You've Got Mail

For where two to three come together in my name, there am I with them.
Matthew 18:20 NIV

 

In this age of high-tech communication with a click of a mouse or the dial of a cell phone, we can connect instantaneously across the street or across the ocean.  For two months in the winter of 2001, a group of strangers were connecting daily in thoughts and prayers reaching across continents thanks to computer screens and a loving Aunt Trish.

The story resulting in the email connections was heartbreaking.  It is the story of Dan, my nephew and son of my sister-in-law.  He was twenty-five years old, a graduate from Johnson County Community College Culinary School, completing his second year in Zurich, Switzerland as an apprentice chef.  Dan loved his dream job in Switzerland and was in the process of trying to extend his work visa for a third year.  One winter afternoon Dan was out with some friends and talking via cell phone to his dad in Kansas. He was sharing his stories and enthusiasm … walking and talking … suddenly, in mid-sentence the inter-continental call was cut off.  The next time his parent’s phone rang was an hour later.  A young woman tearfully and frantically tried to relay an alarming account in broken English to a shocked family on the other side of the ocean.  The tale was pieced together: while talking, Dan stepped off the curb to catch up with his friends already across the street; he didn’t notice the trolley fast approaching.  He was hit in the head where he held the phone to his ear.  The impact was hard and Dan was rushed to the hospital with severe head injuries.

His parents and two older brothers booked the next flight to Zurich.  After their arrival at the hospital, calls were made to close family.  Dan’s dad tearfully relayed the shocking sight of his body curled in a fetal position on the hospital bed, hooked up to countless tubes that monitored and controlled all his bodily functions.  Dan teetered between life and death.  In such a deep coma, his dad feared the next level ... death.

The connection between Switzerland and family started with daily calls to Aunt Trish in the United States who took on the responsibility to email other family and friends on Dan’s status.

The group was small at first.  Trish relayed all the medical jargon the best she could.  After the first week Dan was still hanging on, but his brain was too swollen for the doctors to know what his chances for survival were.  They were not encouraging the family to believe that Dan would return to life as he knew it.

The email group grew from the initial ten to over 100 by the end of the first month.  Although Dan remained in a coma, every morning we received our emails from Trish filled with progress reports and her faith that Dan was going to survive.  Every email ended with a prayer of God’s grace for Dan and his family.  People started forwarding the emails to their friends and family.  Church members took the prayer concerns to their prayer groups.  Blue Valley Christian Church became part of the circle of prayers.  Trish referred to all of us as “Daniel’s army.”  In less than two months that army of prayers had grown into the thousands.

One March morning Dan opened his eyes for the first time and the prayers became praise for God’s glory.  He had to relearn how to eat, walk, and talk.  His recovery was slow but it was miraculous in the eyes and hearts of his “army” and to the hospital staff.   Thanks to the evolution of “you’ve got mail,” it was a miracle of prayer for thousands to witness!

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It has been nearly ten years since the accident.  Dan’s life changed because of it.  Part of his skull was removed on two occasions to make room for the swelling that occurred.  A slight depression remains, even after the removed pieces were replaced.  He can’t hear out of the ear where he was hit by the tram and he has difficulty remembering words at times.  He had to change career paths.  Because of the accident, he realized that the pace and stress experienced in commercial kitchens would be too difficult for him.  Although going to college again was not an easy task, he worked hard to reeducate himself in professional photography at the Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, CA.  He is now hoping for a career to develop in that field.

Dan posted the following to his friends and family on Facebook, January 21, 2011, the anniversary of his accident:  A decade to the day, I pledge my thanks to all of those who helped me. In four short hours I will silently give my thanks to you from my heart. Thanks for holding me in your prayers during my most fragile time.

Dan and his family are going to Zurich in a few short weeks.  They are returning to the hospital to say thank you to the medical people who helped bring him back to life and to the community of people that took in their family and showed them love when they needed it the most.  It will be a celebration of life and of the miracle of prayer.

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