Monthly Archives: June 2011

A New Heart

Less than six months ago nobody would have guessed that nine-year-old Greer Underwood needed a new heart. According to her mother, dawn Underwood, Greer wasn’t “sick, sick,” but was just feeling bad with a slight cough in late February, 2011. She went to her regular pediatrician on a Tuesday, who diagnosed her with sinusitis and sent her home with a prescription for antibiotics. On Wednesday her breathing was shallow and labored, so she went to the ER, where they diagnosed her with pneumonia and sent her home with more antibiotics. On Thursday she had breathing treatments, steroids, and more antibiotics. By Friday Dawn didn’t feel good about Greer’s progress, so they went back to the ER in their hometown of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. This time Greer’s blood sugar was very high. The local ER said she had diabetes, and they needed to send her to Children’s Hospital of Alabama in Birmingham.

Pediatric cardiologists from University of Alabama at Birmingham diagnosed her as suffering not from diabetes but from severe heart failure from cardiomyopathy. Greer was transferred from Children’s to UAB Hospital’s cardiac intensive care unit (CICU), where cardiac cases are handled. Within an hour of arriving in the UAB CICU, she suffered a massive stroke caused by a blood clot from her failing heart. Cardiac surgeons performed a procedure usually done only on adult patients – administration of the clot-busting drug TPA and clot extraction by catheter. The procedures saved her from significant neurological damage. UAB cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. James Kirklin, knew that medication alone would not sustain her failing heart. Greer’s heart needed to be supported with a ventricular-assist device (VAD), but the blood thinners Greer was taking made the VAD approved for pediatric patients too risky due to her stroke. Dr. Kirklin knew that UAB was conducting adult clinical trials of the VAD “Heartware,” and that its small size made it an attractive option for Greer as a bridge to a heart transplant. After receiving special approval from UAB, the manufacturer of Heartware, and the FDA, Greer received the VAD the first week in March.

Greer’s recovery was remarkable. She progressed well from all cardiac and respiratory support, and completed physical and occupational therapy. But the ultimate life-saving event occurred on Mother’s Day, May 8, when a donor heart became available and Greer received a new heart by transplant. She is now back home in north Alabama looking forward to taking a swim in the family pool. Dawn Underwood says that they feel blessed. (UAB News, June 27, 2011: http://www.uab.edu/news/latest/item/1383-experimental-heart-pump-saves-alaba ma-girl )

Greer Underwood has lived a powerful parable about spiritual heart-sickness and the only saving treatment, receiving a new heart transplanted by the Great Physician. Physical cardiomyopathy often is misdiagnosed. The symptoms can be explained by a variety of other ailments, and less stringent remedies are eagerly attempted. Spiritual heart disease often is misdiagnosed, too. The Bible explains that we become distracted from the most tell-tale symptoms, but God zeros in on the true pathology: People look at the outside of a person, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b NCV) We often recognize all kinds of ill behaviors, but we too easily assign another less deadly name to what besets us. Jesus explained that – like Greer’s malaise, cough, diabetes, etc. – we focus on immediately visible presentations without acknowledging the true cause of our sickness: “From within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, {22} adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, eagerness for lustful pleasure, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. {23} All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you and make you unacceptable to God.” (Mark 7:21-23 NLT) We may think that we can deal with these “little problems” by turning over a new leaf on our own, but that only masks the deeper sin-sickness of our heart.

Some interim measures may be important bridges to help us from the ravages of sin to the life God intends for us to live. Heroic medical teams, powerful medications, and ingenious inventions prolonged Greer’s life until the ultimate remedy was available to save her. Interventions by faithful believers, practice of spiritual discovery and exercises, and care from a loving community can help one who is heart-sick from sin to stabilize enough to receive God’s grace. James advises us: “remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (James 5:20 NIV)

But God is the Great Physician who alone can offer us the true cure for our sin-sick heart. God can give us a new, clean, healthy heart. God’s correct diagnosis of our condition has been on our charts since the days of the prophets of Israel. Ezekiel admonished us on God’s behalf: “Get rid of all the sins you have done, and get for yourselves a new heart and a new way of thinking. Why do you want to die, people of Israel? {32} I do not want anyone to die, says the Lord GOD, so change your hearts and lives so you may live.” (Ezekiel 18:31-32 NCV) We need only to entrust ourselves completely to God’s capable healing hands, as David sang: “God, examine me and know my heart; test me and know my nervous thoughts. {24} See if there is any bad thing in me. Lead me on the road to everlasting life.” (Psalm 139:23-24 NCV) When we have confessed that God’s diagnosis is correct – that we are dead in our sins (see Ephesians 2:1) – then God is poised to do the transplant he has promised will save us and that he has longed to provide: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. {26} I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. {27} And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. {28} . You will be my people, and I will be your God. {29} I will save you from all your uncleanness.” (Ezekiel 36:25-29 NIV) God’s saving grace always answers our most vital prayer: “Create in me a pure heart, God, and make my spirit right again.” (Psalm 51:10 NCV)

I have several extended contacts with members of Greer’s family. They are basking in the blessings of restored health and hope Greer has received with her heart transplant. She has a wonderful life ahead of her to live. Join the family in praying for Greer and the life God and magnificent medical teams have given her.

What about your heart condition? Are you treating symptoms – depression, anger, pride, materialism, et. Al. – when the root cause is an untreated sin-sick heart? The Great Physician (Jesus) has you diagnosed correctly and is ready to administer the only effective treatment: a new heart.

– J. Edward Culpepper

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