“Everything is okay, but Matt has had an accident….”
My husband David and I had flown from Cody, Wyoming, where we currently live, to Austin, Texas for business on the day of Thursday, February 23, 2017. We would be going to San Antonio, Texas the next day to be with our daughter Rebekah, her husband Doug, and his parents for the weekend for the baby blessing in church of their fourth child, Camden. We had finished dinner and were just going into a movie when Matt called. We had a fun conversation with him for several minutes and then told him goodbye. Back at the hotel later that night, my phone rang. It was Rebekah. I knew immediately that something must be wrong because there was no need for her to be calling me that late at night when I’d be seeing her the next day. She started the conversation with, “Everything is okay, but Matt has had an accident….”
Rebekah had learned about Matt’s accident from a friend of someone who had been at a basketball game with Matt. We called Matt as soon as we got off the phone with Rebekah, and he told us what happened. He said he had been playing an intramural game at BYU-Idaho and was running to save the basketball from going out of bounds. As he almost hit the curtain dividing the basketball courts, he jumped up with both feet against the curtain hoping to push himself back onto the court and continue the game. Instead, the curtain gave way and Matt was flipped back on to his head and was knocked out. An ambulance was called, and Matt was taken to the emergency room.
That was the beginning of a tragedy that would change our family’s life forever.
Matt was examined at the Rexburg hospital, and the first CT scan was normal, so he was told to go back to his apartment and sleep. I called Matt every few hours during the night to make sure he was okay, and he would wake up and talk to me, so I felt somewhat relieved. However, the next afternoon he started vomiting and was incoherent, so I asked his roommate, Austin, to take him back to the emergency room. I called the emergency room and talked to the nurse and she told me Matt was very sick. I asked if Matt could be kept overnight for observation or have the CT scan repeated since he was so sick. I was told that they didn’t do that for concussions. Matt was given shots for pain and nausea and told once again to go home and sleep, so Austin took him back to their apartment.
Sensing immediately that Matt needed more observation than his roommates could give him, I finally reached his local ecclesiastical leader, Bishop Terry Roe. I told him that I was going to come to Rexburg as soon as I could get there and asked if there were a home where Matt could stay with a “mother” to look after him until I arrived. He immediately drove to Rexburg and picked up Matt and brought him to his own home in Idaho Falls where he and his wife, Debie, took care of him.
I called Matt on Saturday and talked to him for a few minutes and told him I was coming to be with him. He answered all the questions I asked him, but his speech was slower than normal, and I felt very concerned. I called and talked to Debie about Matt’s condition. She said that Matt had eaten some food and had been talking to her and to her husband during the day, but they had concerns for him also. I called the Rexburg emergency room again, talked to a different nurse about Matt’s condition, and told her I was on my way to be with him. After reviewing his medical record, she advised me that if I had any concerns whatsoever when I saw him that I should take him to the emergency room at the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls because they had a neurosurgeon on staff who could observe him.
While I was concerned for Matt, there was a part of me that thought by the time I arrived in Idaho Falls he would be fine. I could imagine him telling me that I shouldn’t have cut my Texas trip short to come and be with him. But another part of me kept saying that I needed to be with him so I could help him for a few days while he recovered from his concussion. However, I was completely shocked and totally unprepared for the terrifying reality of seeing him for the first time. This was not anything I had expected.
When I arrived in Idaho Falls at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Debie picked me up and drove me to her house. During the thirty minutes that she was gone to get me, Matt’s condition had worsened. When I walked into the living room at the Roe’s home, he was sitting on the couch staring blankly at the television. I said hello to him, but he didn’t look at me or respond in any way. He just had a glazed look in his eyes and wouldn’t say a word. Debie and I immediately put him into her car and drove him to the EIRMC emergency room in Idaho Falls.
"Either I do brain surgery right now or your son will be dead tonight.”
When the emergency room team saw his condition, they went into action. They quickly did a CT scan, which showed some old dried blood and fresh bleeding. The neurosurgeon was called immediately. The emergency room doctor told me that sometimes the blood could be reabsorbed into the brain, but other times brain surgery would be necessary.
As I looked at Matt lying so helpless and still on the emergency room bed, I felt in my heart that he was dying. I kissed him several times on the forehead and stroked his hair as I thought to myself, “This is not the way I expected Matt’s life to end.” I was not overcome with sorrow, but I was overcome with gratitude. I felt grateful that I had been able to be Matt’s mom for twenty-four years. I felt grateful that I was having a chance to have a few minutes to say good bye to him—unlike when my son Jonathan died seven years earlier. I felt grateful that I was at a point in my life where I could honestly say to my Heavenly Father, “Thy will be done.” All I could feel was willing acceptance. I started thinking about where we should bury Matt. Should we bury him next to his brother, Jonathan, in Boise where we were living when Jonathan died, or should we bury him in the Powell cemetery near Cody, Wyoming, next to his Aunt Linda?
When the neurosurgeon arrived, he quickly looked at the CT Scan with me and said very seriously and emphatically, “You have no option. Either I do brain surgery right now or your son will be dead tonight.”
I immediately signed the necessary paperwork.
I called David, who was still in San Antonio, and told him what was happening with Matt. Rebekah’s husband Doug had many family members that lived in Idaho Falls, so Doug immediately called his brother-in-law, Bryce, and asked if he would come to the emergency room and give Matt a Priesthood blessing. I’ve always taken comfort in the scripture in the New Testament which says, “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14). I have always had great faith in the power of Priesthood blessings. The previous Sunday at church, I had taught my class of eight-year-olds a lesson about the restoration of the Priesthood to the earth. Little did I know that I would be in such desperate need for Priesthood power by the end of the week.
Bryce, who is an elder in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and holds the Melchizedek Priesthood was there in a few minutes along with his home teaching companion, Chris, who was also an elder in the church. Bryce was good friends with Matt, and he was visibly shaken as he entered the room. His companion anointed Matt’s head with the holy consecrated oil, and then they both placed their hands on Matt’s head. Bryce began the blessing under the authority of the holy Melchizedek Priesthood and gently said, “Matt, this blessing is given to you with love. The love of your Heavenly Father, your Savior, and my love.” Then there was a long pause. As I waited for Bryce to continue, I thought to myself, “This blessing is going to be one of releasing Matt to pass on to the other side of the veil in peace.” Once again, I felt complete acceptance. Then, to my surprise, Bryce slowly began speaking again and continued the blessing with these words, “Matt, you’re going to be okay. Matt, you’re going to be okay. I bless you that you will be completely healed and be whole once again.”
Immediately, all my thoughts of Matt dying were completely swept out of my mind, and I was filled with immense peace and radiant light. I knew Matthew was going to be healed. I had been willing to accept God’s will if it had been Matt’s time to end his earth life experience, but how glorious it was to know that it was God’s will for him to live! My challenge now was to have perfect faith that Matt would be healed. I knew it was going to take a miracle.
I often read and pondered the scripture in the Book of Mormon, “For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith” (Ether 12:12).
I always had the desire to live my life in such a way that if I ever needed a miracle for myself or a loved one that I would feel worthy to go to God and ask for what I needed in complete faith. I’ve always trusted in the scripture from the New Testament that boldly states, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed” (James 1: 5-6).
Perfect faith does not waver. Perfect faith does not doubt. Perfect faith does not fear. Perfect faith believes. I wanted perfect faith.
Before Matt left the emergency room to be taken up for surgery, the neurosurgeon somberly said to me, “You need to understand that I am trying to save your son’s life tonight. I cannot make any promises as to what your son will be like after the surgery. He may not be the same person that he was.”
I nodded my head. I understood what he was saying to me intellectually, but spiritually I knew in my heart that Matt would be completely healed someday.
As Matt was wheeled up to the operating room, the emergency room doctor came up to me, asked how I was doing, and then said, “You appear to be doing very well.” I knew I was in shock, but I heard myself say to him, “I have been through many hard experiences in my life that have prepared me for this moment, and I know God will be with us.”
Because I have studied and pondered deeply the last several months about how to have perfect faith in other areas of my life, I suddenly realized that I’d been tutored by the Lord in preparation for Matt’s accident. A few weeks ago, this spiritual thought had come into my mind, “Faith wears a happy smile and a cheerful countenance.” While Matt was in surgery, I would shed a few tears from time to time, but I remembered this spiritual thought and knew I had to show the Lord I believed by being of good cheer and staying positive and hopeful.
Earlier that evening, when we were in the emergency room, whenever I had to leave Matt to talk to doctors, sign paperwork, or make phone calls to my family, Debie had stayed by Matt’s side and held his hand the entire time. Then she continued to stay with me during Matt’s surgery. She called Bishop Roe who was at a church meeting in Rexburg, and he along with Matt’s Elder’s Quorum President, Andrew, quickly came to the hospital. They, along with Bryce and Chris, all stayed with me during the almost three hours of Matt’s brain surgery. I was being comforted and sustained by five total strangers who became my eternal friends and guardian angels during those first few hours until my sweet family started arriving—first Michelle from Logan, Utah, soon followed by Angela from Salt Lake City, Utah, and then Andrew from Boise, Idaho.
After the surgery, the neurosurgeon looked relieved and seemed a little more hopeful for Matt, but he was still concerned about the amount of brain tissue that had to be removed from his left frontal lobe, which was the size of a small orange or handball. He said his goal was for Matt to be as coherent as when he came into the emergency room, which meant he would be able to be woken up and say his name and birthdate.
The Family Gathers
I am grateful for our family’s “first responders” who surrounded Matt’s bedside in the ICU with me that first night after his surgery, Michelle, Angela, and Andrew, who had all driven as fast as they could from out-of-state to be with him. None of them wanted to leave his side that night, but I finally convinced them at 3 a.m. to go to the Roe’s home and get a few hours of sleep. The next day, Ben, David, and Kat arrived.
All day Sunday as I sat by Matt’s bedside in the ICU along with the rest of the family, these words kept coming into my mind, “Matt will be back. Matt will be back. Matt will be back.” I knew the Lord was reconfirming to me in simple words the Priesthood blessing of healing that Matt had received the night before. I knew Matthew would be healed someday. The surprise was how fast it started happening. No one could have predicted the speed of his recovery.
Although it was totally unexpected, Matt first woke up thirty minutes after the nurse stopped his medicine to keep him sedated. He looked me in the eyes, gave my hand a squeeze, and then fell back asleep. The nurse had warned me that it might take up to five days for a patient to fully wake up and not be agitated. Later that day, Andrew and Ben got Matt to communicate with them by asking him to blink his eyes to answer their questions and eventually had him slightly smiling and soundlessly laughing as they told him jokes. When Michelle, Angela, and Kat sat by Matt’s bedside crying, Angela tried to explain to Matt that they were crying “happy tears” because they were so happy to be with him. Angela then asked Matt how he was feeling, and he whispered his first words, “I’m happy.”
The doctors and nurses couldn’t believe Matt was already talking the first day after his brain surgery. This was not expected to happen for days or weeks—if ever. The miracle had begun.
Matt was continually surrounded by our children, David, and me as we all spent our days with Matt and took turns doing the “night shift” to help him on his road to recovery. Michelle, Angela, and Kat stayed with Matt for nine days. Although Andrew and Ben had to leave sooner to go back to work, they came back again and brought their families up on weekends. Kat’s husband Justin also brought their children up on weekends. Most of our other family members, all those who could possibly do so, continued to gather from around the country—Rebekah and her husband Doug and their children from Texas, Elizabeth from New Hampshire, and Annie and her son Parker from Mississippi—as everyone wanted to be with Matt and take turns in our crusade to help him in his long-term recovery. His cousins, Camille and Adam and his wife Savannah, came to visit Matt at the hospital, and my sister Laurie came to visit him at the Roe’s home. We felt so blessed to be surrounded by family.
David was a rock during these long days and weeks of Matt’s recovery. His fatherly kindness, strength, wisdom, faith, and cheerfulness was not only a blessing to Matt, but to our whole family. While he had to continue doing business outside of Matt’s hospital room, he was always there to help Matt in any way that he could. From his fervent pleadings with the Lord to spare Matt’s life while he was still down in Texas, to his continued pleadings for Matt’s complete healing as he went back and forth to Cody, David never looked back or wavered in his desire to do everything in his power to help Matt achieve a full recovery.
Thousands of family members, friends, casual acquaintances, and even strangers joined us in pleading with the Lord for Matthew’s healing, and we have felt uplifted by their concern, faith, and fervent prayers. God heard everyone’s combined prayers, and we have all been witnesses to a modern-day miracle. Matt has gone through all the steps of recovery but at “lightning speed” as one occupational therapist put it. Instead of taking days to recover in certain areas, Matt’s recovery in the hospital happened in hours—right before our eyes. Matt was discharged from the hospital twelve days after his emergency brain surgery. He is healthy and strong and his brain is healing. With outpatient therapy to help him with his cognitive thinking and speaking skills for several weeks after leaving the hospital, he went to go back to school on April 17 after being withdrawn from the previous semester at BYU-I and finished the semester strong with good grades.
Matt’s doctor on the rehabilitation unit said that Matt was their “prized patient.” Matt was completely cooperative with the nurses, doctor, and therapists on the floor, and I believe his naturally obedient spirit and respect for authority helped accelerate his recovery. He would do everything that was asked of him immediately—beginning on his first day in the ICU, the 3rd floor surgical unit, and the 6th floor rehabilitation unit. Matt ate his meals with the other patients (70+ years old) and was friendly to all of them as he told funny stories to make them laugh. Before leaving the hospital, Matt went around and said goodbye to all his new “friends.” Matt was not the typical patient recovering from brain surgery.
I’m grateful for the books and literature about recovery from traumatic brain injuries that I’ve read since my oldest daughter’s near-fatal car accident and TBI twelve years ago. I now better understood how the brain can be “re-wired” and this knowledge, in addition to my faith, keeps me focused on how Matt can achieve a full recovery and complete healing.
Our family will never be the same since Matt’s accident. I don’t think we will ever take each other for granted again. I believe we will all be a little kinder, a little more expressive in showing our love, and a little more forgiving of each other’s faults and weaknesses. All of this is “because we are a family.”
During a different family crisis in 1989, I wrote a song by that name. We have sung it on many occasions, including when we sat in the waiting room of a Boise hospital after our oldest daughter’s car accident. We sang it again as a family in the Idaho Falls hospital after Matt’s brain surgery. David and I are continually strengthened by our family, and we cherish each of our eleven beautiful children, their spouses, and our grandchildren with the loyalty, love, and laughter that lifts us up and binds us together.
Because We Are a Family
Because we are a family,
During good times or the bad,
We’ll be here when you’re happy,
And we’ll be here when you’re sad.
And when you feel you’re all alone
And don’t know which way to go—
Remember that we’re with you
And that our love will always grow.
Because we are a family,
We cannot forget
The times we’ve shared together,
And the times that we’ll share yet.
So as you go from day to day,
You must understand
That in good times or in bad times
We hold each other’s hands—
Because we are a family.
So when we face adversity,
We will not despair.
We’ll be strong for each other
And show how much we care—
Because we are a family.
Because we are a family.
Because we are a family.
My only desire was to know through the Spirit how we as Matt’s family and friends, along with his professional team, could help him achieve a full recovery. I know that “faith without works is dead” (New Testament, James 2:20). I am inspired by Gordon B. Hinckley’s lesson, Go Forward with Faith and the following words:
"If there is any one thing that you and I need, it is the kind of faith that moves us to get on our knees and plead with the Lord for guidance, and then, having a measure of divine confidence, get on our feet and go to work to help bring the desired results to pass.
I am grateful that I’ve had my testimony strengthened regarding Jesus Christ’s power to heal the body, heart, mind, and spirit by watching the Bible Videos time after time the last several months. I truly believe in miracles.
Another beautiful resource that has strengthened my testimony of miracles is the song The Miracle by Shawna Belt Edwards. As I memorized the words to this song several months ago, I gained a stronger testimony of Jesus Christ’s miraculous healing power not only for others, but also for myself.
Jesus walked upon the water
He stilled the storm and calmed the angry sea,
With His hands, he healed the leper,
He made the lame to walk the blind to see.
He fed a thousand people with a loaf or two of bread.
And when the ruler’s daughter died,
He raised her from the dead.
Jesus is a God of miracles,
Nothing is at all impossible to Him,
But I know this:
Of all his miracles, the most incredible
Must be the miracle that rescues me!
Jesus bled and died to save me,
A price that I could never pay alone,
When he rose again he gave me,
The greatest gift the world has ever known!
Yes, I can be forgiven every time that I repent
And someday He will lift me up
To lift with him again.
Jesus is a God of miracles,
Nothing is at all impossible to Him,
But I know this:
Of all his miracles, the most incredible
Must be the miracle that rescues me!
The miracle that rescues you and me!
I Was a Stranger, and Ye Took Me In
Part of the miracle that was being brought to pass in the lives of Matthew and our whole family was the Christ-like service being shown to us by Bishop Terry Roe and his wife Debie. They opened up their home to our family, and with the help of their son Taylor, prepared meals for us, made sleeping arrangements for everyone (one weekend we had twenty-three family members in their home) and made us feel like we were part of their family. This scripture came repeatedly into my mind, “I was a stranger, and ye took me in” (Matthew 25:35). Bishop Roe came to visit Matt every day at the hospital, even though as an accountant, this was the busiest time of the year for him. He also prepared the Sacrament for our family’s Sunday worship service in the hospital. The Roe family extended their invitation for us to stay with them while Matt did his outpatient therapy for several weeks. They continually cared for me so I would have the strength to care for Matthew. It was amazing to see their genuine, Christ-like service in action as they responded without hesitation to deal with an emergency situation, which originally was just to care for Matt for one night, but it turned into a much longer-term need than any of us anticipated—almost two months.
I am also grateful for all of Matt’s roommates, Austin, Zach, Josh, Andrew, and Joe, who came often to visit and for the steady stream of other friends and acquaintances who drove to Idaho Falls to spend time with Matt, lift his spirits, and patiently listen to him as he would slowly choose the words he wanted to say. It was good to hear Matt’s happy laugh again when he was cheerfully surrounded by so many wonderful people.
The morning after Matt was discharged from the hospital, I knelt in prayer to thank my Father in Heaven for Matt’s miraculous recovery. My words all seemed so completely inadequate. Finally, I asked this question to the Lord, “How do I really express gratitude to Thee for saving my son’s life?”
Quickly an inspirational answer came into my mind, “Love others and help save their spiritual lives.”
This personal revelation I will accept as my new mission and calling.
“How could something so bad happen to someone so good?”
Matt has always been loved and admired by many people throughout his life because he is such a loving, kind, friendly person. A few people have asked me this heart-felt question, “How could something so bad happen to someone so good?” I recently came across a quote that answers this question eloquently:
“… Jesus has chosen, even in a resurrected, otherwise perfected body, to retain for the benefit of His disciples the wounds in His hands and in His feet and in His side—signs, if you will, that painful things happen even to the pure and the perfect; signs, if you will, that pain in this world is not evidence that God doesn’t love you; signs, if you will, that problems pass and happiness can be ours” (Teaching, Preaching, Healing by Jeffrey R. Holland).
Recently, a scripture came to my mind from the New Testament as I thought about why Matt’s accident happened:
And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him (John 9:1-3).
I know we won’t really understand until the next life why Matt’s life took this sudden change in direction, but I do know for a surety that “the works of God should be made manifest in him” is true. “The works of God” are taking place right now.
Matt had his follow-up appointment with the neurosurgeon on March 23rd, four weeks after his accident. After looking at Matt’s latest CT scan, which had been done earlier that day, the doctor said, “This is as good as it gets. You’re in the 99th percentile of recovery patients. Most people don’t have this type of outcome. When I have to do this type of surgery, some patients never wake up and some, when they do wake up, never speak again. What has happened to you in this short amount of time is incredible.”
The doctor then had a lengthy discussion with Matt about his future plans and what to expect with the continued healing of his brain. As he started to leave the room, the doctor, who is not a member of our church, turned and asked Matt this question, “Did you get a blessing before the surgery?”
Matt answered, “Yes.”
The doctor walked out the door and simply said, “It works every time.”
Yes, “Problems pass and happiness can be ours.”
Matt’s miracle is a witness to this divine truth.