WESTWOOD, Ky. (KT) – Two years ago Fairview Baptist Church Pastor Mike Rice was approached by two women members about the need for having an AED Defibrillator available in the building.
“We had a senior deacon who had some episodes,” Rice said. “But I sure never knew I’d be the first one to need it.”
Two months after his heart stopped while he was behind the pulpit, the 66-year-old pastor was preaching again Sunday morning.
He said if it wasn’t for the Defibrillator, some medical personnel in the congregation and the Westwood Volunteer Fire Department’s quick action, his last sermon would have been June 10.
That’s the evening that Rice collapsed while ending his sermon. He didn’t have a heart attack. His heart just stopped beating and so did his breathing.
In a matter of seconds, several rushed to the stage including Rick Thompson, Seth Rice, Ish Stevens Sr. and Dr. Ish Stevens, who was at his side with the machine that was purchased two years ago.
“Ish said I was finishing up (the sermon),” Rice said. “I don’t remember. All I know is what I was told.”
Stevens, who first thought the diabetic Rice had blacked out because of low sugar, administered the machine to the beloved pastor and Jo Cathey, a nurse in the cardiology department at the hospital in Ashland, was also quickly on the scene.
“When she saw me, she said ‘He’s gone. I’ve seen this before,’’’ Rice said.
Stevens shocked Rice’s heart – “I slapped it on him and gave him a jolt. He flopped like a fish,” the doctor said - and the Westwood Volunteer Fire Department, which was across the street and doing some training, rushed over and used an apparatus that assisted in getting him breathing again. But he had gone nearly eight minutes without oxygen.
“Three minutes can cause brain damage,” Rice said.
Rice was rushed to the intensive care unit at King’s Daughters Medical Center where he was put on a ventilator after having his body temperature lowered with a “deep freeze.”
It was touch and go for several days and few thought he would survive. His family – wife Lisa, daughter Elisha and son Seth – never left his side. Elisha, who lives in Michigan, stayed with her father and gave daily and sometimes twice daily updates on Facebook.
“She was optimistic the whole time,” Rice said. “Elisha was perfect for that (updating Facebook).”
The entire community, including Fairview’s church body, was looking on and praying for the pastor. The church came back out the same night he collapsed and then later in the week after he had contracted pneumonia.
On Sunday morning, Rice thanked the church – and many others – who had prayed for him. They also recognized the Westwood Volunteer Fire Department and medical personnel in the service.
“I’m still hearing from people in the community and most of them never met me,” he said. “The postal carrier stopped me and said he was praying for me. A lady in a restaurant said she was following it on Facebook. Every day I meet someone who prayed for me.”
Doctors who looked at his charts call him “a miracle” because it’s unexplainable how he could have lived through it without brain damage at least."
“The words ‘miracle’ and ‘there’s something for you’ was something I heard a lot,” he said. “They say ‘This is not explainable.’’’
But Rice said he can explain it: God has more for him to do.
When he was beginning to come around, the neurologist called his name. “He said ‘Michael’ and my eyes opened,” Rice said. “They said that was a good sign (there wasn’t brain damage).”
Rice required a bypass in 2003 and he and has been diagnosed with heart disease. But the episode two months ago wasn’t an attack. “My heart just stopped on me,” he said.
Rice’s son, Seth, was one of the first to his side after he collapsed. “They had to tell him to stop holding me,” he said. “He didn’t want to let go.”
The Defibrillator and some well-trained church members kept June 10 from being his last day, Rice said. He said the church is already purchasing another machine for its new multi-purpose building on campus.
“They’re really not that expensive, about $2,000, and you never know who’s going to need it,” he said.
Stevens said every church or every place that has a public gathering should have a Defibrillator available. “They’re very easy to use and some of them are even automated,” he said. “It may have saved his life.”
Rice said he would preach only the second morning service for the foreseeable future. Several within his church body will fill in as will some from the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s consultant pool.
Rice said his new testimony have already impacted many who watched in the hospital as the “miracle” left the building.
“People saw the church in a different way, a positive way, as they rallied around me,” he said. “What they saw impressed them. Some of the nurses at KDMC talked about how my life and how everybody responded touched them, and how they were challenged to get back in church.”
There’s a new song in Mike Rice’s heart too and it’s beating stronger than ever.