Todd & Karla McIntyre: Experiencing a Gift and a Miracle
Todd McIntyre, an admittedly quiet and reserved retired Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program Officer, was dedicated to his fitness and had competed in 35 marathons and 75 triathlons. But even as a man of faith, when he came in contact with people who had overcome extreme challenges, he wondered if he could have the strength to endure what others did. Until June 17, 2015, that is.
That's when, as he and his wife Karla were vacationing in Aruba, he experienced a life-altering medical event. The island hospital was not equipped to perform a heart catheterization, the treatment he would have received at any hospital in the U.S., so he was given multiple blood thinners. The unanticipated result of this treatment was a cerebellum brain bleed, causing the doctors to conduct emergency brain surgery to relieve the pressure. A shunt was implanted, but the doctors didn't know if they could save Todd, and a priest was called to give last rites.
In the meantime, Karla was in shock but acting quickly. She prayed more than she'd ever prayed before. She called in reinforcements, having a friend from home start a prayer chain. She updated family and friends and then arranged for an air ambulance to take them to a trauma center in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
Karla had faith that Todd would survive, rooted in a certainty that came as a gift from God.
Medically, there was not a lot to cling onto. Todd's brainstem was herniated, and he needed another immediate surgery to halt the growing brain bleed. Now in a coma, he returned to Pittsburgh, PA., and was admitted to an ICU under the treatment of a neurosurgeon in their hometown. For 46 days, Karla never left Todd's side, massaging his arms and legs and serving as his biggest advocate.
That meant getting Todd the best traditional medical treatment, as well as accompanying nontraditional therapies that some doctors didn't recognize or support. That included reiki (a Japanese healing and energy technique), acupuncture, essential oils, holistic nutrition, and more. She contacted people in support groups across the country to find out what they had done that worked—and duplicated efforts that made sense for Todd.
Karla was surprised by the response she received from those around her. Many, including those closest to Todd, thought he would never come out of the coma and wanted her to give up the fight. Conversely, support often came from unexpected places, such as two of Todd's co-workers who sat with and encouraged her every Sunday morning. People appeared at the right time and the right place. "They encouraged me. They were there when I needed them. Angels on this earth."
When Karla talks about other lessons learned through this ordeal, she points out that life can change instantly, so expect the unexpected. Life's journey is impossible to predict. Karla believes you should know where you are in your spiritual journey with Christ.
"It's a matter of when, not if you are going to meet Christ, so make sure you're comfortable with your relationship with Him.”
She continues, “Genesis 1:27 says, ‘God created you in His image,’ meaning we are all born with a capacity to know our Creator in a personal relationship. I'm thankful that we both were rooted in a strong faith before this ordeal, and God guided us."
Todd was moved to a long-term care facility. A landmark day was August 4, their eighth anniversary and nearly two months after the event in Aruba. He was still unresponsive and breathing through a trachea. She prayed for God to show her if the man she knew and loved was still in this motionless body.
She convinced the speech therapist at the care center to plug his trach so that he might be able to talk, which would only be possible if there was brain activity. She stood beside Todd, still unmoving, and pressed her lips against his ear. "You need to step up. Say something. No one believes in you but me. Help me prove them wrong."
There was no response. She turned away.
And then she heard the garbled but unmistakable words, "I love you. Oppy versary." There was brain activity after all!
Todd was diagnosed with locked-in syndrome, a rare neurological condition that left him completely paralyzed except for vertical eye movement. Usually, there isn't much chance for recovery, doctors warned.
But what the doctors didn't consider was Todd's will to recover, Karla's passion and persistence to find the right treatments, and the certainty they both had that God would get them through this dark time. There were ups and downs, but Todd's recovery and progress were rapid from that point on.
Today he laughs, "It didn't seem that fast when I spent hours and days trying to get my thumb and forefinger to meet!" He improved to the point that by Christmas, Todd was getting around in a wheelchair and returning home. In April, he was back to work part-time.
Todd became an inspiration to his medical team. Michelle Baranowski, OTR/L, an occupational therapist who worked with him periodically from the early days through his amazing recovery, notes that Todd is a miracle case. "He's an example that provides encouragement to other patients as well as professionals."
He eventually progressed to walking with a walker and then a cane. Today, he can walk but deals with muscle control and balance deficits. He appreciates the help of his mobility service dog; a Great Dane named Groot. He has worked through 695 outpatient physical therapy sessions and untold hours of home strengthening and cardio workouts to get to where he is now. With the support of the Dare2tri non-for-profit organization whose mission is to enhance the lives of individuals with physical disabilities, he even completed the Leon's World's Fastest Triathlon, a sprint triathlon for disabled active and retired military personnel.
He desires to compete in full marathons and triathlons once again. "How much more will God let me do? I don't know, but I'm not giving up," he says. "Life is not a spectator sport. I will put out the effort, and by God's grace, I will achieve my goals. "
He believes that the more complete his recovery is, the stronger his testimony will be. And it's a testimony he easily shares. Once admittedly quiet and reserved, he actively engages people, sharing his story with confidence.
Both Todd and Karla share that their relationship has forever changed. They are closer and "truly
connected." They pray together and feel God's distinct presence in their lives.
Karla isn't surprised by Todd's recovery because God spoke to her heart.
Her certainty goes back to the memory of when she was with Todd on the air ambulance from Aruba to Florida in 2015. Worried and worn out, she fell asleep and believes she saw Jesus adorned in a radiant white robe. "Todd will be restored to his original creation," he said in a voice that was soothing yet powerful, commanding yet comforting. "But the days ahead won't be easy. Remember, I am with you." And He was gone.
Who could speak with such authority? Was it real? Was it Jesus? It happened so quickly.
Over the difficult years, it was clear that the message that came in a personal way that couldn’t be denied or fully explained, was a gift. And it helped them to persevere and realize the miracle of Todd's renewed health.
“He who forms the mountains,
who creates the wind,
and who reveals his thoughts to mankind,
who turns dawn to darkness,
and treads on the heights of the earth—
the Lord God Almighty is his name.”
- Amos 4:13
Dare2Tri, is a non-profit organization that specializes in removing barriers to sports and fitness for people with disabilities and impairments. For information and to provide support go to Dare2tri - Adaptive Sports & Fitness.