By Paul Kim
The heart is perhaps the most vital part of the human body. Long before birth, the heart of a baby begins to pump and circulate blood. When the heart stops, the body can no longer sustain life.
In 1983 when I was a young pastor in Berkeley, California, I experienced the trauma of a family having to deal with a tragedy involving this truly an extraordinary organ.
A six-month-old baby boy was transported by helicopter from Monterrey, California, to San Francisco General Hospital. The baby’s father was a Korean naval officer studying at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterrey. He was a church member where my brother-in-law was pastor. When he called about the situation, I drove to the hospital to visit the baby’s parents since I was nearby.
I learned from the parents that their only child was born with a congenital heart problem called infant methemoglobinemia, also known as “blue baby” syndrome. A few days later the attending doctor discussed the options at the time – either keep him on life support with little to no chance of recovery or pull the plug.
It was the most painful ethical dilemma for a parent! Even my previous experience as a former hospital chaplain didn’t prepare me for this. I was at a loss for words.
With much agonizing prayer and pastoral counseling, the parents decided to let go of the child as there was nothing more the doctors could do. I stood there with the parents watching the heartbreaking moment. The baby’s mother held her only child in her tender arms in tears, not wanting to let go. The heart continued to pump slowly for about 20 minutes. The doctor came by a couple of times to check the baby’s heart to make sure before signing the death certificate.
Understandably, this event really impacted my view of life and ministry. Over a decade later, on March 28, 1994, during Passion Week, I too experienced a problem with my heart.
After a swim at the YMCA in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I felt an acute pain in my chest. I was barely able to drive home. My wife saw that I was holding a half-filled bottle of Pepto-Bismol, weak and sweating. She insisted that I see a doctor so we went to a neighborhood walk-in clinic. There, the doctor told me to my surprise that I had suffered a severe heart attack. An ambulance came to transport me to the local hospital.
Without what I believe to be my wife’s divinely-inspired intuition to seek medical help, it would have been my final day in this world.
While I was hospitalized for 12 days, our church families around the world fasted and prayed without ceasing for my recovery. Our Lord answered their prayers. By God’s grace I survived the heart attack. In February 1997, I underwent quadruple bypass surgery. Since then, I have been in good health. God miraculously healed me and granted me a second life so that I could do His work in the ministry.
As I mark the 25th anniversary of my heart attack and recovery, I am extremely grateful to God that I could go through the experience so that I could empathize and minister to those who are undergoing health problems.
More importantly, having gone through the suffering and pain of heart surgery, I feel I can understand in a deeper way the pain of God’s heart as it bleeds for lost souls. As long as God gives me life and breath on this earth, I want to continue working to expand the Kingdom of God until He calls me to His glory.
Paul Kim is the Asian-American relations consultant with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee and pastor emeritus of Antioch Baptist Church in Cambridge, Mass.