Photo: Mitchell Kruszyna
'He Was Brain Dead' — Until They Prayed
By Chris Sparks (Sep 3, 2013)
Tens of thousands of pilgrims visit the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., each year. This is the latest in a series in which we ask Shrine visitors what brings them here.
Meet Jim and Rose Shiflett:
"I never knew who St. Faustina was," Jim Shiflett said. He knew the stories of a number of the saints — just not the history of the patron of his parish in Clearmont, Fla. "For some strange reason, I said, 'I'm gonna learn about St. Faustina. I want to know who she is.' For two weeks in Lent last year, I sat down and I read all about St. Faustina."
And then on Monday in Holy Week, Jim and his wife Rose got the phone call every parent dreads. They were told that Brian, their middle son, was in intensive care at the Upper Chesapeake Hospital.
When he'd fallen at work on a pallet, he'd brushed it off, paid it no mind. But Brian got a contusion on his lung — his only lung. The contusion worsened over the next few days until there he was at 3 in the morning, unable to breathe. Then came the heart attack. "My daughter-in-law and her neighbor were giving him CPR, trying to bring him back," said Jim, but Brian had endured 12 minutes without oxygen to the brain by the time the paramedics arrived. "He was there for 17 days in intensive care."
Jim recalled, "We just got stuff together, got on a plane — we forgot clothes. We bought clothes when we got to Baltimore. But the thing I didn't forget — I took all of the stuff on the chaplet and St. Faustina with me. So when we got to the hospital on Monday night real late, he was in intensive care, naturally, all the wires hooked up. On Tuesday morning, we got the call to come right to the hospital, that he had taken a turn for the worst. And the doctors there pronounced him dead, brain-dead.
"The doctor called us all into the office," Jim said. "He said right now we're just about ready to pull the plug.
"We had lived in the area for almost 20 years," he continued. "We called the priest over at St. Margaret's, and they came over and said the last rites. Brian's in-laws said the same thing to the priest from St. Ignatius, so they came over. They said the last rites. Then I had all the stuff for the chaplet of the Divine Mercy."
"We started saying the chaplet," said Rose, referring to she, Jim, and their eldest son Jimmy.
"I'm only telling you the truth," Jim Shiflett said. "This is the Gospel truth. I'm not a saint. I go to church, you know, but for some strange reason, when we started to say the chaplet, there was a presence in the church, and it was almost like what Jesus said: 'Write that when they say this chaplet in the presence of the dying, I will stand between My Father and the dying person, not as the just Judge but as the merciful Savior' (Diary, 1541)."
About an hour and a half later, Valerie, the head ICU nurse, came out of Brian's room. She told the Shifletts that the doctors had done another EEG and EKG. "They found a little bit of minute energy in the brain," said Jim. "I looked at her and, for some reason, I said, 'There will be a miracle in this hospital.' And she said, 'Oh, I hope you're right. We're going to keep him for 24 more hours.''"
Two hours later Valerie and Jimmy were standing by Brian's bedside. Brian was in a "proning bed," a special therapeutic contraption designed to surround the patient on all sides, leaving only the head sticking out. "Jimmy leans over to Brian and said into his ear loudly, 'Brian, if you can hear me, open your eyes,'" Rose said. "Eyes flew open. And he's in a proning bed. He tried to turn towards Jimmy but he couldn't."
"Valerie saw that," said Jim. "Well here he is, brain dead, no activity, and all of a sudden he responds to a command."
"You're not brain dead," said Rose.
The doctors leapt into action. "Well, about two hours after that, the machines are just starting to go haywire, the oxygenation is coming up, the blood pressures are coming up and everything. It was unbelievable," said Jim. "The following week on a Wednesday, Brian is sitting up in the hospital in bed. No wires, no nothing, he's not hooked up to any machines or anything."
Brian continues to do well to this day. He's gone from being an occasional churchgoer to a regular in the pews, making sure to attend the Divine Mercy Sunday celebration at a local parish. Rose is firmly convinced God has a plan for her middle son.
"When he came around and we could talk to him, we told him, 'Brian, you're here for a reason ... God didn't want you yet. You have to find out what it is he wants. There's something you have to do,'" she said.
And the Shifletts now know and love St. Faustina, watching the Chaplet on EWTN each day and coming to the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy. "That's why we are here today — to pay our respects, you know, to St. Faustina," said Jim.
Rose added, "To give our thanks."