Giving credit where credit is due
When Charlene and Christopher Andrews of Tucson, Arizona, planned their wedding they chose a meaningful date — November 7, the anniversary of the loss of Charlene’s mother, Tonya Weldon. They wanted to honor her life when they started a new one together.
Until she was 9 years old, Charlene and her mom lived in Northridge with her uncle and aunt, Rick and Anna Marie Fowler. Charlene looked to Fowler as a father figure, asking him to give her away on her wedding day. Of course, he agreed, and travel plans were made.
At the wedding venue, Fowler was in the men’s room changing into his tuxedo. Next thing he knew, he was in the emergency room of the Tucson Northwest Medical Center hospital.
Christopher had found Fowler passed out on the floor of the rest room.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” says Fowler. The staff of the venue included people certified in CPR and use of an AED. After they arrived, emergency medical technicians were able to deliver additional shocks to Fowler’s chest before loading him into the ambulance for the trip to the hospital. On the way, EMTs shocked his heart four more times. Going into the ER, an EMT was up on the gurney straddling Fowler’s body while CPR was performed. On arrival at the emergency room, he was shocked again, judged to be “dead on arrival.”
“You just beat the widow-maker,” said the physician of Fowler’s ventricular defibrillation. Fow-ler assured the physician the situation “was in God’s hands.”
Fowler was hospitalized for several weeks then moved to a rehabilitation facility. His hospitalization included a surgery to implant a pacemaker.
At the end of December, 2011, he was able to catch a flight home to Ohio. Today, he is able to climb stairs and walks regularly. Sometimes he gets short of breath.
His biggest challenge today is working with the Veterans Administration about the costs of his medical care in Arizona. “Angry” is the word Fowler uses to describe his feelings about how VA personnel have responded to him, even telling him he did not have pre-approval for the hospitalization in Arizona.
When all is said and done, however, Fowler happily gives credit for the experience to God. Why else would the heart attack have happened in a facility with staff newly certified in CPR, that had a defibrillator on hand and the knowledge to use it? Why else would the groom have come to check up on him? Why else send a team of EMTs who would not give up?
Fowler wants to share his story to reinforce his testimony of Jesus Christ. Because of the nature of the visit for this story, he told of his U.S. Navy experience in the mid– to late-1960s in the rivers and harbors of Vietnam. The USS Thomaston LSD 28 was used to carry heavy equipment in and out of the war zones.
Following his first heart attack in 1996, says Fowler, it was determined the damage to his heart is the result of exposure to “Agent Orange” while in service to his country. Thus began his interactions with the VA.
He remembers when his life changed.
“There’s got to be something more,” Fowler remembers saying to his parish priest, who had just told him that if he lived a “perfect” life, the best he would achieve would be purgatory, awaiting admittance to the Kingdom of God. The length of the wait was not to be known. Like so many young people of that era, Fowler turned his back on the church of his upbringing. He still believed in God, but admits he was not a person of faith.
Fowler tells of his various careers over the years. Now living in Flat Rock, Fowler has worked as an independent truck driver, and has worked in a packaging plant and a tool & die shop. In 1996 his declining health prompted his retirement in 2002.
In 1980 the Fowlers owned a thriving business located in Medina. The “deal of the century” was at hand, says Fowler; easy street was just around the corner.
God had other plans.
After the Fowlers had married in 1970, the couple visited a number of churches of a variety of denominations. Still not big on “organized church,” says Fowler, he did not keep up the visits. His wife, however, did and “stumbled” into her path to salvation.
The couple’s children were invited to attend a vacation Bible school put on by a Mennonite congregation. They allowed the children to participate. The children had a great time. Not long after, a Baptist minister visited the family farm, inviting the children to VBS at his church. The children accepted, and enjoyed the experience so much they began attending regular services.
Fowler says he was willing to allow the children to choose this path for themselves, but he did not join them.
The announcement by the children that “we got saved!” raised his ire, and he instructed his wife to go with the children to check out this “cult” his children had joined.
“As a dutiful wife, she did and the good Lord led her to continue to go with the children,” says Fowler, Still, he declined to join his family at the thrice weekly services and classes. He also declared that the children and their mother should not talk about their church activities in his presence. Fowler had dug his heels in hard.
Then, Anna Marie and her sister Tonya also reported they had been saved.
“What does this mean?” he asked, “Saved from what?”
“I know heaven is mine,” said Anna Marie.
“I think I’m going to heaven when I die,” he responded.
“No, I know,” said Anna Marie. She told him she would be praying for him, and she did.
Fowler recalls his refusal to be included in an organized church as getting to the point when he actually ran a visiting minister off his farm at the point of a gun with the admonition, “Don’t come back!”
Jump ahead to 1980 when this life-changing business deal was in the works. As the two commuted to their offices in Medina, it was Anna Marie’s habit to read the Bible aloud in the car.
“Can’t you read that to yourself?” Fowler challenged.
“No, I don’t understand it without hearing the words,” she replied, and kept on reading aloud.
And then it happened — his eyes teared up so badly he had to pull to the side of the road, directed by Anna Marie as he could not see. Forty-five minutes had passed before the tears cleared. During that time, Fowler says he felt something happening in himself he did not understand and to this day cannot describe.
As he arrived at the office 45 minutes late — something that had never happened before — he could see fear in the eyes of his staff, waiting for the explosion which would surely accompany whatever had made him late. Fowler says he had a hot temper which, unfortunately, his employees had seen all to often.
Instead, he borrowed Anna Marie’s Bible and locked himself in his office, having instructed everyone not to disturb him for the next two hours. Fowler opened the book and read the Book of Revelations.
Fowler chuckles as he says he has since been told no seeker of the truth would be told to start with that particular book, but it worked for him. He says he understood, for the first time. Coming out, he told his wife he believed “everything between those covers is true.”
At home that evening, he asked a Christian friend to come over to help him grasp what was happening. With help, Fowler accepted that he was now saved, and he felt true joy.
Over the years since, Fowler has come and gone from fellowship. When Anna Marie was pronounced to be terminally ill, he begged God to take him instead, telling God “I am not a good testimony; let her continue to spread your word.”
Still, Fowler found comfort in knowing he was “permanently saved,” and would be joining her in Heaven one day.
Jump forward to November of 2011 when he found himself in the hospital fighting for his life. Over the years, Fowler said, he had been a reluctant spreader of God’s saving grace. Interacting with the staff, however, sharing his belief God had a plan for him he found himself surrounded by other believers. Their care and visits to his room strengthened him immeasurably.
Fowler continues to use the health and strength he enjoys now to share God’s word at every opportunity. At a recent visit to the VA Hospital, he became engaged in a discussion of faith with just one man that attracted such a gathering around him a security guard came over to make sure there wasn’t a problem.
Perhaps the conflicts regarding his hospitalization last fall were all part of God’s plan to put Fowler where God needed him to be! This story has not yet ended.