Prayed from the Brink
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On Jan. 12, 2021, a needle prick woke Miller up in that room of his dream at Mercy Hospital in Fort Smith, Arkansas. COVID-19 turned out to be the glue that engulfed him.
He yelled Psalm 118:17 — “I will live and not die!” At that moment, Miller understood the victory was his over this disease that took him to death’s door.
Miller’s journey began Dec. 19 with a cough; his son, Eli, 14, had a low-grade fever. After The Crossing’s candlelight service Dec. 20, Miller’s wife Mandy, 41, had a headache. On their drive to spend Christmas with Zach’s parents, John D. and Tricia Miller, pastors of First Assembly of Greenwood, Arkansas, Mandy told her in-laws the family members didn’t feel well. Tricia insisted they come anyway.
By late Dec. 21, however, Zach and Mandy had high fevers; the next day they had multiple COVID-19 symptoms and their other two children, Harrison, 13, and Gracie, 16, had minor symptoms, which medicines eased.
On Dec. 27, Zach’s fever still raged, his heart raced, and his oxygen level ran low. Mandy’s sister Holly Jumper Gonzales, a physician, said to call 911.
By this time, John, 77, became severely sick with the coronavirus as well.
Fort Smith’s Mercy Hospital emergency room physicians diagnosed Zach with double pneumonia and admitted him, expecting a short stay. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, Zach could have no visitors.
He made terse statements in phone calls:
Need a miracle.
Zach improved. But at 1 a.m. on Dec. 30, Angelisa, the nurse practitioner in charge of Mercy Hospital’s 4200 floor that night, phoned to tell Mandy that Zach’s condition had suddenly deteriorated. He needed to be moved to the intensive care unit.
The hospital required Mandy’s permission to put her husband on a ventilator, since Zach had declined.
Understandably so. The mortality rate of COVID-19 patients placed on a ventilator is high. Mandy wanted to ask the church’s prayer team members to pray, but nobody would be awake in the middle of the night. Angelisa said she needed to know immediately. She couldn’t start cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Zach if she couldn’t intubate him should the need arise.
“I know you do this every day and you see people come on and off ventilators every day,” Mandy told Angelisa.
Angelisa fell silent.
At last Angelisa said Zach’s condition appeared grim. “He’s 42 and we have to give him a fighting chance.”
Mandy instructed hospital personnel to do whatever needed to be done. Angelisa helped Zach FaceTime Mandy, their kids, and Zach’s mom before he went into ICU. (Mandy’s parents had themselves recovered from COVID-19, hence they could take care of her and the children.)
Mandy saw the fear in Zach’s eyes.
“God is going to see you through,” she told her husband. Weak, he responded with a thumbs up.
The next several days saw family and church adherents FaceTime and Zoom sessions of intercession, singing, and worship. John, by this point himself hospitalized with COVID-19, had become too sick to join them.
Holly — Mandy’s physician sister — spoke with the medical team caring for Zach to learn specifics of his case and interpreted the news into prayer requests. In the first conversation with Zach’s caregivers, the doctor’s voice held no hope.
The church posted Holly’s requests and called for congregants to fast and pray in agreement with pressing needs, ranging from ventilator settings to flipping Zach onto his stomach. They prayed for the Holy Spirit to bring peace and ministering angels to Zach’s ICU room.
“God gave me the strength to pray when I didn’t know I could,” Mandy says. “If I was praying, in the Word, listening to worship, I wouldn’t fear. God gave my kids the strength to pray.”
Mandy called three times daily to check on her husband. She clung to each update, but fear lurked at every corner. She sensed the Lord telling her to step back to see the bigger picture.
That message sustained her through setbacks, including a nurse who expressed pessimism about Zach’s prognosis. That prompted Mandy to pray, “Lord, please send a nurse that will speak life over Zach in that room.” The next day, another nurse FaceTimed the family and Zach’s mom asked her to keep worship music playing around the clock.
On Jan. 10, a Sunday, The Crossing’s worship leader Lanny Rogers chose songs specifically for Zach. Associate pastor Keith Morris updated the congregation and preached a sermon on belief.
“This is the week pastor Zach is coming off of the ventilator,” Morris told the congregation.
“As he was preaching, they were actually taking him off ventilator,” says Mandy. A nurse called from Zach’s phone and a video link showed Zach no longer connected to the ventilator that had kept him alive 11 days in ICU.
After Zach moved to a regular hospital room, transitioning to end what proved to be a 19-day hospital stay, two nurses visited him. One had called Mandy seeking permission to intubate Zach. They told him they had seen much death on the 4200 COVID hallway. Zach is one of only two patients who had successfully come off the ventilator; the other had a tracheotomy. Zach’s prognosis left the staff utterly broken.
So the nurses initiated hospital staff prayer over Zach’s chart, praying specifics over his condition and asking God to spare him. Zach now is seen as a walking miracle, a beacon of hope the medical team can give to other families. Other medical staff who prayed for him visited Zach’s room to share with him their part of his journey.
Some other AG North Texas pastors are comparing the miraculous recovery with that of Assemblies of God World Missions Executive Director Greg Mundis.
The church has started a fund to help Miller defray hospital expenses
For Zach, the takeaway is God’s reliability in the darkest night.
“That’s hard to realize when things aren’t going your way,” he says. “In our faithfulness, we experience the miracle. This happened so that others may have hope and discover His faithfulness.”