On a cold January day earlier this year, a tragedy rocked our rural community in southwest Iowa. Joel Herzberg, an eighteen-year-old senior at Villisca High School headed to Mt. Crescent Ski Resort in Council Bluffs for one last outing with his parents and three brothers before Christmas vacation ended. But the day was cut tragically short when Joel fell while snowboarding, striking the right side of his head.
After a few precious minutes, Joel slipped into unconsciousness. LifeNet arrived, rushing Joel to University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska, a mere five minute helicopter ride. After a CAT scan showed a fractured skull and a severed blood vessel, neurosurgeons performed emergency surgery to remove a blood clot that had formed. Doctors put him on a ventilator to help him breath and placed him in a drug-induced coma to reduce swelling and pressure on the brain.
Despite the medications, however, the pressures remained high. Doctors informed Jim and Jan Herzberg that their son’s condition was critical. Until he awoke, no one would know the extent of his injuries.
As is often the case in farming communities and small towns, the news of Joel’s accident sent shockwaves throughout the area. In an instant he became everybody’s son, brother or friend, whether or not they knew him. Prayer chains set in motion by family, friends and classmates sent multitudes of prayers heavenward. Complete strangers prayed in earnest as Joel’s story spread across phone lines and the Internet.
Soon after the accident, Jan began an online journal to keep family and friends informed on his condition. Though I had never met Joel, I followed his story relentlessly. As a mother to two teenagers of my own, the tragedy struck close to my heart. On the seventh day following the accident, my heart sank as I read Jan’s devastating entry. Neurosurgeons informed the family that Joel had been on the drug Phenobarbital long enough that if the swelling on the brain was from the accident, it should have been down by now. His rising pressures, along with another CAT scan, told them that the pressure was from a massive stroke he had suffered while the blood clot was placing pressure on the brain, critically injuring the brain stem. Doctors told the Herzberg’s that their son might not survive. The last line of Jan’s journal entry that day read, “We continue to pray now for a miracle, please pray with us.”
Despite the doctors’ discouraging prognosis, Joel’s family refused to give up. Neither did Joel. His condition stabilized and doctors removed the ventilator. He began to respond to stimuli, though doctors said the actions were simply reflexes. Still, countless prayers for a miracle continued.
During the following days, responses became more frequent. It became obvious that Joel’s movements were not reflexes—he was waking up. Several weeks later, he lay in bed watching a basketball game on a computer set up in his hospital room—a game in which he should have been playing. Villisca was playing their biggest rival, Stanton, in a close ballgame. And then it happened—Joel moved for the first time since the accident. The moment he moved his foot, the Herzberg family knew their son and brother was on his way back.
I’ve followed Joel’s story from the day of the accident, to moving to a rehab center where he learned to walk and talk again, and to receiving his diploma at his high school graduation in May. Now, more than nine months after the fall, Joel has returned home. He has dreams, big dreams that include college some day.
I’ve learned a lot about faith these last few months just watching this amazing family who refused to give up hope. The Herzberg’s are proof that God indeed listens to our prayers, working miracles every day through devoted doctors and therapists. Though I’ve often wondered why God allows these tragedies in our lives, I do know Joel’s story touched countless lives, including mine. Witnessing this miracle has taught me to never give up hope, even if it seems like all hope is gone. This was, without a doubt, all a part of God’s plan.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “There is a time and purpose for everything under heaven,” and this is, after all, the season for miracles.
Dear Lord, Help us to never forget your undying love for us and to remember that anything is possible for those who have faith.
Joel continues his treatment at home. Please pray for his complete recovery.
Look for Shari Barr’s newest book: McKenzie’s Montana Mystery, available from Barbour Publishing in March 2010. Click here to read more about it.
Thank you, Shari, for being a guest blogger on “God is in the Compost Pile.”