He had gone out for a jog with Joe yesterday and collapsed within a hundred yards of the house. Thanks to Joe's calls for help neighbors called 911 and started CPR. JD ran out to find him with no pulse or breathing, and continued the CPR herself until the ambulance arrived. He was in ventricular fibrillation, the kind of arrhythmia that causes sudden death. It turns out that he has a previously undiagnosed congenital anomaly of his aortic valve, which occurs with some frequency (at least 1 out of a hundred people) but does not usually cause any symptoms until mid-way through life, and then the first sign can be this kind of sudden collapse during exercise. The paramedics had to shock his heart three times; the third time in the ambulance finally got it beating again. Kevin was without vital signs for at least 5 to 8 minutes. In the Duke ER he did try to fight the tube in his throat for breathing, and opened his eyes, so those are hopeful signs. He is heavily sedated, medically paralyzed, on life support, and cooled down to a near freezing temperature, all to try and minimize the damage to his brain from the long period of no oxygen. Preliminary tests indicate he did not have a "heart attack" (myocardial infarction) or a stroke; the collapse was due to the electrically ineffective rhythm his heart went into.
Yesterday was the Bartkoviches' 15th anniversary. I can only barely imagine JD's experience of finding Kevin lifeless on the street and doing the first CPR she's ever had to perform, on her own husband. By the time she got her 4 year old twins cared for and got to the hospital, she had no idea if Kevin was alive or dead, since she had last seen him put into the ambulance after the first two attempts at defibrillation were unsuccessful. Her family, and many friends, have rallied around her now. His prognosis is far from clear, he is certainly not out of the woods, but we hope and pray that he will recover without major impact on his brain. He will eventually need a replacement of the abnormal heart valve.
Where is God's mercy? We can not see it as clearly as we would like; we say by faith that it must be there. Here are two glimpses.
One, since this event stems from a life-long silent heart defect, it could have happened any time during the Barts' ten years in Africa. Kevin's final weekend he hiked over the mountain pass with teachers from CSB, a strenuous endeavor hours from any road or phone, not to mention hospital. He coached soccer and jogged around the school track. If v-fib occurred here, he would not have survived. Even if he had gone down most places in America, he might not have been revived in time. This happened five minutes from one of the premier medical centers in the world. This is a small vision of the way God sends His angels to keep us from stumbling, even when we don't know it.
And glimpse number two, this occurred in the midst of Christ School crisis. Yesterday the students were becoming very restless and threatening violent strikes, the immediate issue being the school's new policy of having a "spot exam" (pop quiz) period at the end of every day. The bigger issues are complex, related to being teenagers, poor, reckless, with little to lose, no skills for non-violent conflict, distrustful, many with histories of abuse and abandonment. We got the news about Kevin while students and staff were in the midst of meetings over their complaints. The meetings turned into prayer meetings for Kevin. This was a needed reality check and change in focus, at least for the day.
Please pray for the Bartkovich family, for bigger views of God's glory and merciful care as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death. And pray for the school that they devoted a decade of their lives to found, for us to see God's glory and mercy there, too.