Fighting for David: An Inspiring True Story of Stubborn Love, Faith, and Hope Beyond Reason

Fighting for David: An Inspiring True Story of Stubborn Love, Faith, and Hope Beyond Reason

by Leone Nunley, Dean Merrill


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781414309743
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Publication date: 02/28/2006
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.60(d)

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Fighting for David

A True Story of Stubborn Love, Faith, and Hope Beyond Reason


Copyright © 2006 Leone Nunley
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-4143-0974-0

Chapter One

The Sunday the Sun Went Dark

The images on our bedroom TV had me riveted. Throughout the winter of 2004 and early spring of 2005, the networks were playing and replaying footage of Terri Schiavo, the brain-injured Florida woman who had mysteriously collapsed fifteen years before and who now spent her days lying in an institutional bed while lawyers and judges debated the removal of her food and water.

Every time I watched the footage of Terri's mother, Mary Schindler, reaching down to caress her daughter, my heart would break. How many times had I leaned down to embrace my son David the very same way?

Seeing the pictures of Terri lying forlorn and without hope kicked my soul into overdrive. Didn't people understand that if you forsake someone in this condition, of course she would go downhill? I learned that Terri had received no therapy for more than a decade. She spent her days and nights in a darkened room. She had been, to use one observer's chilling term, "warehoused." How could she ever make progress under those conditions-feeding tube or not?

I suddenly knew what I had to do. I had to get in touch with Terri's family. I had to let themknow about David. I had to tell them that there was hope.

* * *

Like the Schindlers, our lives had been shattered by a phone call. There was no hint of the upheaval to come that sparkling October morning, as the blue-green waters slapped gently onto Kamaole Beach just across the road from our second-floor apartment. The temperature was a balmy seventy-five degrees, headed for a high in the mideighties, even as our families back on the mainland were raking leaves and preparing for the winter of 1989. Here on the island of Maui, I expected just another normal day in paradise.

Actually, I hadn't had time to look out the window at the ocean beauty yet; I was too busy getting myself and the rest of the family ready to leave for church. Dale, my husband, had made coffee early, as he always did. Bill, fifteen, and Steve, our seven-year-old, had each grabbed a bowl of cereal.

I stepped into my short-sleeved dress and did a hurried makeup job on my face. "Are you guys ready yet?" I called from the bedroom as I checked the mirror again.

"Sure, Mom-what about you?" Bill hollered back.

"Okay, let's get moving," Dale's baritone voice announced. "It's almost 10:30."

We stepped out onto the landing, and Dale locked the front door. Across the way, we could see slant-walled condos in various stages of completion; my husband was the construction manager for this development of three hundred units, which is why we were living here for a year instead of back in our hometown of Yakima, in central Washington. The sun shone brilliantly on the palm trees that swayed above the barbecue pits.

We turned toward the stairs ... when, through the open window, we heard the phone ring.

"Don't answer it," somebody said. "We're going to be late."

But being the compulsive mother I am, I just couldn't walk away. "Oh, it's probably David," I said, unlocking the door. My twenty-one-year-old son, now a junior at Washington State University, had called the evening before. We'd had a pleasant conversation, eventually getting around to the subject of how much he'd charged on his credit card (really neat gifts for his girlfriend, you understand). He wondered if I could help him out with some extra cash.

We had talked about how much money he had in mind, and in the end I had made no promises. "Well, just hang in there, Dave-I'm flying back home next Tuesday for Grandpa and Grandma's fiftieth wedding anniversary party. We can talk about it then."

"Okay, Mom," he had replied. "I'll call you again tomorrow though. Bye-I love you!"

"I love you, too, Son."

Now on Sunday morning, I reached for the phone, expecting to hear his cheerful greeting. But it was not David.

An unfamiliar male voice said, "Hello, I'm calling for Leone Nunley. Would that be you?"


With serious professionalism, the man continued, "I'm Dr. T.W. Hill calling from Lewiston, Idaho; I'm a neurosurgeon here at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center. We have a David McRae here-is that your son?"

"Yes! What's wrong?!" I cried.

"Apparently he was in a major motorcycle accident this morning just north of town. He has sustained a life-threatening head injury. We're doing the best we can to stabilize him, but I have to say he's not stable at the present moment. You need to get here as soon as possible. In fact, I really can't guarantee that he will make it until you get here."

"Nooooo! Nooooo!" I wailed as I crumpled to my knees on the hallway floor. "Oh, no ... my David!" I sobbed.

"I'm very sorry," Dr. Hill replied. "Can you fly here immediately?"

"Yes ... I ... what ... I ..." My words were slipping into incoherence. That stupid motorcycle! I hadn't wanted him to buy it in the first place. But he had given me the typical "Aw, Mom, I'll be careful" speech that thousands of mothers have heard over the years.

I caught my breath enough to ask the doctor a follow-up question: "Does he have any other injuries? Any broken bones?"

"No, apparently not," he explained. "He had dressed pretty warmly for the ride down from Pullman [thirty miles north, where the university is] since it's getting chilly here. Several layers. That protected his limbs, so he has only a couple of abrasions. He was wearing his helmet, which was cracked from the impact of his landing on his head. All the damage is inside the cranium. That's our major problem."

Once again I shuddered with a fresh flow of tears. My son! I could hardly catch my breath. The blood began pounding in my ears.

"Well, I'll get there as soon as I can," I pledged, and with that, the conversation ended.

I turned around to see the stricken faces of my husband and the boys staring at me from the kitchen. Dale rushed to my side and helped me stand up. "What happened?" everybody asked at once.

"David had an accident on his motorcycle, and he's in critical condition!" I could barely get the words out. "That was a doctor from Lewiston, Idaho. He doesn't even know if David will last until we get there." I fell onto Dale's shoulder and shook with grief.

They wanted more details, of course, but I had few to offer. I looked at my husband through flooded eyes, pleading with him to take charge, to tell me what to do next.

He thought for a moment, then turned to Bill and said, "Take your little brother across to the beach for a while. Your mother and I need to talk."

With that, the boys disappeared.

"What all did he hurt?" Dale asked, trying to gather facts. His eyes were soft and caring.

"His head!" I cried. "He has a horrible head injury. Oh, what are we going to do? He should have had the Buick up there at college!" I was referring to the family sedan we'd left behind in Yakima.

Dale didn't bother pointing out that a twenty-one-year-old would hardly go to college driving a bulky Buick. Instead, a heavy sigh escaped Dale's lips as his mind laid strategy. "You go start packing," he ordered, "and I'll call the airlines."

At that moment, neither one of us had an accurate sense of the time difference between Hawaii and the mainland. It was already early afternoon in Washington and the panhandle of Idaho, which were three time zones ahead of us in Hawaii. For Dr. Hill even to find us had been an ordeal; all that was known in the beginning, from the wallet in David's back pocket, was that he was from Yakima. A phone call to the Yakima police chaplain proved fortuitous, in that he was a member of West Side Baptist Church where we had also attended. He immediately knew we were in Hawaii for this construction job, and he knew how to reach Bud, the oldest of my boys. From there the contact information flowed back to Lewiston, until Dr. Hill dialed our number.

I packed in a frenzy, not even thinking about how my Hawaii wardrobe would leave me shivering in northern Idaho's fall weather. I didn't notice when the two boys came back from the beach. Within minutes Dale and I were ready to head for the small airport at Lahaina, some eighteen miles away, which in those days still had commuter flights to Honolulu International Airport. A neighbor volunteered to drive us.

"You guys just stay here," Dale instructed Bill and Steve as he picked up my suitcase. "I'll be back in an hour or so after I get Mom on the plane."

We went screeching around the curves of the ocean-side highway at breakneck speeds. To be honest, I can't remember there being much conversation in the car. My mind was a blur of anguish, unanswered questions, and worry. How could this have happened to David? He'd been every parent's dream for a son.

At the airport, we raced inside. Dale went to the desk and got my first ticket, while I hurried to a pay phone and called both our mothers in Portland, Oregon, hysterically passing along the news. Within minutes I kissed Dale good-bye and found my seat on the little four-engine prop that would make the twenty-minute trip to Honolulu.

While we were waiting for the plane to move away from the terminal and head for the runway, a young airline employee ran out to give me a message. Crouching down beside my seat, he said in a low voice, "They just got another update on your son. He's somewhat stabilized now."

"Oh, thank you!" I cried. I had no idea how this message had been passed along to reach me, but I was glad for any glimmer of good news.

He had no sooner walked away, however, when a new panic struck me. Once I get to Honolulu, I don't have any tickets for the rest of the way! I'll be stranded there! In a flash, I jumped up, grabbed my purse, and dashed up the aisle. Just before they closed the door, I flew down the steps and back into the terminal.

"Dale! I don't have any tickets!" I shouted. This was before the days of electronic ticketing, and without a piece of paper in my hand, I knew I'd be stuck.

My husband rolled his eyes, then took my shoulders in his big, calloused hands and controlled himself enough to reply, "Leone-I already told you that I got your tickets all lined up on the phone. They'll be waiting for you at the main desk once you get to Honolulu. Get back on that plane!"

Somehow I hadn't heard that instruction. We whirled around-and to our dismay, saw out the window that the propellers were already moving. I had sabotaged the whole schedule.

"Honey-I'm sorry! I should have known you would have it all figured out. What do we do now?"

We scurried back to the ticket counter and explained our predicament. The airline agents, who were aware of our crisis, quickly rebooked me on the next hop to Honolulu, which would leave in another half hour or so. Dale used the intervening minutes to review with me again my itinerary and how to accomplish it. Soon it was time to say good-bye.

"I'll see if they'll let me use that ticket you already bought for next Tuesday, just changing the name," he explained. "If that works, I'll see you by the middle of the week. I'll ask the Nazzises [our neighbors] if they'll look in on Billy and Steve while I'm gone. Be sure and tell David I love him." We hugged each other, and soon I was in the air.

* * *

I stared at the itinerary in my hand and realized that my stupidity in running off of the first flight was going to cost me my connection in Honolulu. The big plane to the mainland would already have left by the time I landed.

But when I entered the terminal, the monitor said the flight to Seattle was running an hour late. It hadn't left after all. I breathed a sigh of relief as I headed for the counter to get the ticket that Dale had promised would be there.

And finally I was seated in the Hawaiian Airlines jumbo jet awaiting takeoff. I slumped down in my seat. I felt the adrenaline start to drain out of me, even though I was far from calm. What were they doing for David by now? I wondered. Was he any better? Would a hospital in a town that size be big enough to handle his crisis? But the doctor on the phone had sounded really competent. How did they fix a brain injury, anyway? I had no idea.

Five and a half hours is an excruciatingly long time to sit on an airplane with nothing to do while your son is close to death. I couldn't sleep; I had no interest in talking to other people or watching the movie; I wasn't even interested in the meal service. I could only stare out at the vast Pacific Ocean as the engines droned on and on ... thinking, wondering, and remembering.

David was the third of my five sons, in many ways the easiest of them all to raise. Not that he was docile; in fact, he was a bouncy kid-always on the go, a ball of energy, and nearly always happy. He made good grades in school; he had been honored at the end of high school for academic excellence in science. But he had given just as much energy to sports, playing football until he tore a groin muscle and then turning to wrestling. During our earlier stint in Hawaii (again, for job reasons), back when David was a high school sophomore, he was the state runner-up in the 146-pound class. All the Hawaiian and Samoan guys on the team loved him, even if he was a haole, their term for a Caucasian.

He made just as many friends back at East Valley High School in Yakima the next year. Kids loved hearing about his practical jokes. One time he hid behind a dumpster until the principal, Gary Erb, came walking by. Suddenly an eerie, unseen voice called out, "GAAAARRRRRRRYYY!" The principal never did figure out where it was coming from. The rest of us, however, just roared when David told the story.

After the school day ended, he worked at JCPenney, where I was an interior designer. He absolutely loved chasing down shoplifters, running after them all the way to their cars. To him, it was great fun. His pranks at work were legendary. One time he propped up a mannequin behind the door of the package pickup department especially for the benefit of June, a woman in her sixties who worked there. When she came in, the mannequin absolutely scared her to death. She went straight to the manager to complain that "David McRae just about took the life out of me!" Everybody else thought it was hilarious.

One night just after closing time, David picked up the paging microphone at the switchboard desk and launched into an impromptu rap-not thinking about the fact that a few straggling customers might still be in the store. Again, no harm was done, even if he was slightly embarrassed.

He kept working at Penney's all through his two years at Yakima Valley Community College, where he made the dean's list. I thought back to our last night together the previous summer, just before we headed to Hawaii and he left for Washington State as a junior to study physical therapy. I was still racing around the house getting it ready for the renters when he finally got home from work around ten o'clock. "Hey, Mom-what can I do to help you?" he said. I put him to work cleaning toilets.

Halfway up the stairs, he leaned across the railing to say almost in wonderment, "You know what? I'm going to be out on my own starting tomorrow!"

"That's right, David," I answered with a catch in my throat. "You'll be off to college, and we'll be far away in Hawaii. Whatever gets done, you'll be doing it." Both of us let that sink in for a moment.

And now, just three months later ... he wasn't moving a muscle there in the ICU. No smile crossed his face, no laugh escaped his lips. Could he even sense pain? Was he still breathing? The cloud of unknowns was driving me crazy. Was he able to pray? Would he have any sense of the Lord being there beside him, though I was not?

David's love for God was up-front and obvious to anyone who knew him at all. But not in a boisterous way. When he said things like, "You know what-I'm sure of where I'm going when I die," people actually believed him. They would sometimes ask him how he knew, and he would answer all about heaven and the way to get there, with utmost sincerity. He could talk about his faith naturally and openly.

Even those who disagreed with his beliefs or moral positions found him likable. The high school teacher who nominated him for the science award certainly didn't see eye to eye with him on some issues, but David's faith was not obnoxious or judgmental.


Excerpted from Fighting for David by LEONE NUNLEY DEAN MERRILL Copyright ©2006 by Leone Nunley. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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