Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Stepping out

On the 20th of September 2008 six young men were trekking in the Smoky Mountains in the Southern US. It was a college holiday and they were far from civilisation. They had left the trail and were making their way when one of them saw a large tower. A rock-climber and adventure lover, he decided to climb it to see if he could see a distant river.

Having made it to the top he sat enjoying the view. Moments later everything changed.

A force of 69,000 volts arced through the air and struck the young man in his left arm pit - the electricity coursed through his body, coming out of his lower extremities. His friends had heard a 'pop' and looked up horrified to see their friend fall onto a cross-bar of what was a high-voltage pilon, and the fell down to the ground - a drop of over 15 meters.

They found him still alive, but critically injured. Amazingly, one of them was able to find a signal on his cell phone - something highly unlikely considering how far in the wilderness they were. He dialed 911 to call for rescue. A passing mountain biker came across them and cycled down to the forest gate to guide the rescuers. One of the 5 friends had had wilderness emergency medical training the previous year - and now put his skills to use. The rescue team got up the mountain in 2.5 hours. And then put the young man on a helicopter to the nearest regional medical centre.

This is the stuff of Readers Digest "adventure in true life" tales. And more. This is the story of multiple miracles. The young man not dying in the initial surge. Him surviving the fall down to the ground. The cell-phone signal. The passing biker. The helicopter evacuation.

All of this was told to us this week by the young man himself. On Tuesday morning we had a visitor. Caleb Baber. A young American with an easy smile and a slight stubble. A man who is studying in a pre-med course and wants to be a missionary doctor. He came into the Jeevan Sahara Kendra while we were having our devotions, sat down and became part of us. He was wearing a fedora. He took it off when we prayed. I saw myself as I was in high-school.

It was only much later in the day that I noticed that he had a prosthetic foot. I had showed him a slide of a huge scar on the leg of an HIV positive man who had not been treated for an upper thigh abcess. This HIV positive man has had to have dressing done on this limb for almost a year now. Caleb calmly said that he knew about dressing too - since he had done it on his own feet. Then he showed me, that he actually had 2 prosthetic feet. And that his left arm was for most intents and purposes non-functioning.

The power of the story.

Caleb was in a terrible shape when his ambulance helicopter landed at the regional hospital. Immediately sedated, he was cut open to assess the damage to his internal organs. The surgeons saw that other than part of his large intestine - most of the organs were intact - so they removed the irreparably damaged part - stapled him up and air-lifted him to the Vanderbilt University Hospital for further care.

Then the road to recovery started. And it was one that had snaked through many dark valleys. As Caleb came to consciousness from the sedation he was scared and confused. Where was he? Why was he where he was? Who had done what to him? The pain - it was all terrifying and bewildering. Gradually he was settled and then the news was broken to him about what had happened.

All the while surgery was still going on whenever possible. Now the focus had shifted to what were left of his limbs. The doctors were trying to see what could be spared. They even were able to get him to 'walk' a few steps on heavily bandaged and strapped limbs - but despite the narcotics - the pain was intense. And after a short time the doctors sat down with Caleb to speak out what they had to tell him.

One of the things that hits hard is how amazingly positive Caleb was throughout the time. Even in his semi-consciousness, the attending nurses told him afterwards that they saw a peace and serenity - even as he was fighting for life. One of the threads that runs with clarity through the whole story is an amazing acceptance of the very hard knocks that the injury and post-injury process gave Caleb. In Caleb's words it was feeling the presence and utter sovereignty of God. In the flesh. In his spirit. And through the pain and confusion - it showed on his face.

The decision that the doctors were laying before Caleb was a stark one. They could try and restructure from basically nothing the charred tissue of his lower extremities. Or they could amputate. The latter would be the better, but the choice was his.

Caleb cried. Having survived so much - he felt that he was now on the road to recovery. That it might take time, but things were going to look up. And now this.

And then, amazingly, Caleb felt the very presence of God comforting him. Though he hardly wanted to do it, he knew that he should make the decision to amputate. A tremendous sense of comfort stilled his tears - and a felt knowledge that God was in control kicked in. The next day he sat his parents down and told them what his decision was. They cried and prayed and then told it to the doctors. 2 days later the lower extremities were surgically removed.

When Caleb woke up from the anesthesia to find that his feet were gone he had a deep sense that this was now the worst that could happen. That he had reached the nadir. He was almost glad of it - though it was a terrible moment - but glad because it meant that now he could move forward.

And move forward he did. Though not without more drama.

The entry wound had been patched with what is called a vacupack - where they had packed shut the gaping hand-sized wound and were irrigating and draining it with a small local pump. Basically other than a large artery, there was not much left where the electricity had entered Caleb's body - and the surgeons were seeking to move muscle from his back to patch up the hole.

One night after Caleb had been shifted out of the ICU and was sleeping, the artery burst. A large amount of blood was being lost - and efficiently pumped out by the apparatus covering the wound. Amazingly Caleb woke up and realised he was bleeding profusely. Amazingly his brother had been allowed to sleep that night with him in the room - something normally not permitted. Amazingly his brother also woke up and Caleb was able to communicate what took place. After that he passed out, but the brother was able to alert the medical staff and an emergency surgery took place, cutting another blood vessel to patch up the artery that had disintegrated - and also bringing the muscle tissue up from the back.

The surgery was successful. Caleb lived. Another miracle.

Then there was the rehabilitation process. You can read about what he and his family went through on the family blog called "Caleb's Road to Recovery". It is inspiring reading.

When Caleb started his rehab he was put on parallel bars. In the corner of the room he saw some crutches.

"When will I get to wear those" he asked the physiotherapist. She laughed and told him it would be a few weeks.

At the end of the first day of rehabilitation therapy he had progressed so well that she let him try out the crutches.

Caleb was injured in September 2008. In February 2009 a friend of his was making a trip to India. Caleb had been supporting four boys in a school in south India. Would Caleb like to come? Caleb sure did want to!

The treating physician was appalled when Caleb asked whether he could go in February to India. "You want to go where? When?" But to India Caleb went - with the doctor's blessings - and lots of prayers. On one prostetic leg and crutches.

It was a hard trip. But showed what can be done. And for Caleb it was a deep joy.

Later when it came time for him to get his second prosthesis, he crutched in for the appointment. He was given the new leg and tried to fit it on. Often learning to walk takes months of baby steps and frustrations. Amazingly Caleb got up and walked. He left the appointment carrying his crutches and with deep joy in his heart.

And so to this week. 10 months after the injury Caleb spent the day with us.

"I am so thankful" said Caleb over and over during our time together.
"I can walk."

Towards the end of the day, Caleb spent time sharing with our JSK staff about his experiences. He was God-soaked.

"I may not be able to use my left hand" said Caleb, "but I can use my right. And I can use my mouth."

Instead of bitterness we saw joy. And a desire to serve. A humble, vibrant desire to be used in whatever way possible.

Caleb has left for South India to meet his '4 sons' - the boys whose education he has been helping out with - and then plans to spend some time volunteering at Mother Theresa's home in Kolkotta. He plans to start up his pre-med college studies again on August 19th this year. 11 months after his life-changing injury.

Fare well Caleb. We know that our paths will cross again. Perhaps even at Jeevan Sahara Kendra!


  1. Amazing Testimony of Caleb, May God Bless Caleb and use him in the days to come...
    Heavenly Blessings

  2. Thank you Caleb for showing us what God can do in your life.As for us friends its time to look back and ponder over what we have been doing with the strong body that God has given us.What have we done to bring glory to his name today ????Let Us give ourselves ( our time, energy, our body,our studies, our every achievement ) that his name will be glorified in everything that we do .AMEN

  3. Thanks for sharing such a detailed and inspiring story. Wow. What an inspiration and reminder of the grace of God and the power of giving thanks in all circumstances.