How do you break a heart that's at 15 percent of its pumping
capacity and expect to live? In the fall of 1994, friends feared the worst for 48-year-old
Tom Rose, devoted husband and father of three.
For several months Tom ever weakening battled what doctors could diagnose only as a mysterious virus, perhaps stemming from exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Without a heart transplant, Tom and his wife Marilyn were told, Tom would die.
The heart condition had already claimed Tom's ability to work and thus the family business ceased, sending the Roses into a financial tailspin. For failing to pay rent, the landlord of the home they leased in DeLand, Florida, asked the Roses to vacate. But just before that was to transpire, while awaiting a heart donor and trying to comply with doctor's orders "to rest in bed and avoid all stress," the Roses were struck by a tragedy much worse than either pending bankruptcy, uncertainty of their living arrangements, or even failing health.
Kids Wanted To Go Skating
It was Friday evening, September 30, 1994. Tom's sister was visiting from Colorado, trying to help ease the household strain, sharing with Marilyn the duties of looking after Lacey, 12, Benjamin, 9, and Rachael, 8.
Lacey and two school friends who were also visiting wanted to go roller-skating at a local indoor rink. Benjamin asked to go, too, and the girls agreed. Rachael, the youngest, was content to stay home.
Tom's sister loaded the youngsters into the family station wagen, and started off on the two-mile drive to the rink. Within a half-mile of home, however, an oncoming van driven by a man later proven to be legally intoxicated struck the Rose's car broadside as it was making a left-hand turn.
The impact was ferocious. Lacey and Benjamin were pinned inside the mangled wreckage. Firefighters spent more than an hour prying the flattened roof off the car and peeling away the badly crumpled doors. Finally, the Rose children were free, but badly injured.
Benjamin was transported by ambulance to a nearby hospital, but his deteriorating condition and lack of trauma facilities there forced medical staff to fly him to a children's hospital about 50 miles away in south Orlando. With his mother at his bedside, Benjamin died Saturday afternoon, October 1, 1994.
Lacey was in intensive care in a hospital in Daytona Beach, in almost the opposite direction from where the Roses lived. Doctors succeeded in a fierce battle to stabilize Lacey, but she remained in critical condition. (Her two school friends each survived the accident).
So far, everyone shielded Tom from news of the accident. But how long could a father not notice two missing children? His doctors agonized over whether the ailing heart patient could withstand the news that his only son had died and his older daughter was in a fight for her life, too. The decision was left to Marilyn.
She told her husband, who was immediately sedated.
"God didn't make us for time," Tom remembers reacting. "He made us for eternity. We have to stand on the Word of God," he told Marilyn, despite the heavy sedation.
Local newspapers blared the tragedy in headline after headline. The community rallied to support the stricken family. A prayer vigil was initiated at the hospital where Lacey fought daily to survive. Against doctors' advice, Tom was taken to Lacey's room in a wheelchair and took occupancy of the bed next to her.Lacey lapsed in and out of a coma for almost two weeks. After signs of improvement, doctors decided she could be moved from intensive care. Wanting to better control her heart rate, however, they prescribed a medication that slows the heart. Lacey then went into cardiac arrest, triggering Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).
On October 25, 1994, disfigured from the full-body swelling characteristic of ARDS, Lacey died a horrific death.
A Decimated Family
The one-time happy family of five was now decimated. The family that regularly attended the touristy amusement parks of Central Florida, that involved their children in dance lessons, karate classes, choral groups, and the tapestry of activities that fashion typical childhood; the family that religiously sat down to dinner together at least four nights a week; the family that faithfully attended church and made every attempt to put God first in their lives that family was left in shambles.
Tom and Marilyn had been Jesus-loving Christians for 18 years. Tom even toured with some ministries as a drummer for several years a decade or so earlier. Now in despair, Tom couldn't decide whether he wanted to live with Marilyn and Rachael or die with Benjamin and Lacey. His grief-stricken psychological profile hindered chances of obtaining a new heart, hurdling him down the ladder of hopeful transplant recipients.
No income, a shattered family, sky-high medical bills and a failing heart aren't exactly stimuli for sunny dispositions. Then one night Tom had a vision.
"I saw the Lord. He had his arms outstretched. At one end was Lacey, and Benjamin was at the other. Benjamin didn't move his lips, but I could hear him speaking," Tom said. "I had always told my son to finish whatever he started. He kept saying that I should live, that it was not my time to die, and that God had a work for me to do. I could sense him telling me not to limp across the finish line; to finish strong."
With this encouragement, the couple made their way into their Pentecostal church (The Sanctuary, DeLand Church of God) one Sunday morning in April, 1995, wondering what the Lord might do next. Still physically weak, Tom hobbled in using a cane and slumped into a pew near the front. The choir came onto the platform and a resounding praise to heaven lifted the congregation into worship. In the middle of the musical praise, the Lord spoke to Tom, who was crouched in the pew.
"He said, 'I want you to rise and praise me.' At first I did not respond. Then He spoke to my heart again. 'I want you to rise and praise me!'"
Tom stood and lifted his hands, tears streaming down his face.
"As I praised Him, I could feel a burning in my chest. It was as if my heart literally was on fire. The Lord spoke to me and said, 'This is my resurrection power; the same Holy Ghost power that raised Jesus from the dead.'"
Tom immediately felt his body strengthening. "I'd like to say I immediately raced around the room, but it all didn't come back that fast," he said.
Heart Regenerates Itself
Medical exams in ensuing weeks showed his heart regenerating itself. Although he was on experimental medication, doctors told him others taking the same medication did not experience similar improvement. Tom was taken off the transplant waiting list.
"I saw one of my doctors recently," Tom said in August 1997. "He said 'I'd given you one chance in a million to still be alive without a heart transplant.'
"Yeh. But I know THE ONE," Tom says, jubilantly.
In the spring of '97 Tom and Marilyn felt called to launch Waymaker Ministries. They preach in churches throughout the Southeastern U.S. and answer calls often referred to them from friends or relatives of those who have lost children or loved ones in tragic circumstances.
In telling their story, Tom emphasizes Joel 3:14: Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.
"I believe we are products of the decisions each of us has made in our lives," he tells congregations.
The key decisions shaping the Roses' ministry started with the one where they donated the useable vital organs of their deceased children. More dramatically, however, they had to decide what to do about the drunk driver at the wheel of the other vehicle in Benjamin's and Lacey's fatal accident.
Tom and Marilyn learned a great deal about ambulance chasers. They faced a recruiting rush from attorneys, much like a 6-foot, 10-inch high school senior would endure from college basketball coaches.
Even in the face of medical bills in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and yet no capacity to earn a living, Tom and Marilyn decided that forgiveness had eternal value no amount of money could buy. Instead of suing, they prayed for the man, and in their hearts they forgave him.
What about the mistaken hospital treatment that seemingly sent Lacey to her death? Lawyers licked their chops. The Roses extended their hearts.
"As Christians, we could not justify not forgiving those doctors. They had done everything in their power to save Lacey," Tom said. "We knew she was with Jesus in heaven, and though we faced huge medical bills, we knew in our hearts that suing to pay those off was not God's will; that He would provide."
One other chance to immediately erase all financial burden was likewise bypassed. The charitable foundation of a national brewery contacted Tom and Marilyn. They offered to pay for every expense associated with the accident, plus the heart transplant for which Tom was then in line.
"That was an easy decision. We refused," Tom said.
The Roses' trust in God's provision was honored. Financial and spiritual support came in from every facet of the local community. Today the Roses have a clean financial slate. Every bill has been paid through money that streamed in from numerous and abundant sources.
"I truly believe that if we had not chosen the mountain of blessing instead of the mountains of cursing, and reaped all the negativity that would have dragged this out, the tragedy would have cost me my life," Tom said. "Instead, not only did God bless us financially, but He also blessed us with His peace."
They have lived the faith that demonstrates the power of forgiveness. Sharing their testimony in churches typically results in hurting people rushing to the altar afterward for prayer.
"Begin to thank Him every day for what He is doing in your life. Bless the Lord and be a blessing and the God of all creation will go before you," preaches Tom, a new man with a new heart and a new mission to tell the world about the Waymaker, and what He did in their lives when there was no other way.
In loving memory of Benjamin and Lacey...Tom Rose, right, with his daughter Rachael, and wife Marilyn.
Copyright 1999, Terry Duschinski