Friday, February 11, 2011

Another fantastic biopsy!

We have a lot to celebrate about since getting the results of Greg's most recent biopsy.  He had a rejection level of 1, but it was such a low 1 that it was nearly classified as a 0!  The wonderful thing about this is that his prednisone dose is finally below 10 mg/day which is a significant milestone.  He has to use a lot of caution (mask on, no crowds, no construction, no sick people...) but he's finally allowed to start venturing outside of our apartment!  It's hard to believe that its been nearly 4 months since he's been anywhere aside from our apartment or the hospital.  4 months!  And even before he was admitted to the hospital, he wasn't going many places because he was so sick.  We are really excited about this big step back to a more normal life for him!

His body is also doing a better job at keeping extra fluid off so his diuretic dose was decreased again, with the goal of him being completely off of it soon.  Additionally, he doesn't need to take iron anymore.  The doctors think that the iron may be contributing to him feeling so sick some mornings when he takes his medicine, and thankfully the blood tests showed that his hemoglobin is at a safe level again so we can get rid of the iron!  If his terrible nausea doesn't go away now that he's off the iron they'll start working to figure out what other meds could possibly be making him sick (there's a lot of them that they can't get rid of that they know have this side effect).  I know that Greg would really appreciate your prayers in this area.  Some mornings are really really awful for him.

He's still not allowed to drive himself for a few more weeks (until his sternum has fully healed) so we were going to go somewhere today while most people are at work and places are fairly empty.  However, he hasn't been feeling well since last night so we'll probably wait another day or so until he has some energy back.  The recovery process is a lot like that - he has really good days followed by really bad days (where he's tired, overwhelmed, and in lots of pain, or gets really sick from his meds.) but the bad days are getting fewer and fewer!

Since we've both been feeling a little stir-crazy on his good days, we started some mini home-improvement projects this week (painting some old furniture and such).  The amazing thing was watching Greg work up a sweat and get out of breath, with no fear of having a cardiac arrest!  He was moving around and doing things that he hasn't been physically able to do for years!  It is so wonderful to see him able to do more because of his wonderful new heart.  What a blessing!  He was absolutely exhausted afterward, but it's going to be so neat watching his stamina increase as he heals more and more.

At the end of the month he has a cardiopulmonary stress test and then he'll begin cardiac rehab, which will be 3x/week for 3 months.  The focus of this is to get his body and heart functioning better together (as the heart becomes more innervated) and helping Greg to increase strength and stamina, while getting to know his new heart!  It will be very challenging, and is intimidating for Greg to think about right now (he's barely been able to walk up a slight incline without having problems breathing for 2 years) and we'd appreciate your prayers as he prepares for this big step.

So that's our exciting update!  Thank you for continuing to pray for us throughout his recovery.  We are so grateful for all that God has done this year!


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Letter from Greg

One of our ministry partners suggested that we post the prayer letter (we send out a prayer letter each month to the amazing team of people that make our ministry- and life - possible) that Greg wrote recently on our blog.  Its the first time Greg has been able to write a letter in quite some time, and I was amazed when he said he felt up to it!  The letter focuses on his experience while in the hospital waiting for his new heart - it was encouraging for me to read and I hope it is for you too.

Quick update before the letter:  Greg continues to do well!  Yesterday was pretty momentous as he took his first walk outside!  We walked the length of our parking lot and though he was tired afterward he enjoyed being out in the fresh air!  His next biopsy will be a week from yesterday- we'll be sure to let you know the results when we get them.

Here's his letter:

Dear Ministry Team,

This is Greg writing – I survived! I've missed you and talking with you so much, and it's with great joy that I sit here writing my first post-transplant prayer letter! Your prayers have carried me through the "valley of the shadow of death", and God Almighty has given me life again! The joys, the struggles, the adventure – everything that God has laid before me - I'm being given another chance to live it. Life and breath with the ones you love is a sweet, sweet thing, and praise the name of Jesus Christ for His love and mercy and grace towards me! I'm a blessed man.

There's so much I want to catch you up on – and God willing, there will be time and more time to talk about and reflect on the miracle that's happened to me this winter. But for right now, as I was sitting down to write this letter, God put some very specific things on my heart that I'm supposed to share with you. Do you ever get that feeling, where the Holy Spirit is almost nudging you to do or say something? That's how I feel right now, so I want to make sure to use my first new-heart letter to say what He wants me to say. So here we go – please know how much Elise and I love you, and how extremely good it feels to being writing you once again:

All told I spent over two months in the hospital. While I was there, I watched a lot of people die, a lot of families lose someone they loved. It was hard, and sometimes scary. It seemed like every day there was a reminder of how fragile and precious a thing life really is.

I found myself reflecting a lot on one of Jesus' teachings: He said "Are not two sparrows bought and sold for a penny? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground (die) apart from the will of the Father." Jesus finished by saying "So don't be afraid, for you are worth more than many sparrows."

Just like He did in this passage, Jesus frequently employed a teaching device called "lesser to greater" - he would make a point about something small and insignificant, only to turn around and say "Hey, if this is true for something completely unimportant (like a sparrow), how much more so must it be true for bigger, more important, more precious things? (like you and me)".

Jesus used the sparrow passage to teach his disciples that they didn't need to fear when they saw death around them, and the reason they didn't need to fear is because God is the one in control of how long we'll stay in this life and when its time to go. The same goes for all of His creation – never ever has a sparrow or a mouse or a potato bug or even a blade of grass died except for when it was the exact instant that God willed it to die. There's reason and purpose behind everything, even suffering and death.

It became clear that I was supposed to be in the hospital for a reason. Day by day, often in weird ways, I'd make friends with other patients, family members, and nurses. Almost inevitably I would wind up in spiritual conversations with them, even if they weren't Christian (I imagine hospitals are a bit like being a chaplain in the army – you find yourself surrounded by people for whom life has come into focus very, very quickly). There was a huge Muslim family on the floor who lost not only the grandfather and patriarch of the family, but a daughter as well – two separate rooms, one in each of the third-floor units. The only ministry I could do was smile for them and cry with them (there was a huge language barrier), but I like to think that was one of the reasons God had my illness progress when He did.

I got tons of chances to share the Gospel with people as well. Some of my nurses, including Dee and Laura, were very receptive. There was a tech named Anna who had such a tender heart, and she shared her entire spiritual background with me and explained to me why she was afraid of church. I got to talk to her very plainly about the nature of grace and how Jesus' love for her could not be undone. There was the daughter of a dieing Ethiopian man named Lulada who would wander the floors at night when everyone but me and the nurses were asleep. Lulada's entire family was from Ethiopia and members of the Ethiopian Orthodox church – and she was looking for an expression of faith that made more sense to her. We spoke for hours on several occasions, and I got to share the Gospel with her, read the Bible to her, and give her a list of great free resources online that would help her grow in her faith. She even let me pray for her and her family the final night I saw her.

Possibly the most amazing development from my time in the hospital was that my psychiatrist asked me if he could use me as a masterclass for his fellows and students. Any time I wanted, he would bring psychiatrists-to-be to my room, and they would ask things like "What's your worldview?", "How does your faith factor into what you're going through?", and "Would you mind sharing your story with us of how you've come to believe as you do?". I must have shared my entire testimony, conversion story, and the Gospel with at least half a dozen psychiatrists (who are not usually the easiest group to reach, let me tell you.). Since my personal psychiatrist, Dr. Arun Gopal, was in attendance each time, I would vary the content, so that by the end of my stay he had gotten a very complete presentation of Christianity (which was exciting since he comes from a Hindu secularist worldview).

There's more that I can share at length another time - a patient named Helen who all but adopted me and Elise as her grandchildren, a PICC line technician who, despite hating Christianity, spent hours going back and forth with me about the faith (any time he was putting a line in me, I had a captive audience for about an hour)! We're friends now, and joke at each other when I see him around the hospital. The point is that God had a plan – I can see that now.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that even in the blackest times, God is at work in you, and Jesus is still mighty and full of love. I'd also add that even the darkest of times do pass – I was convinced I would die before I made it home, and I was wrong. Hope fled me, but God had other designs. Just like the sparrows, He has a very specific time when he plans to call me Home. Until then, I'm invincible – seriously, think of how many times in the last four years I should have died. I have no right to be alive, except that its not in His plan for me to go yet. And when that time comes, hopefully a long and happy life from now, it'll be the right time. Nobody falls to the ground apart from His will. And I've found that He can be trusted, and that peace can be found in this life, if we look for it in Him.

Both Elise and I love you very, very much.