Spiritual Life

Spiritual Perspective: When unexpected health problems lead to saving grace

Life is not fair; it sometimes takes unexpected and tragic turns.

When Becky Pomerleau embarked on a ski vacation in 2014 to Breckenridge, Colo., with her husband, Jeremiah, and her parents, life was good. She liked her job as senior manager at PayPal in Silicon Valley, had a great marriage and wonderful husband, and at 34 years old was in good physical shape. She was a distance runner in college and continued to run regularly.

But her good health was not what it seemed. Unexpectedly, Pomerleau suffered a series of heart attacks that required a heart transplant.

In denial

When Pomerleau first felt pressure in her chest and a tingling sensation in her left arm, she denied that it was anything serious. A few minutes after chewing just two low-dose aspirin, her symptoms subsided. But two days later the same symptoms awoke her from sleep.

When Jeremiah became aware of his wife’s symptoms, he insisted that they go to the emergency room.

At the ER, tests showed slight abnormalities that required Pomerleau travel by ambulance to a Denver hospital for further testing. At the hospital, she was still in denial that she could have suffered a heart attack, let alone two heart attacks.

“Being an accountant by trade, my personal life and work life are organized in spreadsheets,” Pomerleau said. “For me, this didn’t add up. … I maintained the delusion that we were in control.”

The following day, Pomerleau suffered a third and nearly fatal heart attack during a routine cardiac catheterization test. All three of her main coronary arteries showed tears in the inner lining, a cause of a heart attack called spontaneous coronary artery dissection. Doctors struggled to stabilize her. They kept her in a drug-induced coma.

She woke up to the news that she needed a heart transplant but would have to wait until one was available.

Finding a new heart

While in the hospital, Pomerleau had a very clear dream in which Jesus talked to her.

“Jesus told me that I needed to continue trusting Him and that it would be two months with an external machine functioning as my heart before He would deliver the right heart.”

Pomerleau told family members that they needed to step out in faith and prepare themselves for a two-month wait.

“At the same time, I sent a personal message via social media asking people to increase the fervor with which they were interceding with God to deliver a heart soon,” she said.

After two weeks in the hospital, Pomerleau recalled that one of her cardiologists entered her room at an unusual time “with a glow on his face.”

“Do we have a heart?” she asked. “He replied, ‘Yes we have a heart!’ I wanted to shout from the Rocky mountaintops that God had answered our prayers. There was still a future for me, for us, here.”

Within a day of locating a new heart, she received her transplant in a successful operation.

Unexpected events

Now, nearly three years after her heart attacks and transplant, Pomerleau said it’s a “true miracle” that God allowed the heart attacks to occur in Colorado when her parents were with her and where she and Jeremiah had a solid support network of family and friends.

Pomerleau said her recollection of the pain she endured during those 33 days in the hospital has dulled.

“Yet one memory brightens – how close I felt to God,” she said. “My confidence in His power and grace were at an all-time high. …When God strips away everything you have or everything you can do physically, He gives you no choice but to rely on Him. Literally, my only responsibility was to stay hopeful and completely believe that He is truly the Lord of my life, not me.”

Sometimes she thinks about leaving the responsibilities that come with living a fast-paced Silicon Valley lifestyle to focus on knowing God in deeper ways.

“I dream of selling everything, moving to a cabin in the mountains surrounded by serenity,” Pomerleau said.

But two reasons – one practical, the other philosophical, prevent her from doing so: She enjoys her job and the health insurance her employer provides, and she knows she was saved for a purpose.

“My purpose is to share God’s saving grace, love and peace with others,” Pomerleau said. “In addition, I have a newfound passion advocating for women’s heart health and organ donation.”

She looks at her sequence of unexpected heart problems not as a tragedy, but as a blessing.

This column was compiled from conversations with Pomerleau and her recent talk at the Silicon Valley Prayer Breakfast networking event at the Stanford Faculty Club.

Skip Vaccarello is a Los Altos resident and author of “Finding God in Silicon Valley.” For more information, visit findinggodinsiliconvalley.com.

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