PEACHTREE CITY — “I died a few weeks ago. In fact, I died twice.”
Those were the words of J. B. Collingsworth, associate pastor of Dogwood (Baptist) Church in Peachtree City/Tyrone. On Feb. 12 J.B. and his wife, Shugie, were getting ready to go out to eat to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary. He had worked from home that day and made dinner reservations a week before at a fashionable restaurant in Atlanta that they had not been to in years. Their path to the restaurant took them through downtown Atlanta late that winter afternoon.
J.B. had experienced some sweating and a very minor discomfort in his chest earlier that day that he described as a “fizzy” feeling. But, he set it aside as something minor and the two got dressed up to head to dinner. It wasn’t until they neared downtown Atlanta that the pain intensified to the point they had to pull over so Shugie could take over driving.
J.B. explained, “After we switched, I was on my phone trying to get directions to Piedmont, but Shugie insisted that we go to Grady because it was the very next exit and we were there in less than five minutes.
“Those who know our family are aware that I am in charge of all the boring, mundane things like groceries and bills,” Shugie said. “On the other hand, J.B. is our ‘crisis’ person. When things go unexpectedly south he is at his best, thinking quickly and making the best calls. In a crisis I typically freeze, wringing my hands and saying, ‘What do we do?’
“The calmness that came over me that night was a miracle provided by the presence and the power of God,” she continued. “The fact that I did not panic but had the presence of mind to know how close we were to Grady and to actually get us there is totally out of character for me in a time of crisis.”
When they arrived at Grady’s emergency room, J.B. says he almost ran into the hospital, with Shugie not far behind. They bypassed the security guards on duty who literally did not see them enter, thus saving precious time by not having to go through the metal detector.
He was immediately taken for blood work and on to one of their Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) Rooms. Immediately, he became the primary person of interest to the best medical team around. Grady is the only Level 1 Trauma Center in the region as well as being the only hospital with a 24-hour cath lab.
“I was calm,” J.B. recalled. “I heard the doctor when my wife asked what we were looking at respond by saying that I was showing every sign of having a heart attack. ‘Wow,’ I thought. Yet I did not panic. I had watched too many ER shows on TV thinking this is something that can be ‘fixed’ easily. Little did I know that the majority of people do not survive the awful rigors of CPR. And an even slimmer percentage than that survive the massive heart attack I had.
“Just watching the 16 people who were so good at their craft buzzing all around me in every direction, all the while knowing something was way out of line, can make you stop and think”.
“I had told Shugie to dress up for our anniversary dinner. She always looks beautiful, but that night she looked as if she might be headed to the opera. I was wearing the brand new suit I had worn only a month earlier at our daughter’s wedding. I had on a crisp white shirt with gold cufflinks, suspenders, and a tie.
“I had taken off my jacket as I rushed by those security guards at the front door, but the emergency room team was now literally shredding off my new pants. And although I was concerned about the destruction of my new suit, I knew I had bigger problems. I knew I was dying.
“I looked up at Dr. Ratcliff, the attending physician, while pointing my finger at him, and said, ‘It’s happening, Doc. I’m leaving. I’m going. I’m gone’.
“As I was saying those words it was like I saw shades being drawn shut from the top to the bottom – one by one. I was well aware of what was taking place. I was dying.
“I didn’t see bright lights and angels or hear birds chirping. But I felt an abundant peace in the dissolving of everything around me. It was an unequivocal, sweet, abiding peace.”
Unbeknownst to J. B., he had gone into what medical professionals refer to as pulseless ventricular tachycardia.
“In the midst of all that peace I coded twice and was gone for four minutes as the team of doctors and nurses performed CPR on me. I was eventually shocked two or three times before coming back. I’m so thankful to the Lord for another chance,” J.B. said. “They were just about to intubate me. Thank God for allowing me to immediately begin talking in sentences that caused the 16-member team to begin cheering, laughing, and clapping while saying ‘He’s back! He’s back!’”
After a massive lethal arrhythmia, CPR, and electrical shocks, Collingsworth was stabilized and rushed to the 24-hour cath lab for two stents. All of this happened and the final balloon stent inflated in 89 minutes from the time he arrived at the ER registration desk. The national benchmark for this procedure is 90 minutes from the time a person walks in to the ER and registers.
Shugie concluded, “Grady took care of J.B. and my family, church staff, and friends took care of me. Our kids and their spouses arrived home late that night. It is amazing to me that they recognized the seriousness from the start and headed this way immediately. J.B. was in the hospital for three days in ICU and CCU and in spite of the trauma on Feb. 12, he had no damage to his heart. He was being referred to as ‘the miracle man’ at Grady.
“So, we are, weeks later, looking back and thanking God for His power and protection and provision. Life is tough, but God is good. This is my story and I thank God for Jesus. It is only because of Him that I can say, like Paul, ‘When I am weak, then I am strong.’”
And J.B. has a brand new testimony of God’s amazing grace.
He can tell the story about his death experiences (two of them in one day) and people are eager to listen. He stated, “When I tell my story I have the undivided attention of my audience, whether it is one or many, and I have no trouble moving the conversation into the realm of the spiritual.”
God is using that story and his boldness in ways he says is beyond imagination and it just keeps getting better.