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May13WedAs Debby Nelson underwent brain surgery, her unborn child's life hung in the balance. May 13, 2020 by Ken Ramstead
The Sunday-morning service on May 5, 2008, had just started at The Salvation Army’s Heritage Park Temple in Winnipeg when an announcement was made to the congregation.
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- Faith & Friends
“Please pray for Debby Nelson, her husband, Paul, and their daughters as she undergoes brain surgery this morning. Her life is in God’s hands.”
Many in the stunned congregation stayed after the service to pray for the family. Others waited in hushed suspense to hear the outcome.
Left unspoken was the fact that Debby was pregnant—and that the operation was a dangerous one for both mother and child.
Out of Nowhere
Paul, a fifth-generation member of The Salvation Army, had met Debby, a fourth-generation Salvationist, on a blind date. They were married with two young daughters—Kassandra, 15, and Micaela, 12—when they found out that she was pregnant.
“Hayden was a late-in-life surprise we had been told by doctors would never happen,” smiles Paul. “My wife and I were thrilled at the new arrival and always thought God had a sense of humour.”
But this joy was shattered just five months into the pregnancy. Thirty minutes after the couple had retired for the night on May 4, Debby sat straight up in bed.
“I feel like a knife just went through the back of my neck,” she cried out. The pain was searing.
What Debby was going through was a ruptured brain aneurysm.
“It came out of nowhere. There were no symptoms,” Paul says. “Doctors will tell you that when you suffer a ruptured brain aneurysm, nine out of 10 people are dead in 10 minutes.”
The couple immediately went to the hospital. Fortunately, Debby hadn’t taken any headache medication.
“Basically,” explains Paul, “they’re blood thinners and Debby would probably have bled out if she had taken them.”
Grace Hospital personnel quickly diagnosed her but the facility wasn’t equipped for neurosurgery, so she was transported with a critical care team to Winnipeg Health Science Centre and its neurosurgery department. The five-hour surgery occurred on the Sunday morning.
Under the Knife
“I remember it like ...” Paul starts.
“... yesterday,” Debby finishes.
“The surgery may have happened to me but I was sedated, and Paul had to live it out in real time,” Debby continues. “Hospital staff were asking him whether I had a will and what my health plan consisted of, and he had to deal with a host of other distracting questions. As well, he had our two young daughters, frantic with worry, to contend with.”
There was also the question as to whether their unborn baby would survive the brain surgery Debby had to undergo. A full obstetrics team was on alert in the operating theatre next door in case things went awry.
Fortunately, Debby came through the surgery with flying colours, but the doctors had no idea which “Debby” would regain consciousness.
“The aneurysm had taken place in the memory cortex of Debby’s brain,” explains Paul. “For all the doctors knew, she was going to come out of sedation with full amnesia and with no idea who anyone was.
“Throughout the ordeal, the support from our Salvation Army church congregation was incredible,” Paul states. “Not just on the prayer side of things—I know people prayed for us throughout the morning’s operation—but on the practical side, too. Take food, for example. We had so many meals delivered to the house to the point where we almost had more than we could eat!”
Family, friends and hospital staff were on tenterhooks as Debby regained consciousness, but when Paul was finally allowed in to see his wife, she was sitting up and smiling as if nothing had ever happened. She recognized all of her loved ones, and within 18 months, she was back at work.
Best of all, Hayden suffered no side effects from his mother’s operation.
Hayden is now a precocious 11-yearold who is into the sciences, robotics and coding, but there are a number of people at Heritage Park who still refer to Hayden as their “miracle child.”
“He’s a very smart little guy who loves reading Faith & Friends when he should be paying attention to the Sunday service,” smiles his father, Paul.
“It’s not just that he reads them and tosses them aside,” Paul continues. “He keeps a lot of the issues and we often have conversations about the stories in them. Just recently, he brought up an article he had read in the magazine about the homeless in our midst.”
Paul and Debby have had many discussions over the years about what took place and they’ve come to the conclusion that what happened really wasn’t about them but more about God’s grace.
“Hayden’s understanding, comprehension and empathy are remarkable for a boy his age,” Paul says. “Debby and I think he is meant for great things, but who knows what God’s plans are for Hayden’s life?”