In 2000, Joyce and Brian Smith adopted their son, John, from Guatemala. They have two adult sons from previous marriages, but were not able have a child together. John was the light of their lives, and Joyce decided she wanted to be a full-time, stay-at-home mother while Brian continued to work. Faith has always been a large part of their lives and they knew God had a plan for them.
Fast forward 14 years…
It was 57 degrees outside on Monday, January 19. Kids were off school in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Like most 14-year-old boys, John Smith and his two pals are interested in sports. For these three, their love is basketball. After spending the night at a friend’s house, John called his mom to let her know that they would be going to the recreation center near his friend’s home to practice their jump shots before returning home.
What happened in the next fifteen minutes forever changed their lives. The water at Lake Sainte Louise, a smaller body of water near Lake St. Louis, had frozen the week prior due to the cold weather. John and his friends wandered out on the ice and decided to take a photo of themselves with a cell phone, thinking it would be cool. Shortly after that photo was taken, the trio fell into the 40-degree water.
Emergency crews were called and three departments—Lake St. Louis Police and Fire District, St. Charles County Ambulance District, and Wentzville Fire District—responded to the place where the boys fell in the lake.
It was a familiar scene for responder Tommy Shine from Wentzville Fire District: “We were just practicing cold water rescue a week ago,” he said. Shine and his crew went out on the ice and rescued John’s two friends, but couldn’t locate John. By all accounts he had been under water for nearly 15 minutes. Suddenly, Shine moved two feet to his right and located the 14-year-old.
“Immediately we got him out of the lake and started CPR,” Shine said. “The land rescue team used the AED twice and gave him several doses of epinephrine to get his heart started.”
As the team continued to work for a sign of life, they transported John to SSM Health St. Joseph Hospital – Lake Saint Louis. Twenty emergency personnel continued to perform CPR on John. Never before had anyone come back after being pulseless for 30 minutes and their efforts were continuing at 46 minutes.
Dr. Kent Sutterer, John’s Emergency Room doctor was preparing to tell his mother that she needed to come say goodbye to her son.
“I asked Joyce to come into the room, so she could see her son,” Dr. Sutterer said. “She was crying as is to be expected. Then she cried out ‘I believe in a mighty God and he can perform miracles. Lord please bring John back to us. God, please send your Holy Spirit to heal this boy!’ Just then the Holy Spirit came in that room and started that boy’s heart once again. His heart was jumpstarted by the Holy Spirit listening to the request of a praying mother.”
The team continued warming John and transported him via helicopter to SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. Dr. Jeremy Garrett, pediatric critical care and drowning specialist, was waiting for him with a specialized care team.
“When he arrived, John had irregular gasping-type breathing, but even the most basic brainstem functions continued to be absent,” Dr. Garrett said.
SSM Health Cardinal Glennon nurse Wendy Hoff, a 23-year PICU veteran, reflected on what she witnessed just 24 hours after the accident.
“His brother came to get me and told me that John was awake and could move his arms,” Hoff said. “His eyes were open and I asked him if he knew who was in the room. He gave me a thumbs up. I asked him if he could move his feet and he did. I had never seen anything like that before and I began sobbing. Everyone around me began sobbing. We knew that John being here was a miracle.”
At 48 hours after the accident, Dr. Garrett performed a unique and high level neurological function exam tailored just for John. John answered questions about his favorite basketball players, Michael Jordan and LeBron James, by raising either his right or left hand. He correctly answered all of the questions.
No one knew what to expect. He was defying all medical knowledge.
“I knew that God would finish the job,” Joyce said. “He wouldn’t just give us half a miracle. He was going to give us the whole thing and finish the job He started.”
Even the physicians were in awe.
“Results like this are not what knowledgeable physicians specializing in pediatric emergency or intensive care would expect, even with the best of care,“ Dr. Garrett said. “If I had not been part of John’s care from presentation to recovery, I’m not sure I would have believed it myself.”
On February 4, John walked out of SSM Health Cardinal Glennon bouncing a basketball. Later that day he ate at his favorite restaurant, O’Charley’s and got to sleep in his own bed. John continues to receive physical therapy for his hands but he is doing well and has a newfound appreciation for his life.
“I know that God has given me back life for a reason, He performed a miracle for a reason,” John said. “While it may not be clear now, I know that He has a plan and I will follow what He has in store for me.”