A life saved by 9/11

Published 10:15 am Saturday, September 10, 2011

By Ervin R. Johnson

Many lives were lost by the tragic events of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. This must always be the overriding truth of that sad day. However, there is a surprising reversal in that 10-year-old event worth the telling.

During that time, I was pastor of Park View United Methodist Church in Portsmouth. Annual short-term mission trips were part of my ministry. For 2001, my foreign field of service were the last two weeks in August in Mozambique in East Africa.

The first leg of the return trip from Mozambique was a ride in a crowded van. For more than 100 miles, we rode with all the windows opened (no air-conditioning) in an attempt to get some relief from the stifling African summer. In the days afterward I thought this had caused me to have the flu.

Back in Portsmouth, my physical condition worsened. Fast forward to Wednesday, Sept. 12. On that day I had an appointment with Dawson Mills, a writer for The Virginian Pilot. He was interviewing me regarding my mission trip. During the interview, I collapsed and lost the ability to think or talk coherently.

Now, here when the whole story turns. Because of the tragedy of the day before, Norfolk Naval Shipyard closed its gates. For the first time in more than 150 years, this government and military facility was not allowing anyone to enter.

That morning my wife, Linda Johnson, a quality assurance specialist, had been turned away at the gate. She returned home and then we went to the interview.

When I was no longer able to continue, my wife completed the interview. Then I begged to be taken home.

“Just let me go to bed and I will be all right,” I told her.

If that had happened, I would have died in bed and been another of the more than 1.1 million people who die of malaria every year. But, Dawson and Linda thought it best that I go directly to Bon Secours Medical Center. I gave in.

Tests showed that I was infected with either flu or malaria. Tests were inconclusive. During these days, I was unaware of anything. A number of friends and family came to see me. I do not recall any visitors.

On Friday, Sept. 14,, at 5:30 a.m., I suffered a violent seizure. The doctors then knew for sure that which strain of malaria I had.

Eighty percent of my blood was affected. Between 10 and 20 percent is considered fatal. Four doctors told my wife that there was no way I could survive and to prepare for my death. However, one doctor did not give up. On the Internet he made a search for medical experts in the field of malaria and found the leading one in St Louis.

He directed the team at Bon Secours Medical Center to completely change the treatment. He then prescribed other drugs, and the precise amount that could possibly give me a righting chance of living.

There is one more turning point in this drama. A desperate plea for prayer in my behalf went out across this land. I bless them all. Together they proved Tennyson’s poetic precept: “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.”

I was moved to cardiac intensive care and regained consciousness on Sunday, Sept. 16. At that point I made rapid progress and was released the following week.

What conclusions can be drawn from this experience? The time sequence with 9/11 may be considered, humanly speaking, purely coincidental. But, there is a spiritual dimension that cannot be overlooked. Psalms 76: 10 reads: “Surely God will make even the wrath of man to praise Him.”

This we believe, with all our hearts, is what happened to us and for many others. Their stories are told elsewhere.

Now, a decade later, we continue to give thanks for the doctors, nurses and prayer partners because their indispensable services resulted in success. And to God, our Heavenly Father, we offer praise “to Him from whom all blessings flow.”

ERVIN R. JOHNSON lives in Portsmouth and is a retired pastor. His Churchland High School typing teacher, Shirley Shultz, lives in Franklin. He can be reached at ejohnson134@cox.net.