart stopped twice during their efforts to save his life. All the while I slept peacefully on the other side of the world.
As we approached Miami, I was in shock and grieving, but for a few moments I had some clarity as I caught a small glimpse of the days, weeks, and months ahead of me. Once again, I poured my thoughts out on paper:
I've often thought that something absolutely awful is bound to happen in my life. It's been too easy, too perfect. I know people grow through trials and struggles and I haven't had hardly any. I've almost felt guilty about it. But I've also wondered if it just wasn't my turn.
If it is my turn to grow and do something for the cause of Christ, then all I ask is, God, show me how. Don't let this suffering be for no reason.
Excerpted from HEAVEN HEARS by LINDY BOONE MICHAELIS. Copyright © 2013 by Lindy Boone Michaelis. Excerpted by permission of TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC..
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