This is actually Byron’s story to tell, but since it began with me, I will also claim it. We had taken an emergency—we need you right now—position with WBT/SIL in Brazil. In that SIL is an “educational” entity, they come under the Department of Education. Thus, we were granted privileged access to the University Olympic swimming pool.
But the story begins several months before that fateful Sunday afternoon. Marge had been a Wycliffe Bible translator. However, she married a local man, which forced her to quit SIL. Her husband was or became an alcoholic. Marge had to work to support the family. Teaching English as a second language provided for them.
However, one day she became ill with hepatitis. She was on the verge of losing all her students and their family income. A request came to the people on the Wycliffe Center to take her classes until she regained her health.
Being the principal of the school for missionary children, I was targeted! I was asked to take one of her classes. “No! Not me!” I rebelled. “I don’t speak Portuguese!” was my excuse. “Good. We’ll give you the most advanced class. We don’t want them using any of their Portuguese in class. You’ll do just great!”
Trapped! With my rebelling heels causing ruts in the road all the way to Cuiaba, I did my first-ever ESL class. I survived. Second week—okay. Third and fourth. At the end of the fourth class, for reasons I knew not at the time, I put my name and the phone number of the Center on the board with an invitation for anyone who would like to visit the Center to just call me. I would be happy to show them around and give them an opportunity to further practice their English.
Unknown to me at that time, that was the last time I taught that class. Marge had recovered sufficiently to resume one class—the one I had taken for her.
Several weeks later, I received a phone call. It was Vitorino, one of my ESL students wanting to accept my invitation. Had I really meant that invitation? Or was it just a polite leave-taking ritual? How sincere it was, it was now too late to reconsider. He and a friend came the next Sunday afternoon. The initial niceties of hospitality gave way to Byron inviting them to the air strip to fly his radio-controlled airplane. A few weeks later, Vitorino called again. Another friend wanted to see the Center and practice English. And there was another fun time on the air strip with Byron and his plane.
Then came that fateful Sunday afternoon. Sixteen-year-old Byron and a group of young people are at the University pool. What virile young man does not like to display his physical prowess to an audience of lovely young ladies? He had done this maneuver before; it should be no more challenging today. He took a deep breath. And another one. And another. And another. Sufficiently hyperventilated to convince his brain that he had adequate oxygen for the feat, he dove into the deep end of the 50-meter Olympic swimming pool. And began propelling his body toward the shallow end.
The duly impressed girls were following him along the edge of the pool, watching his powerful strokes bring him to the shallow end. They saw him break the surface and immediately go down again.
“That silly boy,” they think. “He is headed back toward the deep end!” They follow along the edge, expecting him to pop up at any moment. He doesn’t. They backtrack, looking for him. He was nowhere to be found! They shouted for help.
Meanwhile Vitorino…remember him? The one who became friends with Byron at the airfield? Who would be swimming in that shallow end at that precise time? He went under the water and found him. Having watched CPR on TV, he hauled an unconscious Byron out of the water and tried to get him breathing. Byron had been “napping” on the bottom of the pool for eight minutes!
Because Vitorino was a government worker, he had a car. While Byron’s friends held him in the back seat, Vitorino rushed them to the hospital. In the emergency room, he called the SIL Center.
Now, you need to understand—this is Sunday afternoon. “Everyone” leaves the Center on Sunday afternoon. Also, there is only one phone hooked up to the city line. It rings in the Director’s home. And he and his family always leave on Sunday afternoon. But this particular Sunday, Cynthia decided to stay home.
The phone rings. She answers. An agitated voice which had learned to speak English says, “Byron drowned! Call his mom and dad!” Click! Who is making prank calls about Byron, she thinks? Then, she considers…what if it is true. She called the group house where we live.
Yvonne is already at the hospital, attending to a lady who had had an emergency appendectomy that morning. She had heard the groaning coming from the emergency room, never realizing it was her son! Because so many leave the Center on Sunday, it would be expected that all group vehicles would be gone. But one was there.
I raced to the hospital. I entered the emergency room to see his friends holding him on the examination table as Byron was groaning and thrashing, convulsing, and drawing up in death spasms. The doctor was calmly at his desk, filling out Byron’s death certificate.
I surveyed the room. “Has anyone called Spadoni?” I asked. No. I called his home. I had that number because he was our family doctor. He was my tennis partner. We enjoyed meals together. We had been to their home. Maggie, the doctor’s wife, answered the phone. “No, Spadoni is not here. He is at the dentist. He lost a filling when he was doing an emergency appendectomy this morning.”
But sensing my urgency, she called him at the dentist office. He left the chair and rushed to the hospital. “Let’s get him out of this room,” he said. By this time many had heard about the drowning and were crowding around the room. Greg, Byron’s brother, was holding the oxygen mask over his nose and mouth. Spadoni did ask that we have many of the people back out of the room. Prayer continued.
Spadoni worked on Byron, hour after hour, testing his blood for oxygen. None! Brain waves? None! But he continued medicating him, doing this and that. (Later, when Spadoni looked at the chart of what he had done, he could only say that God had directed him—that he would not have known to do the sequence of medications and procedures he had done.)
After eight hours the priest came into the room, ringing his bell. Spadoni said, “You can go back to your office. You are not going to get this one.” Byron was now stable enough that he felt confident that Byron would live. Though he did not share it with us at that time, he believed that Byron would be no more than a “vegetable”. More hours of work, trying to get water out of his lungs so oxygen would flow through his arteries.
Now he was stable enough to be put into a regular bed. Yvonne and I were on the bed with him, giving each other support as we tried to sleep. Yvonne laid Byron’s hand across her arm so that if he did wake up, the movement would awaken her. Some hours later, we were awakened by his words: “Good grief!” That was his reaction to seeing his hand on his mother’s arm!
The lung specialist came. He was sure Byron would have chemical pneumonia. The neurologist came. He was sure Byron would be brain damaged from lack of oxygen. Every nurse stopped by to look in on this miracle. For, twenty-four hours later, Byron walked out of the hospital without a single symptom of anything having been wrong!
You will not believe it, but he tried it again! He wanted to determine what went wrong! His mother was there on that Sunday. And saw him doing it. Needless to say, he was put on a serious restriction by Dr Spadoni!
After you recover from reading such an amazing story, I would suggest that you go back through the story and count the number of “circumstances” that had to be just right for this miracle to happen. (Hint: I counted 18! I just reread it: 19!)
READ more stories by Neal and Yvonne Pirolo!