Dr. Sawyer in Papua New Guinea.

Dr. Sawyer in Papua New Guinea.

Monday, August 5, 2019

On Miracles...

Have you ever prayed for a miracle?
Have you ever witnessed a miracle?
What is the difference between a coincidence and a miracle?

Famous biographer and writer Eric Metaxas was asked by his publisher to write a book on miracles and Eric's initial interest was meager at best. But when Eric tried to refuse, his publisher said that he would find someone else to write the book. Surprised, Eric asked for some time to consider the matter further. He wrote a letter to his intellectual and rather famous friends and asked questions similar to what I have asked above. To his surprise he received what I recall was a 100% affirmative response rate from his friends, and he ended up accepting the assignment, which culminated in the publication of his book, Miracles, in 2014. This book has been translated into over a dozen languages. Although I don't seek for the miraculous, I also believe that I have witnessed miracles.
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Eric Metaxas' book Miracles.
If only I could recall the author of the quote, but someone once said that miracles are what some people would refer to as coincidences, but which occur at unexplained frequency.

So, I invite you to be the judge. In the past two months I think that I have witnessed four events which I would classify as miracles.  Here are the events below, from my perspective, as I witnessed them, and why I consider each to be miraculous.

#1. Hold the Plane: Due to the anti-human trafficking laws in Johannesburg, South Africa, we were required to carry with us extra documentation regarding the minors who were traveling with us through Johannesburg to Zambia.  This created some problems, as our Chinese adopted daughters do not have the same names today as they did when they were born, and when we tried to check in for our flight in Atlanta to Johannesburg, we were stopped at the gate, as we didn't have any proof that the birth certificates with our daughters Chinese names in fact were the same daughters that we have passports for with their American names.  The giant Boeing 777 that was scheduled to fly us for the next 16 hours was supposed to start boarding in 30 minutes, and we were being denied passage without the needed documentation.
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Delta Airlines Flight 200

As I stood at the gate counter in Atlanta, while the gate agent was making telephone calls to supervisors, I quietly was praying that God would intervene...and quickly.  After the first telephone call, the agent said that we would need to return to Arizona and obtain proof that our daughters were indeed our daughters.  That would mean putting 7 people back on a return flight from Atlanta to Phoenix, along with 22 pieces of luggage and medical supplies, and canceling our trip to Zambia. This would be a huge logistics nightmare.

I asked the gate agent to call another supervisor. As the minutes ticked away it became very clear that we were going to miss our flight. The gate agent hung up the phone again and told us that we were not going to be able to board. He then got up and went into an office as we stood and waited and prayed.  Then there was an announcement that the plane was delayed and that another plane was being prepared, but that the flight was delayed about 30 minutes. Everyone in the waiting area groaned, except for us.

For the next 90 minutes the gate agent was making calls, which were resulting in calls being made to South Africa to South African Customs and Immigration.  The plane kept being delayed, from 30 minutes to 2 hours! Ten minutes before the plane started to board, the gate agent hung up the phone with a poker face, looked directly at us, and as the corners of his mouth began to rise, told us that we were approved by South African Customs and Immigration to board our flight. Ten minutes later we were boarded the flight and the plane took off for Johannesburg a few minutes after that.

From our perspective we had witnessed a miracle. The other 390 plus people on this flight had been held up so that our group of 7 and our 22 bags of luggage and medical supplies could travel to Zambia to help to serve at the mission hospital there.  Delta flight 200 has a 76% on-time record, and is only "very late" 5% of the time. This time it seems that God was the one holding up the flight, although I don't think that the FAA would accept that as a reason.

#2. Good Medicine:  Several months before we headed to Zambia, I asked the head doctor at the hospital there which medicines were needed the most. The answer was a bit generic, but was essentially that "we need everything." So when I placed an order for medicines with an organization called Americares, I searched down the list of available medications and chose the ones that from my experience at other mission hospitals would likely be the ones most needed.

But when I toured the pharmacy at the hospital in Zambia, I realized that the 300 pounds of medications that we had brought, with a retail value of tens of thousands of dollars, filled the gaps of the pharmacy shelves. I could not have done better if it had been then pharmacists themselves who had told me of what their needs were. Also, the situation is very fluid, because which medications are going to be in short supply in a few months would have been a complete guess, yet what was contained in our luggage was exactly what was needed at that time that we arrived.  Again, from my perspective, this had been divine intervention on so many levels, and appeared to be God sending exactly what was needed when it was needed. Hundreds of patients were able to receive exactly the correct antibiotics and other medicines that they needed.

#3. For Hearts and Souls: One morning during our morning report at the hospital we were asked to go to see a little boy who was suffering from failure to thrive. He had a very loud heart murmur, and his physical findings were remarkable. During our rounds we stopped by the pediatric ward and found this sweet little boy on the bed with his mother.  He was dressed in a green outfit and greeted us with a huge smile while we listened to his heart and put our hands on his chest. His chest x-ray showed that he had an enormous heart and the scale revealed that he was not thriving.

I took a picture and video of the sweet little boy, along with a recording of the sound of his heart murmur and his x-ray and sent them to a friend of mine, Dr. Kirk Milhoan, who is a pediatric cardiologist in Hawaii.  I need to digress for a second. Do you know what antipodes are?  Antipodes are points on the earth that are exact opposites of each other.  Well, it turns out that the antipodes for the northwest region of Zambia (which is where we were) are the Hawaiian Islands (which is where Dr. Kirk Milhoan lives). I had sent a pediatric cardiology consultation to a doctor on the exact opposite side of the world!
Dr. Kirk Milhoan
Pediatric Cardiologist & Pastor
For Hearts and Souls

A few minutes after sending the images and records to Dr. Milhoan, he responded to me and told me the possible diagnoses, but also then told me that he and his pediatric cardiac team would be in Lusaka, Zambia, in a few weeks, and that his organization, For Hearts and Souls, would pay all of the expenses for this little boy and his mother to fly to the capital city to be seen and cared for by Dr. Milhoan and his team. I had no idea that Dr. Milhoan would be in Zambia. I had never asked for a cardiac consultation from Dr. Milhoan before. I knew that he traveled and taught around the world, but I had no idea that he was coming to Zambia. From my perspective, this was God providing the doctors and the means for this little boy to receive his care, and from my perspective this was an incredible miracle. 

Addendum: On August 8th this little boy underwent a cardiac procedure closing a large defect. The surgery was performed by the cardiac team with For Hearts and Souls in Lusaka, Zambia.

#4. Out of My Comfort Zone: In the United States when a doctor takes call at a hospital, they are generally only taking call for their own specialty. That is not the case for the rest of the world, and especially not in a limited resource setting. So, my first night on call in Zambia, the telephone rang after I was already sound asleep telling me that a pedestrian had been hit by a car and that he was in the operating room waiting for me to see him. I knew that wasn't good if he was already in the operating room and not in the emergency room. So I dressed quickly and while I walked to the hospital, I opened my Samsung tablet and started reading about trauma care.

The man had suffered head trauma, multiple lacerations of his head, arms and legs, and above his right foot his tibia was protruding through the skin and his right foot was dangling at an awkward angle.  Fortunately, however, there was a vascular surgeon at the hospital that night, visiting from Texas, and I called him on the phone and asked him to come. A quick ultrasound of the man's abdomen revealed that there was a lot of fluid in his abdomen, which based on his poor vital signs was presumably blood, so the surgeon had the anesthetist put the man under anesthesia, and with a quick stroke of the scalpel a small incision was made, revealing that the man's belly was filled with blood. Another stroke of the scalpel opened the man's belly from just below his sternum all the way down to his pubic bone.

I watched carefully as the vascular surgeon placed packs inside the abdomen to absorb the blood. Inspection of the man's liver showed the source of most of the blood. The liver had a big crevice running up the right lobe of the liver revealing the consequence of the impact of his body against the moving car. There also was a small laceration in his spleen. I remember thinking to myself that I needed to watch carefully, as for the next 12 days I would be the only surgeon at the hospital, and may have to do something like this on my own sometime in the next few weeks.  The vascular surgeon then showed me how to place a piece of surgical cloth that helps blood to clot and to sew it into the crevice in the liver.  Even after a quarter of a century of doing surgery, I had never sewn a liver before. The man was on his way to making a recovery.

Two weeks later, while on call again, the hospital called asking me to see a man who had been riding his bicycle and lost control and hit a parked car, causing him to flip over the top of the car. He hit the ground and lacerated his arm and lost consciousness. When I saw him, he was awake, and I did the trauma exam like I had witnessed the vascular surgeon do a few weeks earlier.  The man had pain over the front and back side of his liver.  An ultrasound revealed fluid in his abdomen, and his vital signs showed a low blood pressure and a rapid pulse.  I knew that this man, too, had ruptured his liver. We rushed him to the operating room. To make matters even worse, we knew that the blood supply at the hospital, as well as in the entire country, was limited, and I didn't know if we would have any blood to transfuse.  Fortunately I was not the only surgeon at the hospital this day, and was grateful for the other surgeon to join me in the operating room.

There was a visiting team of 5 anesthetists from North Carolina volunteering at the hospital during this time. If I recall correctly, I think all five of them rushed down to help with this surgery.

Our anesthetist team put him under anesthesia and a small incision on his abdomen, which revealed that his belly was full of blood. Then the incision was extended from below his sternum, down around his belly button, and all the way to his pubic bone. Liters of blood filled his belly, and we packed his belly with gauze to soak up all the blood. Examination of his liver revealed not only a huge crevice in the right lobe of the liver, but it was in the exact same spot where the prior patient had ruptured his liver. Because of the prior surgery I knew exactly what to do, and I was able to repair the injury, thus saving this man's life. Also, because this man's blood count had been so good before his injury, he did not require a blood transfusion, in spite of losing a lot of blood.  Less than two weeks later he was discharged from the hospital.  It turned out, also, that we didn't have any compatible blood to give to him. He had survived losing a huge amount of blood without needing to have a blood transfusion.

From my perspective, the fact that I had been on call and that I had just been shown how to do the same surgery two weeks earlier, and that this man did not require a blood transfusion, were all things pointing toward miraculous intervention. God had also provided not one, but five anesthetists to help with the anesthesia to save this man's life.  I don't need any kind of special corrective lenses to see what God had done.

Psalm 136:4 says,"to him who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever." From what I have seen in the past two months, I agree. God still does miracles, but we need to keep our eyes open so that we can see the wonders that he does.   

Have you prayed for a miracle? Have you seen a miracle? I would love to hear from you. Please write your miracles below, or respond to me as a comment on Facebook, or send me a personal message, or mail a letter to me at Allan Sawyer, PO Box 11660, Glendale, AZ 85318-1660.  I would encourage you to read Eric Metaxas' book, Miracles.

Together let's taste and see that the Lord is good! (Psalm 34:8)

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Words of Affirmation

Proverbs 12:18 (ESV) says, "There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing."

My wife would be the first to tell you that I LOVE words of affirmation, and I'm particularly sensitive to words of criticism. Recently while speaking at a Christian medical missionary conference in Orlando, Florida, I shared a truth that I had discovered about being a short-term medical missionary. That "truth" is that it is far better to go to serve at a mission hospital and to watch for what is good rather than to point out what is bad. Then I shared with the audience that I, too, LOVE words of affirmation, and half jokingly said, "so if you liked what I had to say today, then please come up and tell me what a good job I did; and if you didn't like what I had to say today, then please don't say anything." 

Well, as you would guess, after my presentation was over, people from the audience came up to tell me what a good job I had done, and that they found my presentation very helpful and interesting.  Even if they were being disingenuous, I still LOVED their words of affirmation.

But this also caused me to have a moment of self reflection; actually, far more than just a moment, but rather weeks of reflection about how critical I have been in the past, in fact, for most of my career. It seems I have a particularly keen eye for what is wrong with something, and am more than willing to point out how something could be fixed. But my eyes are often myopic when trying to see what is good, admirable, and perfect. 

So, as I departed this time to go back onto the mission field to serve, I made an intentional effort to see what was good, admirable and perfect; to look for the excellence and incredible intellectual and character traits in the people around me.  But not just to leave it at the point of observation, but also to speak aloud and articulate what I see is good, admirable and perfect; in essence, to speak aloud those words of affirmation that I, too, so LOVE to hear. 

Just a few days ago, five short-term physicians left after covering for the long-term physicians who had been away at a conference. I wrote each one of them a note, telling them the positive attributes that I had witnessed in them, and how grateful I was to serve beside them. Several of them messaged me back to tell me how much these words of affirmation meant to them.

My challenge for myself, and for you, today, is to keep your eyes open and focused on what is true, honorable and just; watch for things that are pure, lovely and commendable; searching for what is praiseworthy.  Then open my (your) mouth and speak those words of affirmation people love to hear; spurring them on to do more good and to LOVE more. 

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Doing Something Bigger Than Yourself...

In late November 2018, I was returning home to Arizona from Saipan.  One month earlier I had never heard of Saipan.  On October 24, 2018, super typhoon Yutu hit this small Pacific Island with a category 5 typhoon, with winds from 180 to 230 miles per hour that continued for five hours. Samaritan's Purse deployed their DC-8 along with their Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to go to serve on Saipan and the sister island, Tinian.

After being home for a month, and allowing the thoughts simmer in the back of my mind, it seems that my fingers are ready to write; to type out what has been percolating in my mind.

In early November, my flight landed in Honolulu, where I was to join the rest of the team who were arriving on the Samaritan's Purse DC-8 cargo plane, which, by the way, will turn 50 years old on December 24, 2018.  Of the 20+ people I was joining, I only knew one of them.

When we landed in Saipan, the jet bridge that should connect the terminal to the airplane had been destroyed by the storm.

We met our team leader, Mark Langham, who had only been on the island for 36 hours before we had landed.  He looked like a mix between a contemporary Jesus and a hippie leftover from the sixties who got lost on his way to Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco and time warped into 2018.  But what I came to love about Mark was that his external appearances were completely deceiving. The adjectives that describe Mark are: articulate, kind, compassionate, devoted, committed, passionate, uncompromising integrity, insightful, and genuine.

And those are just the ones that are on the tip of my tongue. But then there were another 23+ people who I could say the same thing about. Most mornings, a different team member would speak during our morning devotions; speaking from their life experiences and from their hearts.

As these team members, over the course of about 7 weeks, served the needs of nearly 8,000 homes on the islands of Saipan and Tinian, they were the image of Isaiah 52:7 and Romans 10:15. We watched in amazement as God opened the doors for us to serve. There was one particular marginalized people group in Saipan that lived in three different communities.

One morning we had no idea how we were going to serve the medical needs of this community, and by the end of that day we were doing a medical clinic in front of one of their places of worship and with the blessing of their community leaders.  This scenario repeated itself three more time over the next 5 days.

In a few days I leave for North Carolina to receive training specific to Ebola and then soon after returning to Arizona, I will deploy to serve in an area at high risk for Ebola. I'm grateful for each of you who reads this blog and prays for the work that we are doing. In return, I am praying Romans 15:13 for each of you.  "May the God of all hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."