Holy Heart Surgery

Editor’s note: The safety and well-being of every kid is of utmost importance in Young Life camping. That’s why Young Life has a Camp Physician Program at our national properties. The physician’s services during the week allow Young Life an additional degree of professionalism in the medical services provided to campers. Below is a story from one of our camp physicians about what he experienced while at Carolina Point, our newest camp in North Carolina.

It was day six of my week as the volunteer camp physician and I was fully engaged in club, excited for the games and skits that would soon light up the room with laughter. We were packed to overflowing, and suddenly someone tapped me on the arm. “I think they need you,” he said as he pointed to the doorway. I weaved my way through the crowd, and outside I saw Tim doubled over and sitting on one of the picnic benches, his right hand tightly gripping his chest.

Tim was a strapping 17-year-old senior, talented enough to play varsity football since his freshman year. Tim had not been involved in Young Life except for two or three club meetings he attended in the spring.

The week before camp, Tim went to the beach with his former girlfriend and her family. When they returned from the beach to drop her off at the bus, Luke LePage, a volunteer leader at Overton High School in Nashville, Tenn., approached Tim with an opportunity.

“Tim, we are headed to Carolina Point for a week of Young Life camp and we just had someone drop out,” Luke said. “We have an open spot, fully paid for, and I want you to go.”

Tim thought for a moment. He had nothing to do the rest of the summer until football practice started. His bag was packed from the beach, and he knew enough people that he figured it might be fun. Besides, who could turn down a free trip? In less than a minute, his bags were on the bus, and he climbed on board.

Keeping my voice calm and my movements slow, I quickly assessed Tim for any signs of a heart attack. He was not sweating. His breathing was slow and shallow, but guarded. His pulse was regular and strong.

“Have you ever felt this pain before?” I asked. “Yes. Over Christmas break,” Tim said. “What was going on then?” I asked. “My dad died.” Those words hit me like a ton of bricks. Could this be the cause of his pain? “Tell me more.” 

Tim said he had been living with his mom and her husband, but by the end of his sophomore year, his mom told him that he was “in the way” and needed to move out. So he moved in with his dad and his dad’s girlfriend. He could tell this was not going to be a good long-term solution, so he called his mother and she agreed to let him move back in.

Feeling better about his diagnosis, I decided his chest pain was musculoskeletal, driven by tension and hurt. “Tim, you are not having a heart attack. You are going to be OK.” I gave him some Advil and suggested he take a walk with Luke.

I was summoned two more times as Tim’s symptoms seemed to worsen. Luke, Tim and I moved to the infirmary, and Tim began to pull back the curtain on his life.

Tim shared that his dad had split up with his girlfriend around Christmas. Circumstances had driven him to despair and on New Year’s Day, his dad took his life.

“If I had been there for him, maybe he wouldn’t have left,” Tim said. “Maybe he would still be alive.”

I assured him it wasn’t his fault, that he had friends like Luke to help him. I didn’t know what to say, what to do, how to pray, so I silently and simply prayed, “Lord, help me.”

I am always fascinated at how ready and willing the Holy Spirit is to take over, if I just ask. With the wisdom of the greatest philosopher and the hands of the best surgeon, Jesus entered the room. We talked about having a relationship with Jesus and Tim listened. Tim didn’t have any spiritual foundation. He had no faith. He didn’t know about a God who was madly in love with him. He didn’t know Jesus wanted to heal his heart.

“You can’t fix your problems,” I said. “You cannot do it on your own. It will take someone far greater than you to fix the mess. But, Tim, don’t make a decision to follow Jesus in haste. Don’t do it for Luke or for me. Make sure this decision is for you.”

He looked at me with a slight grin. I sensed it was time for me to back out and turn things over to his leader. Luke grinned. “I think this is absolutely the best decision you will ever make,” he said, as he looked directly into Tim’s eyes.

As Tim prayed, his chest pain disappeared. Miraculous healing took place as the Holy Spirit performed open-heart surgery, and the angels rejoiced. No blood was lost, for blood had already been shed. No recovery; only redemption.