Monday, October 14, 2013

Ross Ragan Beats Death: Why Is He Alive Today When His Doctors Said It Was All But Impossible?

It is now nearly a year, November 20, 2012, since Ross Ragan, 55, walked out of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston after suffering a sudden and massive aorta dissection that only one in a hundred survives. Ross not only survived, but today walks several miles a day and looks forward to a long, healthy life.

Actually, he was out walking in downtown Nantucket when I recently met him and heard his story. I was spending a few days on the island with my friend Bill, who lives year round on the island as does Ross.

I was stunned by what he told me. "I'm interested in writing your story," I said.


"Mind if I take your picture?"

"No, go ahead."

In the photo at right, Ross is in blue with Nantucket on the front. My friend Bill poses with him. On my last day in Nantucket, Ross and I met and talked for an hour and a half in the Transportation Center while I waited for the ferry.

He is pictured below in the Center.
Ross's story is unusual and powerful. It is multi-dimensional, involving the fragility of life, the love of a husband and wife, and questions as big as they come. 

Does Ross owe his odds-beating survival to amazing luck? Top medical care? Or, as Ross fervently believes, is he alive today because of a miracle of God?

On that fateful day one year ago, Ross Ragan and his wife Trina were so happy. The day before, their daughter in California had given birth to her third child, a boy, little Timmy. Trina, who was on the west coast to support their daughter, had called Ross in Nantucket with the great news.

The couple had recently moved into their new rental home on the storied island. Ironically, just as his life was about to be turned upside down, the house, said Ross, was an "upside down house."

The typical floor plan was reversed, placing the bedrooms and common living areas on the second floor, instead of the first, where Ross and Trina look out on a thick forest of scrub oak. But on the second floor, with lots of windows, they enjoy a great view of the ocean. Ross says that the floor plan may seem foreign at first, but "an upside down house changes what you see and from a totally different perspective."

However, at the moment, their home was mostly empty and "in desperate need of furnishing." Ross's job now was getting their new place looking a little more like home for when Trina arrived back on island in two weeks. He went right to work. That evening, after a busy day in the house, he went to bed tired, but happy. He gave thanks to God, turned the light off, and closed his eyes.  

But he didn't fall asleep. Instead, "thoughts  just came to my mind," he said, and he felt inspired to write them down. He got out of bed, picked up his laptop, and typed the following:  

One thing I have come to realize in a fresh way, is that change can often be a good thing. Everything changes in one way or another. It is often by one's own hand that change is set in motion to cause a desired affect, with the outcome hopefully, weighing strongly on the positive side of the scale. On the flip side, uncontrollable circumstances act as reckless, circus cannoneers, hurling us through the air, only to land in undesirable places.

He pondered those words and fell asleep. 

November 20th was a glorious morning, a perfect fall day in Ross's estimation:

"Crisp is probably the best word to describe it, with deep blue skies, cool morning air, and a gentle breeze. I always seem to feel better on those kind of days. I prayed a bit, had my morning oatmeal and a fruit smoothie, then headed out into town. Trina had sent me info on some local estate sales and yard sales on the island for me to check out that day. So that was my mission, to find some good deals, and that I did. 

"After dropping off my finds back at the house, I returned into town to have a bite to eat before venturing back to catch another moving sale. I found a perfect piece that we had been looking for. I asked the owner if he could help me move it down the stairs to my truck, and he gladly obliged."

But at the bottom of the stairs, Ross felt a sudden, strange change in his body. "I felt as if someone had pressed their hands around my throat, my heart was palpitating and beating extremely hard and fast, and my right leg was in excruciating  pain."

Then he had trouble breathing. Gasping for air, he struggled to walk. What was happening? 

Fumbling for his cell phone, he called Trina. "There’s something going on in my body," he said. "I’m having trouble breathing. My right leg is in a huge cramp. My heart is palpitating like crazy. I think it’s my heart.  Will you please pray for me?"

Ross and Trina prayed together over the phone.

"In the past," said Ross, "we have both seen God do amazing miracles and we believed that he could do it again, this time for me. But things did not get better; they got worse."

Ross remained reasonably calm, yet many serious thoughts began to flood his mind. What is happening? What should I do? What if I don’t survive this?Will I leave my wife behind? With Trina 3,000 miles away, will I be unable to hold her one more time?

After growing up in Chatham, Mass. on Cape Cod, Ross explored a musical career, various business ventures, traveled extensively, and eventually settled in Southern California. There he met and married Trina, today his wife of nearly thirty years.

Most of those years were spent in Massachusetts where they raised two children.  The couple has spent most of their marriage in Massachusetts, mostly on the North Shore. They now have four grandchildren.

Ross and Trina moved to Nantucket in 2011 "to share the Gospel with all those who will listen." For the  two years prior to the incident, they had been live-in caretakers on a large estate. Trina currently works for a local gas company and has written a children's book, "Shadow."  It is an illustrated story of a very different crayon and is available on Amazon.

Ross has worked in "various vocational venues over the years, not to obtain wealth or material things, but to provide for family and have a means to share the good news of Christ."

Ross and Trina are also artists. They are very involved in the arts community and sell their art work locally on Nantucket. Here are two Nantucket examples of their work, the first showing Brandt Point  and the other depicting the Serengeti.

"I stopped going to doctors back in 2005," said Ross, "after a momentous event." In 1997, Trina was in a major car accident with multiple injuries. After her injuries healed, after physical therapy, she still had   severe chronic pain throughout her entire body.  

After seeing many doctors and specialists, Trina was finally diagnosed by Dr. George Papanicolaou in Rowley, MA. She had fibromyalgia, he said, and it has no cure. The disease has varying degrees of pain and discomfort. In Trina’s case, she was on the severe end of the scale, experiencing excruciating pain from head to toe 24/7. 

She was put on Oxycontin, but it did little to relieve her constant severe pain. She could no longer drive. She had great difficulty doing any kind of physical activity, even brushing her hair. This relentless battle  went on for about seven years without relief  -- until one evening in June 2005. 

Ross described what happened:

"We were attending a prison ministry meeting one evening and we were about ready to leave because Trina was in so much pain. The chaplain's mother-in-law Stella (whom we knew) asked Trina how she was feeling. Trina replied that she was “still in a lot of pain” and needed to go home to lie down.

"Stella asked her if she could pray for her before she went home. Trina agreed. While praying, Trina felt a warmth go through her entire body and all the pain left her body in one moment. The next day, she was spiking a volley ball at an outing with some friends. From that prayer until this day, she has been pain free. 

"Christ miraculously healed my wife in an instant after nearly seven years of a painful, incurable, debilitating disease. Despite all the doctors saying there was no hope," Ross said, "Trina proved them all wrong."

Given Trina's experience, Ross was torn: God? Doctors? Both? But he was in such awful pain that he finally called the Nantucket medical clinic and drove himself there, just under a mile. Stumbling from his car to the emergency room entrance, two nurses met him with a wheel chair and questions.

With his vision obstructed with "bright white internal flashes," the nurses called for a gurney and rushed him to an examination room.  There, he got more questions, medications, a quick CT scan. 

Though fading quickly, he was still alert enough to notice that he was given nitroglycerine. "Is this a heart attack?" Ross asked the doctor on duty.

"No, your heart looks fine," the doctor said.

"So what happened?" 

The doctor didn't answer. Then he was handed the test results. After reviewing them, he said, "I think it's your aorta."   

"I immediately knew what he was talking about," Ross said. "Twelve  years prior, I received a disturbing phone call informing me that my mother had just been rushed to Mass General in Boston. She had a partial aortic dissection. Doctors gave her a 50/50 chance of survival at best. By the grace of God, she survived."

One kind nurse was by Ross's side holding his hand and assuring him that he was going to be okay, when another nurse entered the room. This nurse was deadly serious. "She asked if they could put me on a helicopter and fly me to Mass General in Boston and that it needed to be done as soon as possible."

“Only if I get to help fly the helicopter,” Ross said jokingly. In a few moments, he was unconscious. Three thousand miles away, in California, wife Trina gave permission for her husband to be helicoptered to Mass General Hospital in Boston. First chance, she flew to Boston to be with her husband.

Fifty-five minutes later, Ross awoke for a few seconds, saw two friendly faces hovering over him, heard  helicopter rotors, then blacked out. His next connection with reality was 24 hours later in Boston's Mass General cardiac intensive care unit. Ross's wife and a close friend from Cambridge were there by his side as he came to.  

He had just undergone an eight-hour surgery.

His body had been slashed and stuffed with tubes and IV’s. He was wired up to high tech devices to monitor his condition. Below is what he looked like.

Yet soon he was coherent enough to recognize his wife Trina. "I had never been so glad to see her," Ross said. "She told me that everything went well, yet I still did not know what had happened."

That job fell to the heart surgeon who operated on him, Dr. Jennifer Walker. "As simply as she could, she told me what had just taken place on me."

His entire aorta had dissected, Dr. Walker told Ross. "It looked like you got hit by a bolt of lightning from your brain to your feet." 

She explained to Ross that this kind of dissection was "extremely rare and that, historically, the mortality rate is 99 percent."  It was what the actor John Ritter died of, Dr. Walker said. 

The cardiac nurse in charge at the time told Ross and Trina that the last person at the hospital with an extreme aortic dissection left the hospital "brain dead and paralyzed from the waist down."

Dr. Walker told Ross that his heart was stopped and bypassed for eight hours and then jump-started. To keep the aorta from bursting  -- and causing Ross to bleed to death -- a rayon tube was grafted to his aorta where it initially began to dissect. But  nothing could be done to repair the rest of the aorta.

Ross was kept sedated for two days in intensive care, then moved to his own room. Dr. Walker and her team of specialists all concurred that Ross was an extremely lucky man. One doctor told him during that visit,  "You need to understand something -- this was divine intervention."  

Ross fully agreed. While thanking his doctors and nurses for all they had done for him, he added, "but I know that the only reason that I’m alive is because of my heavenly Father. He saved my life." 

Doctors and staff who treated Ross at Mass General in Boston -- one of the most respected hospitals in the U.S. -- all agreed that his outcome  was "amazing."  They considered his being released from intensive care within two days "remarkable." 

With wife Trina by his side, Ross recuperated in Mass General Hospital for nine days before being released. He considered himself, and was seen by hospital staff, as a walking miracle. For nine days, Ross said he had "a wonderful opportunity to share my faith in Yeshua, (Jesus) with the doctors, staff, family and friends."

Ross was sent home with an assorted batch of medications. He was told they were essential for his survival. He took them for about two weeks after arriving home, but with a great deal of trouble. "My whole body broke out in intense hives," he said, "and I would suffer unbearable heart palpitations, sometimes for hours on end. Basically, the drugs that were supposed to help heal me, were killing me."

After two weeks or so of this suffering, Ross decided to stop the meds and trust Yeshua (Jesus) with his healing. "I decided that my heavenly Father, the creator of this universe in all it’s incredible splendor, is better able to heal me. The thought of trusting pills over trusting God with my life became quite absurd to me."

Ross considers his brush with death as one of the best things that has ever happened to him. "It has drawn me closer to my savior in a way that I cannot describe," he said. "It has brought restoration and healing to me that perhaps could not have happened in any other way. It has enabled me to touch people that I never could have otherwise."

He says it was "the mighty hand of God reaching down to me in my broken state and taking hold of my hand, and leading me on to a deeper walk with Him, and experiencing His enormous love and tender mercy for me." 

Let's end with a photo of the miracle couple, Ross and Trina.

So long and keep moving.

P.S. To learn more about aorta dissection, view this video:

NOTE: Something Tells Her, my new e-book, is now available on Amazon.  

Jane is abandoned as a baby and raised in multiple horrific foster homes. After her latest abuse, a sexual advance from her latest foster parent, she screams "NO!" and runs out the door Twelve years old, on the street, alone, no family, nobody, no money, how can she possibly survive? She can't -- except that Jane  is no ordinary foster kid. She doesn't understand "can't." Read excerpts.

.Amazon E-Books by George Pollock

"State Kid: Hero of Literacy" is fiction based on the author's real-life experiences growing up in foster homes; "Last Laughs," is the true story of how five foster kids (he and four younger siblings) found their way in life and each other. "Killers: Surprises in a Maximum Security Prison," is the story of his being locked up for 23 hours with killers in a maximum security prison; "I, Cadaver" is about his postmortem adventures and mischief in the anatomy lab at UMass Medical School. “A Beautiful Story” demonstrates the art and process of creative writing as a 16-year-old boy goes all out to write a story that literally saves his life; "A Long, Happy, Healthy Life," is about how to live the title every day; and "Unlove Story," writing anonymously as "Elvis," a husband, dumped after 38 years of marriage, lets it all out on love, marriage, life, everything. A guy doing this? It's unheard of.

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