The Intersection of Science and Faith: A Personal Account

Jenni L. Hoffman, DNP, FNP-C, CLNC

It was the morning of December 20, 2013 and as soon as I heard my mother’s voice on the phone, I knew something had happened to my father. That something, it turned out, was his sudden collapse on my childhood home’s living room floor, and the subsequent spontaneous cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and 45 minutes worth of defibrillation that followed—all before being transported to the local hospital where he immediately had 5 stents placed and was admitted into the neuro ICU. 

Reflecting upon how frightened my mother must have been watching the emergency team in action still gives me anxiety all these months later. Even as a nurse practitioner, it was incredibly difficult to witness my father, a 66-year-old mentally sharp and physically active male, in such a vulnerable state. At the same time, I recall the sense of relief that I felt in being able to translate the medical information to my family when I arrived at the hospital. However, since it was my dad, it was hard to separate the medically-logical nurse practitioner from the emotional daughter.


The medical team concluded that my father, known to everyone as “Ed,” had suffered a myocardial infarction or heart attack and cardiac arrest. He had a blockage of coronary arteries, which was corrected with stents, and an issue with the electrical conduction activity of the heart, which was later corrected with a pacemaker. 

When I first saw my father after he was taken to the neuro ICU, he was unconscious and on a ventilator. To say it was a shock, and deeply unsettling, is an understatement. It was unlike any way we had previously seen him. The physician relayed the procedures that he and his team had performed, and the impact he expected—and hoped—that those interventions would have. Essentially, he explained, they had done every possible thing they could and now we had to wait and have faith that he would pull through. 

The Waiting Game

The day before Christmas Eve, my father’s prognosis did not look good. I’ll never forget being told that he might not wake up, and that if he did, he would likely require total care in a nursing home. His heart issues had been addressed; however, there was considerable concern over the amount of time he had gone without oxygen—possibly up to 45 minutes. As a nurse practitioner, I was more than aware of the fact that after 5 minutes of no or poor oxygenation, the brain can suffer irreversible damage. The uncertainty was unbearable. 

In the afternoon on Christmas Eve, I noticed that my dad was retaining a lot of fluid. His skin was taut all over his body, and dry and cracked on his lower extremities. Drawing upon the basic nursing skills of caring and therapeutic touch, I began to massage his feet and talk to him. I had hoped, despite his unconscious state, that it would be relaxing for him and reassure him that we were there. Though slightly implausible sounding, a few minutes later I noticed his eyes flutter. My heart began racing as soon as I saw my mom enter the room and I gave her the news. However, our exhilaration waned when the medical staff explained that his reaction was likely “reflexive, involuntary, and not indicative of higher brain function.” That’s when the miracle started to unfold. 

Later that afternoon, he woke up. Then, on Christmas Day, he was taken off the ventilator. He was soon able to follow simple commands and respond orally. The attending physician was as surprised as we were. 

“If these changes keep up,” he said. “It would be mind-blowing.” 

Due to his improvements, he was transferred to another floor and began walking again on New Year’s Eve.

A Miraculous Recovery

What we had witnessed was a marvel, not only to us, but also to the medical team treating my father. Before we left the hospital, my father was asked to describe what he saw or felt in that moment of coming into consciousness. He could not recount anything that had happened—at that time, nor 1 week prior, or 2 weeks after his experience.

Soon afterward, he was transferred to a nearby rehabilitation facility where he received physical, occupational, and speech therapy. He was discharged after 1 week and prescribed 3 weeks of outpatient rehabilitation.

Two months after the initial heart attack and cardiac arrest, my father was cleared to resume driving and daily activities.
It is now nearly 2 years later and we continue to feel enormous gratitude and joy over my dad’s full recovery. A follow-up electrocardiogram showed no damage to the heart muscle, and his electroencephalogram revealed no brain damage due to the lack of oxygen. Dopplers of his carotid and peripheral arteries were unremarkable. It was as if his collapse never happened.

After being discharged from the rehabilitation facility, my father became an overnight celebrity. The emergency responders who had shown up that
afternoon still talk about his miraculous recovery with enthusiastic awe. Was it divine intervention or just a timely intersection of science and faith?

The impact of faith on health has implications on the healthcare of patients. It gives patients hope—and studies have revealed that it enhances healing, among other benefits.1

Jenni L. Hoffman, DNP, FNP-C, CLNC, is a nurse practitioner at the Washtenaw County Health Department and an assistant professor of nursing at Eastern Michigan University, both in Ypsilanti, MI.

1. Christian Medical and Dental Associations. Standards 4 Life: Faith and Health. Accessed July 27, 2015.