Master of Public Administration. Married with 4 boys and 4 girls. Wealth of humorous, faith-filled, and fascinating experiences.
I was hospitalized as an infant for pneumonia, had a lawn tractor accident at age 11, encountered the deadliest beach in Hawaii, hospitalized for a treatment resistant staph infection, slipped off a mountain and survived COVID-19.
At age 3 months, my parents said I was wheezing and coughing violently in the middle of the night. I had trouble breathing. They thought I might die. They rushed me to the hospital where I was diagnosed with a severe case of pneumonia. According to the Center's for Disease Control, each year in the United States, about 1 million people are hospitalized with pneumonia, and about 50,000 people die. The World Health Organization states, “Pneumonia is the single largest infectious cause of death in children worldwide."
The doctor gave my parents medicine and sent us home. I recovered.
Age 11: Trapped Beneath a Lawn Tractor
In 1979, we lived on a farm in Iowa. My father asked me to mow the lawn while he and mom went to work. My younger brothers were with our grandparents in Des Moines. I was left alone. I didn't mind and I didn't feel I was being abandoned or abused. I rather enjoyed the thought of having the farm to myself. But I didn't really want to mow the lawn.
We had a red 3-speed Dynamark lawn tractor. I was too young to drive a car, so this was one cool machine. I hopped on and turned the key. I approached a hill that was on the East side of our property. I lined the front wheels straight onto the hill and began to climb it. The front wheels lifted off the ground and the tractor began to tip over backwards. The first thought I had was to kill the engine by turning the key. But it was too late. The tractor, close to 1000 pounds in those days, completely turned over with all 4 wheels in the air trapping me and crushing my body underneath. I was terrified. I was screaming and there was no one around to hear me. I thought that the gasoline was going to leak out, ignite and catch me on fire.
I pushed as hard as I could with my legs. Somehow my 11 year old body was able to push it back over. It landed back on all 4 wheels. I was wailing and crying. The tractor suffered a bent seat and some dents. I got onto my feet and limped back towards the farm house. Mom had a list of emergency phone numbers posted near the kitchen phone.
I called her first. She worked for the telephone company in downtown Des Moines, some 20 miles from home. I was crying loudly into the phone, "Mom! I tipped the tractor over!" She replied, "What? Are you hurt?" I said, "I think I'm OK, but the tractor is not!" She said, "I don't care about the tractor, I care about YOU! Are you all right? Are you hurt?" I replied, "I don't know." I looked myself over and noticed a cut in my right knee with blood running all the way to the floor. I screamed, “I'M BLEEDING!!!" She said to call the nearest neighbor. I called the lady across the road. She came and picked me up in her car and brought me to her house. I showered. She applied some salve on my cut and gave me a hot bowl of soup. I was achy all over. I felt pain in other areas of my body, especially in my right leg where I developed a bruise the size of a fist. It had a yellow knot in the middle with black, blue and purple shading.
Mom arrived. She said she drove as fast as she could and was prepared for being pulled over by the police. She was so glad to see me and that I received good care by the neighbor. She thanked her and took me back home.
I was sore for weeks after that. It took the rest of the summer for the bruise and knot to clear.
Had I not been able to push the tractor off of me, I am sure it would have ended differently. There is no doubt in my mind that there was a combination of adrenaline and God’s supernatural strength that saved me that day.
Dislocated my Shoulder on Honeymoon
In 1993 my wife and I honeymooned in Hawaii. We went to Sandy Beach, a popular surfing location. I purchased a body board at a local store. It was made out of Styrofoam and comparable to a lid for a cooler.
I was excited to hit the waves. While Nancy was applying sunscreen, I walked down to the shore line and stared at the enormous waves. A guy near me said, "Man! I'm from San Diego and I've never seen waves like this before!" I said, "I'm from Iowa. I've never seen waves!" Despite my lack of experience, I thought I would give it a try.
I walked into the ocean. I could not get passed where the waves curled and broke. They were too tall. I tried to position out a little further. The next wave was so tall, I thought, “This one is way too huge, I need to tuck and roll." The wave hit me and began to crush me. It felt like I was being tackled and punched. I kept in a tucked position wondering when it was going to end. I was being violently tossed about like a wet rag in a washing machine.
I was stunned. I managed to get back on my feet when another wave knocked me down. I felt a sharp pain in my right shoulder. I looked around briefly for the surf board. It was gone. Suddenly I heard an interior voice that said, "Today you were supposed to die. But I have decided to save you." Was it the voice of God? I had a tingling sensation from the crown of my head to the tip of my toes. I had a deep realization that I was spared from death.
I returned to the area where Nancy was sunbathing. She hadn't seen the accident. She was still applying sun tan lotion. The lifeguard approached Nancy and me and said, "Sir, your shoulders aren't straight. And ma'am, you still have suntan lotion on the end of your nose!" You could tell we were from Iowa!
The lifeguard told me I needed immediate medical attention and described where the nearest clinic was. Interestingly, on our drive to the beach, I had noticed two businesses: A frozen yogurt shop and Straub Medical Clinic. I thought, those would be good places to keep in mind. I told the lifeguard that I knew exactly where the clinic was.
The pain was sharp so Nancy drove me to the clinic. When we walked into the front door, the receptionist looked at me and said, "Don't tell me. You were at Sandy Beach, you've just dislocated your shoulder and you are on your honeymoon." She said it was the DEADLIEST beach on all of Hawaii and that many honeymooners aren't as lucky as we were. I realized even more that I was saved by the Grace of God.
The doctor had to reduce the dislocation by placing me face down on a table with my right arm over the edge. They gave me a small weight and asked me to extend and retract, lifting the weight up and down until the shoulder moved back into place.
Later, my wife told me when she woke up that day she had a strange feeling that she would be widowed. Thankfully God intervened.
Sandy Beach, Hawaii
When I was 38, I had a case of Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) a bacteria that "resists" standard treatments and antibiotics.
It started on my face. I assumed it was a bad case of acne. I had remarked to a coworker that the "zits" looked worse than when I was 17.
That evening, my wife and I saw the movie, "Hitch" starring Will Smith. My face grew puffy and I was feeling achy and feverish. Ironically, my face looked like a scene in the movie. Will's character, Alex "Hitch" Hitchens has an intense allergic reaction (see photo). When the movie ended, my wife and I spoke to a couple from church who looked at my face and said I needed immediate medical attention. We agreed to go to the ER.
We drove to Mercy Hospital in Des Moines. My face was hot. I felt like I could pass out. They put me in a waiting room until I could be evaluated by a doctor. I was staring at the floor and told my wife I was about to pass out.
I was fading fast. I was placed on another bed and wheeled into a treatment room. They placed intravenous (IV) lines with fluids for my dehydration and medication for my pain.
They ran some tests and determined I had MRSA. They started me on Vancomycin and said if it didn't work, there was nothing more they could do. All we could do was hope and pray.
The next morning, I was recovering. However they told me that in order to send me home, I needed to continue treatments. They placed a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line in me. This was a soft flexible tube placed in a vein in my arm that leads to my heart. They said that I would hear a "swish" sound in my right ear as it travels up my arm, past my shoulder, takes a turn and enters my heart. The physician told me that if they missed, it could enter my brain instead and it would be lethal.
She said she would use an ultrasound to guide the placement. That wasn’t entirely comforting. The PICC line was placed and I went home with several IV bags. I would have to treat myself for the next several weeks.
We are unsure of the cause for the infection. The medical community believes it could have been community acquired, which means I picked it up in a public place. I exercised in the mornings at the local YMCA followed by a shower and shave. It is possible my razor picked up the bacteria when I placed it on the sink.
Slipped off a Mountain
In 2011, I went to Phoenix, Arizona for a bowl game between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Missouri Tigers. My friends and I hiked Camel Back Mountain. It is known for accidents and deaths. There is a helicopter available to rescue anyone who might need immediate medical attention.
I was fairly fit. My athletic shoes seemed to be a good choice for the climb. We began the ascent. I saw the helicopter landing pad about two thirds of the way up. I hoped and prayed no one would need it.
We reached the summit. It was somewhat exhausting but mostly exhilarating. We snapped a few photos. When we were finished enjoying the gorgeous scenery, we began to descend.
Peak of Camel Back Mountain, Arizona
Edge of Camel Back Mountain Cliff
The summit of Camelback Mountain is 2,704 feet above sea level. I descended only a few yards when my feet slipped out from underneath me. I hit a patch of gravel. It was like stepping on marbles. I fell on my rear but used my hands and arms to break the fall. I slipped downward on my back side. I came to a stop at the edge of the cliff. I looked down. The next stop was about 1000 feet away.
I was afraid to move. I thought if I tried to push with my feet, they would slip again and I would plummet into the canyon to my death. I used my arms and hands to get the leverage I needed. I felt the sand and gravel dig into my elbows as I pulled myself back to the path. I stood up, brushed myself off and noticed some scratches and bleeding on my hands and arms. Thankfully that was it. I was able to reconnect with my party and make it to the bottom without further incident.
I Survived COVID-19
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Our entire household—my wife and four children—tested positive for COVID-19. I had a serious case. I was hospitalized for a week. By the Grace of God, I survived.
When one has brushes with death, you can't help but do some thinking. Why did God save me? What purpose does He have for my life? God got my attention. I decided it was time I needed to be more faithful to Him than I had been before. We know not the day or hour when we will be called from this earth. Live every day as if it were your last.
David Ortega (author) from Altoona, Iowa on July 22, 2016:
Our children want me to add two more NDEs: The time my brother and I blew up the gas fireplace and (2) the time my brother and I tried to push a 1956 Dodge up a small hill. Instead it rolled forward, pushing me into a busy street.
Rita Weyer Holtz on July 21, 2016:
Dave you make me smile!!! I love to read your stories. I remember in school that you always had a smile on your face. Thank you for sharing your gift with the world.
Andrew Petrou from Brisbane on July 19, 2016:
Very I interesting topic.
I too have had many nde. Some I didn’t realise at the time like a farmer who put me first time on a tractor to plough a steep slope. I nearly rolled it over about a dozen times but never quite fell upside down with a huge tractor!
Serious illnesses, assaults, crazy relationships, eating the wrong mushrooms, my own stupid risky behaviour etc etc.
I came to understand that my time simply wasn't up....yet.