By James P. Needham
The last two months have been the most difficult in the history of my immediate family. I had my first heart attack in 1980. Six weeks later I had four by-passes. While I was never free of chest pain under physical stress, I was able to live with it until the last year. My chest pain became more severe and unstable. I reached the point that I had to take a “nitro” tablet to get out of bed.
I saw a cardiologist on January 12, 1994, and he suggested that I have a heart catheterization (my sixth) to see what was going on. The “cath” showed that all my four by-pass grafts from 1980 were 100% blocked, and only one artery was supplying blood to my heart. A second by-pass surgery was recommended with some reluctance since the second one is more dangerous than the first. However, there seemed to be no other alternative. Accordingly, I had three by-passes on January 14 at University Community Hospital in Tampa. Everything seemed to go normally. I was taken off the respirator at a normal time, and moved to progressive care where after three days I had not had one good day. It was obvious that something was wrong. Breathing became extremely painful and more shallow by the breath until finally I lost consciousness. Thirteen specialists were conferring to try to decide what was wrong and what to do to save my life. They suspected that I had picked up a staphylococcal infection during the surgery. Cultures showed this to have been the case. “Staph” infection showed up on the mainline tube and my chest tube, and it attacked the pericardium and the pleural wall resulting in the collection of a massive amount of fluid around my left lung necessitating the inserting of a second chest tube to drain off the fluid.
I was rushed back to intensive care where they had to resuscitate me twice and doubted that I would survive. I was put back on the respirator on which I stayed for the next four miserable days! I was given the strongest antibiotic drugs known to man by I.V. for six weeks, and stayed in the hospital for 30 days. At this writing I remain on the antibiotic drugs by mouth, which will continue until my blood sediment rate is normal. This to make sure that the “staph” infection is gone, otherwise it will begin to multiply and become extremely difficult to handle.
About two weeks after I came home from the hospital, and still quite ill, my wife went to Karla’s (our 36-year old daughter who lived with us) bedroom to see if she had left for school (she taught music in the public school). As she tried to open her door, something was against it, and she could open it just enough to see that Karla was on the floor against the door (she evidently had realized that something was happening and tried to make it to the bathroom). My wife screamed for me to come, which I did at once. After some minutes I was able to get the door open wide enough to get inside, only to find Karla lying on her back against the door, and having hemorrhaged from the mouth. Medics said she had been dead several hours. Following an autopsy the medical examiner says the cause of death in “inconclusive.” The case is being examined by more sophisticated laboratories and they tell us it may be a month or more before we get a final answer.
Our precious Karla obeyed the gospel at age ten when I preached for the Expressway church in Louisville. It was during a gospel meeting held by Dudley Ross Spears. Karla grew into a very mature Christian. She was endowed by her Maker with exceptional artistic and musical talent. She attended college on a voice scholarship, majoring in voice, and minoring in piano. She was a graduate of the University of Central Florida, Orlando and had done extensive work at the University of South Florida, Tampa. She was certified in music and elementary education. Our greatest pride however came from the fact that she was an able Bible student and teacher. Her greatest joy was teaching the Bible and music to children. She extended herself beyond her physical limits in these areas, putting in many long hours in preparation of lesson material. A few weeks before her death her chorus was one of 15 chosen from Hillsborough County schools to appear on television to showcase “Music in Our Schools.” Since her death, the tape has been re-edited and dedicated to the memory of Karla. And will be shown twice on Tampa television.
Karla was dedicated to her family. She was a caring, loving and thoughtful daughter and brought us much joy and happiness. She was a survivor and a fighter she never gave up! She left us with a thirteen-year-old granddaughter, Heidi-Marie, whose father was killed in a car wreck before she was born. We now have full responsibility for her up-bringing, which was Karla’s expressed wish. While we do not shrink from this responsibility for one moment, my wife and I are in our late 60’s, and both of us have had open-heart surgery, and I have now had it twice. But we believe that with the help of God and the prayers of the saints we shall be able to meet the challenge. Heidi has been our pride and joy all her young life, but even more so now that our Karla is gone, and she is our only connection to our precious baby daughter. We will do our very best by her.
We take comfort in the words of little Heidi when she realized her mother was dead. She said to her grandmother, “Mother has gone to a better world. Hadn’t you rather be with Jesus than to be here? We will see her again some day.” She speaks often of seeing her mother again in heaven. Knowing the kind of person our Karla was, our hope is strong and stedfast that these dear words are true. The funeral was conducted by three dear and long-time friends, Melvin Curry, Cecil Willis, and George Eldridge. We derived much comfort from their precious words and will treasure them forever.
Word of my critical illness and of Karla’s death spread across this nation like a firestorm and special prayers were offered in many congregations, and phone calls, cards, gifts, floral offerings, and letters came from everywhere. Every mail brings another handful of cards, and every day brings phone calls from across the nation, some from people we don’t even know. Not being able to answer all these personally, we would like to use this medium to inadequately express our heart-felt appreciation to each and every one who has taken the time to share our burden. We pray God’s blessings upon each one of you, and ask that you keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we face the future. “We’ll understand it better by and by.”
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 9, p. 16
May 5, 1994