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Miracle Man

Miracle Man

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At least six different times in his life, Greg Mundis, the executive director for AG World Missions since 2011, has faced death where others in similar situations have not survived. And each of those times, God has intervened to spare his life.

Mundis survived meningitis as a young teen in 1963, a bad car accident when he was a student in 1969, a very serious case of hepatitis in 1975 where he was hospitalized for weeks, a Serbian militia roadblock that stopped his vehicle in Kosovo in 2001 and a soldier placed an AK-47 to his chest, and coding twice in 2017 after a severe reaction to a shingles shot.

But despite all those close brushes with death, nothing Mundis, now 70, has ever experienced compared to last year’s battle with COVID-19 that dropped him at death’s door for weeks and — at the very least — should have left him living out his years in a rehab facility.

THE BEGINNING

It was in an AGWM board meeting on Thursday, March 12, 2020, that Mundis first started to feel ill. He went to a clinic the next morning, where they suspected a sinus infection. He was given a prescription for some antibiotics, but things continued to get progressively worse through the day.

After connecting with their primary care doctor, Sandie, Greg’s wife of 49 years, took him to get tested outside the facility on Saturday morning for two different kinds of flu – both were negative. As this was early on in the pandemic, COVID tests were very difficult to acquire and doctors believed that the three necessary signs of COVID infection were fever, shortness of breath, and coughing — Greg wasn’t coughing.

“Saturday was all downhill,” Greg says. “It was so bad, that I was sitting in my chair and someone came by to deliver some supplies and I couldn’t even get up out of the chair to greet him.”

Sandie, in the meantime, was feeling a bit panicked. Their doctor’s office, given the symptoms Greg had, wasn’t sure he had COVID and she was advised to bring him in on Monday if things didn’t get better. But their son, Greg Jr., who is a medical doctor in California, was sure Greg had COVID, and urged them to get a COVID test. However, even the CDC in Jefferson City, Missouri, told Sandie, when she reached out to them on Sunday, that Greg didn’t have all the signs of COVID.

Greg’s breathing became very labored on Sunday night and Sandie’s worries grew. She immediately contacted their doctor’s office on Monday morning and they were finally sent to get a COVID test being done at a ballpark in Springfield — a nice gesture, but nearly too late. In March, test results often weren’t known for days; unaided, Greg would be dead within hours.

HOSPITALIZED

Prior to the COVID test, Greg Jr. had continual conversations with his mom. At this point, even from more than 1,400 miles away, he knew his father was in serious trouble, and urged Sandie to take Greg to the hospital. Following the test, Sandie again called their primary care physician and described Greg’s worsening condition. This time the doctor agreed – Greg needed to go to the hospital — she was sending an ambulance. Greg was admitted with double viral pneumonia and respiratory failure.

As Greg Jr. explains, respiratory failure is a condition in which the blood doesn't have enough oxygen or has too much carbon dioxide — sometimes both problems manifest. When a person’s lungs inhale and exhale air normally, they take in oxygen their cells need to survive and expel carbon dioxide. COVID-19 can inflame airways and essentially drown a person’s lungs in fluids. A ventilator mechanically helps pump oxygen [through a tube that is typically put down a patient’s throat, which is called “intubation”] into their body.

“When I was admitted, my oxygen level was at about 60% [normal is 95% to 100%],” Greg recalls. “My son [Greg Jr.] called me. He had spoken to the ER doctor already. I didn’t know at the time what intubated meant — he told me . . . The last thing I said was, ‘Please take care of Mom.’”

With Greg Jr. on a flight to Springfield and Hollie, the Mundis’ daughter, living overseas with her husband, Jason, and their children, Sandie faced one of the longest nights of her life. After intubating Greg and placing him on a ventilator, the doctors’ evaluation of Greg’s condition was grim at best. They told Sandie later that night there was little chance of him making it through the night; they feared he was going to die within hours.

FROM DOWNHILL TO FREE-FALL


Greg’s condition at home had been on a downhill trend for days, and Sandie had become beyond frustrated with the lack of response to his deteriorating condition.

As Sandie had prolonged exposure to Greg during his illness, she was immediately quarantined and told she could not leave her house for two weeks as she likely would come down with whatever Greg had. So, while Greg was taken to the hospital, Sandie found herself in what amounted to solitary confinement.

It’s hard to imagine not being by the side of your spouse in his or her most desperate hour of need — not even to see his or her face. And when the news came that Greg had little chance of making it through that first night, she still couldn’t go to him and no one was permitted to go to her. She was alone with the unknown.

However, that evening Sandie’s daughter-in-law, her sister’s family, and grandchildren called and prayed and sang worship songs with her. Hollie and her family blessed Sandie by staying awake and on the phone praying with her the entire first night.

“It was horrible, so very hard,” Sandie says about being alone and apart from Greg, “especially since the doctors kept telling me they didn’t think he was going to make it. I was given no opportunity for closure, to speak some final words with Greg — it was so very frustrating.”

However, the doctors did get something right. Sandie came down with “whatever Greg had.” She was admitted to the hospital three days after Greg was admitted, with symptoms for (and the test later confirming) COVID.

The one bright spot was that Greg Jr. was, as a physician, permitted to have a desk outside of his father’s windowed room. He received regular updates from the medical staff, which he then communicated directly to his family through texts and phone calls and to the thousands following Greg’s battle for life via Facebook.

Yet even this slim connection to Greg was removed the following week; the hospital made a decision to not allow anyone from California in the hospital as the state was a hotspot for the COVID virus. Sandie, who spent four days in the hospital herself before being released back to the isolation of her home, felt the weight of that additional level of separation from Greg . . . her own feelings of helplessness and isolation were intensified by the doctors’ repeated theme of little hope for Greg.

“Those early days and nights of waiting to hear the latest updates about my father were pure agony,” says Hollie, who was also without her husband by her side at the time as he was in quarantine for potential COVID exposure. “The combination of being alone to take care of the four kids, only being able to communicate with my husband via the phone, trying to stay strong for my mother over the phone (who suffers from both asthma and diabetes, which put her at high risk), facing the ever-increasing possibility that both of my parents would enter eternity within days of each other, not knowing if I could make it home in time to say goodbye, and the complete inability to sleep for days and nights on end, catapulted me into a state of survival mode.”

To quantify the emotional toll and the spiritual battles that took place within the family during those dark weeks would be impossible. Meanwhile, COVID was wreaking havoc on Greg’s body – his kidneys failing and needing periodic dialysis and his lungs requiring a ventilator in order to function.

As Greg Jr. well knew, even as doctors battled for his father’s life, every day on the ventilator meant an increasing chance his father, if he survived, could have brain damage . . . two weeks was considered a tipping point. Greg was on a ventilator for 34 days.

BIBLICAL PREPARATION


Since Easter 2019, Greg and Sandie had felt compelled to read a passage of Scripture every day — the same passage, Psalm 91, which talks about the Lord’s protection, presence, and deliverance from harm.

“That chapter was very important to Greg and me, though we didn’t know why we carried such a burden for it,” Sandie says. “But when Greg got COVID, it became a reality to me — this is what it was all about; it was preparation for what was going to happen in 2020.”

Psalm 47, a chapter that proclaims God’s greatness, also was very important to Sandie, and she turned to reading those chapters throughout the day, every day.

“I then opened my Bible to Psalm 1 and kept reading,” Sandie says. “People texted us and sent verses and songs to me, including the [worship] song, "Way Maker." I listened to that song every day and many of the worship songs sent to me — they gave me peace and helped me sleep.”

Although the words of others and the Word of God provided comfort, it was a vision God gave her that ministered to Sandie in a profound way.

It had been a bad day. Still suffering the effects of COVID, Sandie received even more bad news about Greg, and she had hit a breaking point.

“I cried to the Lord. I told Him that Greg was His,” she says. “And after that, I didn’t really even know how to pray. I fell asleep, but when I woke up, I realized I had had a vision.”

In her vision, Sandie says she saw the Lord in His shining white robes get on top of Greg in the hospital room and totally cover him with His robes. Then she saw the Lord breathing into Greg’s mouth and Ezekiel 37:5 (I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life) immediately came to her mind.

“I knew the Lord was telling me He was taking care of Greg, He saw his lungs were so bad, but He was literally on top of it and was going to take care of it,” Sandie says. “The peace of God entered my soul that day — God had it under control. It was a turning point in my own heart crisis.”

Meanwhile, Hollie, thousands of miles away, had a similar vision of Jesus bending over her dad’s chest, breathing life into him, also providing her with a renewed sense of hope and peace.

THE BATTLE FOR LIFE

Although the peace of God was with Sandie and Hollie, the same could not be said for the doctors. They were doing all they knew in order to save Greg’s life, but after two weeks in ICU and on a ventilator, Greg’s lungs started to fail.

“He felt like he was needing to breathe 40 to 50 times a minute in order to get in enough oxygen,” Greg Jr. explained. “It was like sprinting in the middle of a marathon, so the doctors increased his sedation and let the ventilator do the work for his lungs.”

With this downturn, doctors in Springfield were stymied. Greg Jr., however, wasn’t giving up. He knew about Barnes Jewish Hospital at Washington University in St. Louis – they had a renown pulmonary unit that offered specialized care for COVID-19 patients. It would be the best — and last — option for Greg, but doctors had doubts that he would even survive the medical helicopter trip.

“We had to call the family together on this, to make the decision on whether to take the risk to send dad to Barnes, knowing there was a good chance he wouldn’t survive the trip,” Greg Jr. says, “but we also understood that the doctors here were struggling to find answers, dad was declining, and the facility and doctors in St. Louis were better equipped.”

Believing that Greg, showing no signs of being able to be weaned from the ventilator, was now entering a zone of possible brain damage, and his vital signs were continuing to decline, the family agreed the risk was worth it.

“The helicopter was a huge risk,” Sandie acknowledges, “but we knew Greg wasn’t going to make it if he stayed in Springfield, and if we had any chance of saving his life by him being at Barnes, we wanted to take it.”

Shortly after that phone call, Hollie and Jason decided they would return to the U.S.

“There was a strong likelihood my father would face eternity, either that night or over the course of the next days,” Hollie says, “[and] if my father were to miraculously survive, his recovery to complete health could take months and months. My mother would have to take this long journey alone, something which was unbearable to me. I wanted to be by her side, to walk this journey – whatever it entailed.”

On March 31, the airlift to Barnes was successfully completed by helicopter — and on the wings of literally thousands of prayers.

HOPES ARISE

When Greg arrived at Barnes, it looked like a wasted effort. He was placed back on dialysis and his prognosis wasn’t good. Meanwhile, Hollie, Jason, and their kids were on one of the very last international flights to the United States.

But then something shifted, slightly. After doing a battery of tests on April 1, Barnes’ doctors and nurses alike began to express hope for Greg. But it would still be another week of small gains and losses before hope had a realistic foothold.

It began with Greg overcoming a fungal infection brought on, oddly enough, from being on so many antibiotics. His kidneys were also stable and doctors were now talking about taking the next step in recovery – a tracheostomy, enabling Greg to begin breathing without the ventilator and ultimately being weaned off of it.

By April 11, Greg’s lungs and kidneys were working well. He tested negative for COVID for the second time, meaning the tracheostomy could move forward (Greg was no longer considered infectious) and his lungs appeared to be ready for that next step.

And for the family, there was a tearful reunion as Hollie and her family, after self-quarantining upon their “miracle-in-itself” arrival in Springfield, were finally able to physically embrace Sandie.

The concerns that remained? Greg had been sedated by this point for over three weeks, down on his back, and using a ventilator the entire time.

DISAPPOINTMENT AND VICTORIES


Since Greg was admitted to the hospital in Springfield, doctors had notified the family on three separate occasions that he was close to death. Easter, April 12, was a day that the family had been believing God would give Greg a “resurrection victory,” but that failed to materialize.

As Greg seemed to have turned a physical corner in his recovery, the fear growing in their hearts was that there seemed little chance that his mental capacity would be whole. In Greg Jr.’s evaluation, with his father being on the ventilator for so long, it was no longer a matter of if his dad would be mentally debilitated, but how severe this would be.

Sandie, who by now hadn’t seen Greg for a month, says the Lord gave her peace in her spirit when it came to the likelihood of Greg being mentally whole.

“I felt like the Lord whispered in my ear, ‘No matter what I do, I do it with perfection; if it’s My will to take him home, I’ll do it with perfection; if it’s My will he lives, he’ll be 100% whole’ . . . I thought it was best for Greg to see Jesus where his perfection would be complete, so I responded, ‘Yes, Lord, You can take him,’ but I knew if God didn’t take him home, he would be healed completely.”

Although Easter was a disappointment where the family was concerned, the rest of the week marked victory after victory.

On Monday, the tracheostomy was done and doctors started weaning Greg off of sedation. On Tuesday and Wednesday Greg was alert enough to start following basic commands — staff even moved him to a chair to start some basic physical therapy.

On Saturday, April 18, Greg Jr. reported in a post, “Today was a crazy special day. It marked the first day I was able to see my dad since March 17!” Greg’s sedation continued to be reduced and his kidneys were fully functional — which was no small miracle in itself. And by Sunday, he was 100% off his sedation.

A STRANGE NEW WORLD


As Greg came out of his induced coma, still on the ventilator, doctors began asking him questions to help determine the extent of his mental capacity. After just a few questions, they became concerned – it appeared he was, at the very least, hallucinating.

“I knew my name and where I was born,” Greg says, “but then they asked me where I was, and I had no idea.” Greg’s response to this question on consecutive days caused the medical staff concern as he answered with, “Am I in Amman, Jordan? In Paris? Am I in the Reunion Islands?

But alas, for all their medical knowledge, the “simple things” were being overlooked by the medical staff. In the first place, Greg normally wears glasses and hearing aids, which had been removed weeks ago. When he came out of sedation, all he knew was that his hands were tied down to a bed; he had all kinds of wires, hoses, and machines attached to him; and these blob-like figures (the medical staff were all in hazmat suits) were moving around the room, asking him questions, with the faint sounds of pings and bings mixing in. He didn’t realize he had been unconscious for over a month and had nearly died, much less airlifted to St. Louis. Let’s just say, if the doctors were concerned that Greg didn’t know where he was, he was much more concerned about the answer to that question than the staff was!

Finally, when Sandie learned of the doctors’ concerns, it was a “you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me” moment for her. She explained that Greg’s ministry takes him all over the world and that he had just returned from a trip that included all the places he had mentioned — and he certainly would have had no idea that he was airlifted from Springfield to St. Louis while he was deeply sedated.

“People may not be aware, but when you don’t move for over a month and are chemically sedated for that long, it’s not only your muscles that atrophy,” Greg later explains. “What your brain has been doing is limited to keeping you alive — your lungs, heart, and organs — none of the other cognitive functions are being used, so in a sense, your brain has atrophied as well and it takes a while to fully wake those functions up.”

But even though Greg actually did appear to miraculously have cognitive function and was no longer considered in critical condition, there was still much work to be done.



THE JOURNEY TO WHOLENESS


By April 22, Greg was doing so well, he was transferred back to Springfield to begin his rehab process.

Three days after the transfer, Greg Jr. posted exciting news: “He is doing great. He had a valve placed over his trach which allows him to talk freely and he hasn’t stopped talking since. He has spent the last 30 hours without the ventilator. . . His infections have all cleared and his kidneys are healed. Rehab, rehab, rehab is now the name of the game.”

However, Greg’s mind still had an “emotional fog” as he struggled to make sense of some things because the world had changed in the month he had been sedated.

“My wife and kids and grandchildren would come by [his first-floor rooms] and stand outside by the window to my room, and wave and we’d talk by phone,” Greg says, then adding with emotion cracking his voice, “but I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t come in and let me hug them.”

Greg Jr. shares that his father also had the fear that when his family left the window, they might never come back.

Sandie, on the other hand, was simply overjoyed just to see and talk with Greg after so many weeks — a gift she was not sure she would experience again this side of heaven.

In addition to recovering cognitively, Greg also had plenty of physical challenges to overcome. He had little strength – he was unable to walk, stand, or even sit up on his own. His hands, which had swollen greatly, couldn’t even hold a phone, so it had to be set on his chest. He also had to redevelop and coordinate his swallowing muscles in order to eat “real food” again.

On April 30, Greg’s catheter, feeding tube, and tracheostomy were removed, with the ventilator making its exit from the room five days earlier. He was also eating!

Six days later, with Greg starting to regain strength, he was transferred to another rehab facility to begin more intense physical therapy, with his mind growing stronger by the day as well.

Greg and Sandie, however, both point to Hollie, Jason, and their grandchildren as key factors in Greg’s recovery.

“I learned the power physical presence has to a person healing from a traumatic event,” Hollie states. “Seeing someone matters. Listening to someone matters. Physical touch matters. Sitting in silence with someone is powerful. They all contribute to the healing process.”

Once Greg was released from rehab to go home on May 18, that’s where the grandchildren played a significant part in Greg’s physical and mental recovery. They interacted with Greg, asking him questions, playing countless games of cards and board games, and joined the family in scrolling through and talking about the hundreds of pictures on Greg’s phone, all of which proved to be incredibly therapeutic — not just for Greg, but for the whole family.

“He was still learning the basics — how to walk and increase his daily steps, how to breath properly again, how to wash and take care of himself,” says Hollie, whose family spent five months in the U.S. assisting Sandie and Greg. “It was an extremely intense stage of physical, mental, and emotional rehabilitation, and we banded together to make it matter — to help bring him back to himself.”

To catch a glimpse of the challenges God brought Greg through, Greg Jr. listed them out in a post: Infection with a deadly virus. Emergent intubation. Pulmonary failure. Blood clots in arms and legs. Cardiac complications from experimental medications. Bedsores. Gastrointestinal infection. Urinary tract infection. Bilateral secondary pneumonia. Acute respiratory distress syndrome. Acute kidney failure. Fungemia (fungal infection of the blood). Sepsis (the effects of infection overwhelming the body’s immune response). Dialysis. Tracheostomy. Post-sedation delirium.

Sandie also points to a recent phone call she received from a nurse practitioner in Tennessee that simply reemphasized the miracles God performed in Greg.

“She wanted to hear about Greg’s condition again – she had never heard of anybody healed completely, lungs and kidneys. She told me most patients [severe COVID patients who survive] end up in rehab facilities for the rest of their lives. . . . we know it’s God and we just keep thanking him.”

THANKSGIVING

Greg returned to work in September. Although fighting waves of fatigue, he has recovered completely. Sandie laughs, “He has way more energy than I do – he still gets up at 4:30 every morning for devotions and to pray for a couple of hours.”

Greg says even though he has gone through a time of PTSD, spiritually he never had anything but thankfulness in his heart for God, His grace, and the healing of his body and his mind. “And my wife is absolutely an incredible, amazing, strong woman . . . I drew strength from her, my children, and grandchildren.”

Hollie says the experience forever changed her and her family. “We laughed hard. We cried hard. We told countless stories and memories . . . it was one of the most special experiences of my life,” she says. “It brought healing for each of us in the family and we reached a new depth of closeness. God is so faithful and good.”

Greg and Sandie say they have countless people to thank for their prayers, texts, posts, and ongoing support through what was the most challenging time of their lives — noting doctors, nurses, pastors, friends, and so many others, but especially Greg Jr., his family, and Hollie and her family. However, they request prayers to continue for Greg’s ongoing good health.

Sandie says, “Please pray that the Lord opens new doors for us to testify to His healing power. We pray many people will turn to the Lord through our testimony.”

Greg agrees and offers, “It’s pretty clear . . ., God spared my life for His divine purpose.”

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