“Near death”, that’s what the doctors told my parents I was on a cold January afternoon in 1975. I was 13 years old. Just a week earlier I was walking home from school in the snow with my girlfriends. We were laughing and joking and talking about the usual suspects… boys, when Curtis Murph began pounding us with snowballs. We vigorously fought back. But, by the time it was all over, I was soaking wet inside and out. I have no idea how the snow got inside my coat, but I was a walking icicle by the time I got home. My mom immediately made me dry off and change my clothes. The next morning I awoke feeling like my body had been stuffed inside an oven set to 400 degrees. I was burning up with fever. My head pounded, my body ached all over. For the next few days, my mom, who was a nurse’s aide, tried desperately to reduce the fever with aspirin, alcohol rubs, and ice baths. Nothing worked. Then, one morning I woke up to a silent house which was unusual when you have six siblings. Three of them were away from home at college. My brothers Billy, 15, and Dwayne, 14, had probably left for school. My baby sister Yvonne who had just turned four, was still asleep. My mother worked the 11p-7a night shift in the maternity ward at Overlook Hospital. My father operated a small landscaping business most of the year, but drove a taxi cab during the winter months. Momma usually got home minutes before we left for school and Pops drove off for the day. But, that morning I was alone.
I got out of bed to turn on my television. I couldn’t stand the silence. As I sat up in bed, my head suddenly felt heavy like a bowling ball sitting on my weak shoulders. As soon as I stood up, the weight of my head was too much for my legs. They immediately gave out on me and I fell straight to my back. My mind was clear and alert. I could see the white ceiling above me. I could count each tile, but I was no longer in control of my body. It was shaking uncontrollably from head to toe. I tried to call out for help, but I couldn’t. I tried to stop shaking, but I couldn’t. I don’t know how long it lasted, or what condition I was in when Momma found me. The next thing I knew I was in our family doctor’s office. He immediately sent us to the hospital where Momma had just left.
The day included a whirlwind of tests… x-rays, blood work, nurses and doctors coming and going with no answers to why I was so sick. Momma stayed with me all day napping when she could. She looked so exhausted, but tried to maintain an upbeat tone. I remember her kissing me on the forehead that evening saying she needed to run home to check on the other children and to get a change of clothes because she was going to stay the night. She believed it was a good time to leave. My fever hadn’t budged, but I was resting comfortably.
When she returned to the hospital a few short hours later, I was no longer in pediatrics. I had taken a turn for the worse and was moved to intensive care. My body began shutting down… my kidneys collapsed… my heart was enlarged. Once I was in intensive care, I couldn’t tell when day ended and night began. The only light I remember seeing was fluorescent. I knew I was slipping away. Something was leaving my body. My spirit was being pulled away from my body by a thin silver thread. I was dying. It wasn’t painful like the headache or the many needles sticks I had received. It just was. My knowing was confirmed when I opened my eyes and saw my three older siblings standing in the doorway of my hospital room. My oldest sister Gwen was a senior at North Carolina A&T, Debbie was a junior at Virginia State, and Junior was a freshman at Delaware State. They had all left our home in New Jersey weeks earlier to go back to school after Christmas break. The fact that they were there let me know that something serious was happening. My next memory was of something I could clearly hear, but couldn’t see. I could hear my father yelling at someone in the hallway. I later learned he was arguing with my doctor. The specialists who had been working on me had given up hope and wanted to do exploratory surgery, knowing I would probably die on the operating table. They reasoned that maybe they would discover something that would help them deal with the next patient who came in with similar symptoms. My father told him I wasn’t going to be used as their guinea pig.
A group of ministers entering my room all dressed in dark clothing. Three of them were from churches in Vauxhall, our small close knit community. I didn’t immediately recognize the fourth man. Then, it dawned on me that the fourth minister was one I had only seen once before. He was out in his yard shoveling snow the day my friends and I were walking home from school. My girlfriend Angie told us he was Reverend Clarence Alston who pastored a church in the neighboring town of Springfield. I never dreamed I would see him again under such different circumstances. The ministers approached me one by one and prayed with me. Afterward, they chatted with my parents speaking in solemn whispers, their faces somber. Reverend Alston was the first to put his hand on the door handle. He was about to leave. A voice similar to my own whispered to me, “Don’t let him go. Ask him to pray with you one more time.” I knew if I let him walk out the door, I was going to die. I somehow mustered the strength to ask him to stay and pray. When his hand touched mine, I felt a warm surge of energy enter my palms and fingers. His grip was firm and steady. I couldn’t have let go if I tried. For that moment, we were connected. We were one and I felt safe in our connection. He began to pray in a strong determined tone. With each word of praise, with each declaration of faith, with each plea for healing, I could feel something changing. What was leaving my body, began flooding back. By the time the prayer had ended, the warm surge of energy that began in my palm was radiating throughout my entire body. I felt like I was glowing. From that moment forward, the healing began, the fever broke. One month later I was released from the hospital. Doctors were never were able to give a name to the illness that almost took my life. To this day, it remains a mystery.
Some might argue that my near death experience was a hallucination coming from a dying brain. I choose to believe it was a prayer answered. Since that day over 40 years ago, many of my prayers have been answered, some have not. At this stage in my life, I know the ones left unanswered were not for my greater good. God always had something much better headed my way. I was divorced and alone in 1992 when I prayed for a friend, someone to go to the movies with every now and then. He blessed me with a lifelong partner. During years of infertility, I prayed for just one child to love and nurture. He blessed me with four beautiful children, including a set of twins. I prayed for a career based on the talents He blessed me with. I have had a 25 year career as a radio news anchor in a major market. I prayed for relief from my chronic back pain. He introduced me to yoga which led to my business, Radio Yogi Health & Fitness. I prayed that He would show me a way to give back. He cleared the way for me to create my nonprofit, Sisters4Fitness and my BCTV program, The Sisters4Fitness Wellness Show. I’ve learned over the years that my experience is not uncommon. “Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.” (John 1:16) But most people who have come so close to crossing over never come back the same.