A Rodeo Cowboy's Fight to Survive
By Amy Reid
The 700 Club
Championship roper Freddy Vest loves the thrill of the chase and the challenge of competing against his fellow cowboys.
On July 28th, 2008 Freddy was headed to a calf roping in Graham, Texas. His daughter Leigh remembers seeing her father off at the door:
“We just hugged for a long time and we had never done that before. And I remember turning back to tell him I love him, and it kind of brought tears to my eyes,” says Leigh.
By one o’clock that afternoon Freddy had made three successful calf roping runs. He was waiting to make his fourth when he suddenly dropped dead in the saddle. His friend, Dennis McKinley recalls that day: “I saw all this movement out of my left eye. And then I heard a real kind of a loud smack, and I looked and he was on the ground. I jumped off the fence. I was the first one to him. I put my hand under his head and lifted it up and I started praying for him.”
Veteran firefighter Eddy Smith was next to respond. While Eddy began CPR, Dennis called upon everyone present to pray.
“While I was doing the CPR I was praying, but I could hear people praying all around me,” Eddy recalls. “The Bible says, “The fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Well, I’m gonna tell you, there was a lot of men, a lot of women that were praying.””
Eddy and fellow firefighter Don Lavender continued doing CPR on Freddy for forty-five minutes until the ambulance arrived.
“They got him on a stretcher and they put him in the ambulance they put the shockers on him, and Eddy says to me, “it doesn’t look good,” Dennis remembers.
“He was straight lining and that means you’re dead. We just put him in God’s hands,” says Eddy.
Ambulance paramedics continued CPR and defibrillated Freddy’s heart twice while enroute to Graham Hospital. Doctors there were able to get an irregular heartbeat, and Freddy was immediately airlifted to Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth. His heart had to be restarted twice more during the flight. Freddy’s wife and son were in Mississippi visiting family when they first heard the news.
“A friend called and said she didn’t know all the details, but “it’s not good,”” his wife Debbie recalls. “She told me that Freddy fell off his horse and that I needed to get to the hospital; they were going to be Carefliteing him. You feel helpless. I felt like there’s nothing I can do and it takes so long to get there. It just seemed like it was just taking forever.”
Freddy’s loved ones held vigil as he was rushed into surgery. Doctors told the family that they were able to repair his heart, but weren’t sure what to expect long term. Dr. Denzel D’Souza spoke with them about Freddy’s chances for survival.
“All cardiac arrests, and there’s about two hundred fifty to three hundred thousand a year in the United States--of those only about nine percent will survive,” says Dr. D’Souza. “And every minute that passes, without defibrillation or restoration of blood flow, your mortality goes up ten percent. For the brain you’ve got five, six if you’re lucky ten, at the outside, minutes--that’s minutes – to get things going again. I actually was concerned that he was going to have brain damage.”
All they could do was wait.
“I would go wherever I could to get alone, and that’s where I would pray,” says Debbie.
While his relatives and friends were praying at the hospital, Freddy says he was somewhere else.
“There’s a Bible verse that says, “Absent from the body is present with the Lord,”” says Freddy. “And when I fell off that horse, I was dead before I hit the ground. I was with the Lord. And He didn’t allow me to see what heaven was like, but He let me experience what it felt like to be in heaven. He showed me the love that’s there. And there’s more love than you can imagine. And the peace that you have, it’s a perfect peace. The only thing I can relate it to is when I was four years old I’d be out playing real hard all day and just be exhausted when I would come in. And I’d crawl up in my mother’s lap and she would cradle me and hold me and rock me. And that was the most peaceful, safe, loving place. And that feeling if – you could multiply it times a thousand, you still wouldn’t be close to what it really feels like when you’re there with the Lord.
I tell some of my buddies, there’s no ‘I gotta do’s’ in heaven. You know, there was not a feeling of time. There was no time to worry about, “I need to go do this. I should be doing this.” There was nothing like that.””
Freddy also remembers having conversations with God.
“When I was there, there was communication, but the communication was inside of me and it was nothing that verbally you would have ears to hear or a mouth to speak it,” Freddy recalls, “It was when God tells you something, you know it’s Him, and He allowed me to see the prayers that came up for me. And it started with one bolt of light and then there was two bolts of light, then three and then there was ten. And then there was hundreds, then thousands of bolts of light and each one was a prayer that someone had sent up for me. And when there got to be so many bolts of light, it exploded into the brightest light and I don’t know how to explain it, it was just a very, very bright light, and that’s when God sent me back. When I came back from that, I was in the hospital bed and they had my arms tied down. I was on life support. They had a tube down my throat, had an i.v. in my hand and one in my neck. And when I realized, you know, I came to, I tried to struggle and get up. And the nurse there said, “Mr. Vest, you’re okay.”
And I just looked at her and I said, “This isn’t okay. You don’t know where I’ve been. This-this doesn’t compare to okay.””
Freddy made a full recovery, but he still questioned what he’d experienced.
“For awhile I thought, “Well, I’ve got to do something. I’ve got to make something happen for the Lord. He sent me back for a purpose; I need to go make something happen,”” says Freddy, ““And that wasn’t it. For several months I did that and prayed every morning, “Why?” And so He took me to Jeremiah and showed me a verse there and the verse simply says, “You will go to whom I sent you to, and you will say what I have you to say.” And I’m a simple person, but I understood that. And that’s my purpose. I don’t try to make things happen now. I wait for the day and when He takes me to someone and I say what He has me to say and that makes it pretty simple.””
Today Freddy and his family savor their time together, even though Freddy says he still anticipates returning to the place he calls home.
“I look forward to the day that I will get to be there, but I’m not pushing it at this point,” says Freddy. “At first when I came back I was ready to go the next day. But I love my family, I love my kids, I love my wife, and I’ll stay as long as He allows me to stay, but when I do go, they don’t have to worry, you know, about me. Dying is easy. Living is hard. There’s someone out there that needs to know that heaven is a real place, God is a real person and when you take that last breath, if you’re a Christian, you’re going to meet Him.”
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