“Wait, so you’ve died before? What’s that like?”
It’s a weird question, but when people hear my story, it’s what they usually ask.
“Did you see a light? Did you hear voices?” Or, my favorite one, “Did it hurt?”
Sometimes people even joke around with me about October 25, 2009, as if an experience lying on the table with no pulse is something that’s funny to talk about.
I’ve always found that to be strange, and truthfully, I can’t recall what I heard or saw. But, I can tell you what I learned.
At the time, I was a two sport varsity athlete who believed in God, but didn’t yet know what it meant to be a Christian. I was 16 years old, but still an infant in my walk with Christ. On Sunday, October 25, 2009, a virus got into my blood stream causing myocarditis, paralyzing my heart and knocking me unconscious without a heartbeat. Nearby EMT’s shocked me seven times with a defibrillator before I regained a pulse. There were no events preceding this that could have predicted the sudden cardiac arrest I suffered that day. Our culture would call it luck, or bad luck, but really, what happened next is far beyond anything that could be measured by a coin flip or roll of the dice.
When the virus insidiously made its way through my body, it cut off the blood supply to the frontal lobe of my brain, resulting in what is known as an anoxic brain injury. Over the next several weeks I slept for 16-18 hours a day as my body recovered, only waking up to go to physical therapy, brain therapy or eat. I couldn’t walk up or down the stairs without someone’s help, I couldn’t remember where I had gone the day before, and at 6’6” 230 pounds, I became so weak that I couldn’t even twist the cap off of a water bottle. Yet in that suffering, I had my greatest triumph in life.
After all, Christ died for our sins so that in our suffering we could be more like Him. In 1 Peter 4:19, the Apostle Peter writes, “Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (NASB). The peace in this, the joy in this, the fullness of life in these words…by God’s grace the only thing I could do in my suffering was to offer Him full praise.
Doctors said I was done playing sports for the rest of my life. School administrators said I would have to put my junior year of high school on hold and wait for next year. When you get to a point in life where all you have is Christ, you realize what truly matters. I learned that, when I was left to my own devices, my own power, there was very little, if anything, I was capable of doing on my own.
Ultimately, I underwent hours of surgery and lost 40 pounds in this process, but I was back to school in a month and back on the baseball field the following spring. I graduated high school with honors and went to college, where I was cut two years in a row. I was told that this was “normal” because what I was pursuing, with my medical history, was “impossible.” On my third try, I made it on a team and played there for the next two years. I graduated college and months later signed a professional contract with Cincinnati Reds scout Bob Fritz to play for his team in a professional independent league. These were all impossibilities, they said. But as any story goes, God has the final say.
When you get to a point in life where all you have is Christ, you realize what truly matters.
Today, I look back at what everyone said would happen, and I look back and see what actually happened, and I recognize the miracles that the Lord performed. With that, none of this was of my own doing. As I said before, without the Lord’s strength and love, I was whittled down to nothing. I learned that everything I had, I was given, and it belonged to Him. So when I was given a second chance at life, that too, belonged to Him.
With that second chance came a change in my soul, and additionally, a change in my body. Doctors felt that, given the events that had happened, I should get an ICD implanted in my chest. I don’t know if there has ever been another professional athlete who has one of these, but if there has been, then they know about how reluctant some people can be to give you an opportunity in professional sports. When people see the bump and the scar below my left collar-bone, very few call it a “guardian angel.” It is often looked at as a fragile point, something that is dangerous, something to stay away from. If only they knew the power of the God who oversees all of this. When I look at it in the mirror, it’s a sobering reminder of how precious life is, and one word always comes to my mind: Grace.
We see the word “Grace” throughout the Bible. It’s translated from the original Greek, “Charis,” which in the biblical context is referred to as God freely extending Himself to people because He is disposed to bless, or be near, them. This is what I freely and undeservingly received.
I am forever indebted to the Lord for everything that He has ever given me. At the top of this list is Del Rey Church in Playa Del Rey, California, which is where I call home. I am blessed to live a normal and healthy life, all because of the prayers I have received and the prayers that God has put on my heart.
In 1 Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica, “5:16 Rejoice always; 5:17 pray without ceasing; 5:18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (NASB). At this writing, I am preparing for my third season of professional baseball. As a Christian athlete, everything that happens on, and off, the field is done to glorify God. It’s part of my job to spend countless hours training and preparing to become the best athlete I can be, for His glory. Still, I recognize that with every pitch I throw, I can’t choose what I want the hitter to do, I can’t choose what call the umpire makes, and realistically, I can’t choose the exact spot a pitch will end up or how it will get there. I’ll do everything in my power to produce a good result… but ultimately that, just like everything else in life, is in God’s hands.
Will Gerhard is a pitcher for the Bakersfield Train Robbers of the Pecos League, an independent baseball league. He is entering his third season in professional baseball.