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Suddenly, Brain Surgery

Mary Ann Miller



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Note: The following article was originally published in Power for Living (vol. 46, no. 3) magazine in 1988 and has been edited for publication at Synergie Francophone.


Enjoying a leisurely swim, I had just pushed off at the shallow end of the hotel pool when all at once I felt a band of pain about two inches wide encircle my head and go down the back of my neck. It was pressure and pain mixed–severe and instantaneous.


I wondered what was happening. Still able to function, I swam on to the deep end and climbed out. Thinking the pain would go away or lessen, I sat and watched our 11-year-old son Jon swim for an hour.


My husband Russ, our son Ron, 16, and our daughter Susan, 12, had ridden with neighbors to a place along the Indian Ocean where they could body surf. Since there wasn’t enough room in the van, Jon and I had walked to this nearby pool to swim.


Photo Credit: Russ and Mary Ann Miller


With the Africa Inland Mission since 1969, Russ and I had completed our third four-year term on the field. We’d just flown from the Central African Republic to Nairobi, Kenya, where we were reunited with our three children. We’d come to the coast, near Mombasa, for six days of rest and swimming before leaving for a short tour of Israel and then heading back to Wheaton, IL, for a year’s furlough.


It was good to see the children again and have some time together. But the pain I was experiencing was not getting better. In fact, on our way back to the cottage, I felt as if I were going to faint. No matter what I did, the pain increased. Finally, I sent Jon to tell the resort manager. His wife came to our cottage and had just made me some tea when Russ and the children returned.


Right away the family decided I should go to the hospital in Mombasa, and the neighbors took me in their van. There, doctors thought I was having a severe muscle spasm. They gave me an injection for pain and a muscle relaxant. I stayed in the hospital overnight. The next afternoon I felt better so the doctors said I could go.


Photo Credit: Russ and Mary Ann Miller


Russ and the children had been packing our things. They picked me up at the hospital, and we boarded a night train for Nairobi. From there, we boarded a plane for Israel, where we began our long-planned 10-day tour. I didn’t always function well. One day I began having painful spasms in my lower back and leg, and I couldn’t stay awake. When I saw a doctor, he thought I had a viral infection and prescribed three kinds of pills.


Though some days I had a hard time getting around, I managed to finish the tour. By then I had begun to suspect that the source of pain was neither viral nor muscular. “As soon as we get to Wheaton, I’m going to make a doctor’s appointment,” I told Russ.


On August 6, 1986, we landed at O’Hare Airport near Chicago. Some prayer partners met us with banners and cheers. Their welcome was very encouraging. When we reached Wheaton, I was able to get a doctor’s appointment for the next morning. That night, however, I suddenly got the worst attack of pain yet and called Russ as I began to black out.


He put me to bed and again I slept well. Russ took me to the clinic the next morning. Three doctors were consulted, and I was sent straight to the hospital. The doctors said I had something serious, but they weren’t sure what it was. An angiogram showed an aneurysm–a bulge or weak place in a blood vessel–located in the brain. Suddenly I was facing brain surgery!


Photo Credit: National Cancer Institute on Unsplash


Though I wasn’t aware of it, a series of miracles had already begun. My brother, Dr. C. David Shook, who is a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon, called to talk to the family and said that 50 percent of the time, when an aneurysm bleeds, the person dies right away. Yet the doctors believed I’d already had three bleeds–in the pool in Kenya, in Israel on tour, and at home the night we arrived in Wheaton.


The surgeon at the local hospital was not available, so I was moved to the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago. There, I was put under the care of Dr. Robert Crowell, a leading brain surgeon. He was well acquainted with the surgical procedure that I required. In fact, he had written it for the medical textbooks. Humanly speaking, I was in the best possible hands, another sign of God’s intervention.


For several days, I was tested and prepared for surgery. During those days of waiting, I spent a lot of time reading my Bible and praying–preparing to die. I also talked to Russ and the children so they would know how I felt since it was possible that I wouldn’t live or be normal after surgery.


Still, I wasn’t afraid and didn’t panic. Instead, I had unusual peace. It seemed that God had planned everything in advance. After all, He had brought me through three brain hemorrhages and had gotten me the best surgeon!


Photo Credit: Ranurte on Unsplash


I received hundreds of cards from friends and several from people I didn’t know. Many said they were praying for me and listed Scripture verses. A number of people referred to Isaiah 41: 9-10, 20, which seemed to fit my situation perfectly.


God says, “I took you [me, Mary Ann] from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners [Obo in the Central African Republic] I called you. I said, ‘You are My servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you [I wouldn’t die]. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand…so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this” (NIV).


Nurses from different shifts came by and told me what to expect. I told them, “I have a special peace. I feel that the Lord has this whole thing planned. I’m in His hands. All I have to do is cooperate.”


When Pastor Paul Allen from our church in Wheaton came and read Psalm 20, a psalm of victory, as a message from the church, I received yet another great encouragement.


My next big miracle occurred during surgery. The aneurysm was behind my eyes, about two inches in. The surgeon made an incision just inside the hairline from the left of my forehead to below my right ear. He took out a section of the skull on the right side and performed the surgery with long-handled instruments through a long, deep tunnel. The unusually large aneurysm was touching the optic nerves.


Photo Credit: Piron Guillaume on Unsplash


As the surgeons operated, the aneurysm began to bleed heavily. My brother Dave says I could easily have had a stroke right then and either died or been paralyzed for life. At the very least, I should have had some memory or vision problems. It was impossible for the doctors to see through the blood, which they had to keep suctioning out. I was given two pints of blood to replace what I lost. The operation took five hours.


After surgery, I was in the Intensive Care Unit for two days. During the first night, my blood pressure dropped precariously, then righted itself. The next morning it dropped dangerously again.


My brother phoned to see how I was doing. A nurse told him that my blood pressure was unstable and that I was confused and disoriented. Knowing that a group of women were going to meet at his church that morning, he asked them to pray for me.


When he called the hospital later, the nurse told him that suddenly everything had righted itself at 11 A.M. Calling the church, he learned that the women had been praying for me right at 11 A.M. The Lord answered their prayers even though they were hundreds of miles away–just as Jesus had healed the centurion’s servant without being physically present (Matt. 8:5-13).


Photo Credit: Rosie Sun on Unsplash


As I was coming into consciousness, the nurses heard me babbling and couldn’t understand what I said. They called Russ to come and listen. He came, then said, “Oh, she’s speaking French!”


Doctors and nurses kept asking, “Is your vision blurred? Do you have double vision? Is anything wrong with your vision?” I wondered why someone didn’t write on my chart that my vision was fine. I didn’t understand that my perfectly normal vision was a miracle too.


Within six days of the surgery, I was on my feet and walking up and down the halls, so I was dismissed. I didn’t even have the usual wheelchair ride to the door.


After I’d been home a few days, Pastor Allen came back to see me. He said it was time that the church “raised the banners” as mentioned in Psalm 20. That Wednesday night the prayer service was a special time of thanksgiving and praise for God’s healing me. How wonderful it was to know the whole church was going through the experience with me!


The only aftereffects of the surgery were some weakness and slowness in speaking and moving, but these gradually returned to normal. In March 1987, the doctor gave his consent for me to return to Africa at the end of our furlough.


Photo Credit: Russ and Mary Ann Miller


I’ve wondered a lot about why God healed me. Did He do it so that I might continue as a mother and wife in our family? Or for the sake of those who prayed for me–that their faith might grow?


Perhaps He has a new ministry for Russ and me in Africa. I have a special burden for African youth and their feelings of rootlessness and would like to see them taught the Bible through African teaching methods.


But why would He work such a miracle of healing for me, and not for someone in a more strategic position?


Yet God needs no reasons for His miracles, only that His name be glorified and honored. So, I want to thank and praise Him for demonstrating His great love and power, by the miracles He’s worked in my life–for whatever His purpose might be.


Photo Credit: Synergie Francophone




Mary Ann’s miraculous healing allowed her to continue serving God throughout the world. “He has led me into doing a number of things that I never thought I could do,” she said in a recent interview with SF. After her recovery, she continued teaching as a visiting professor at the Faculté de Théologie Évangélique, teaching month-long Christian Education courses for fourteen years. In 1995, she and Russ left the African continent and joined BLF in Belgium, where she served in the office for eight years. It was here that Mary Ann, still burdened for African youth, realized the need for a Sunday school curriculum contextualized to their culture (see “Educating children in a culturally appropriate way” under the “Our Stories” page on our website). The 8-year curriculum she edited and facilitated remains in demand today. “I would never have thought I’d be able to do that,” she said. Today Mary Ann and Russ are SF associates, faithfully supporting evangelism, multiplying disciples, and equipping the Church.


Russ and Mary Ann’s children continue in their footsteps.


Ron is a colonel in the US military, where he has served for the past thirty years. His knowledge of French has given him opportunities to serve as the defense attaché in many francophone African countries, and his experience in missions has helped the army leadership to understand African culture.


For the past seventeen years, Susan has been a missionary in Chad with her family. She homeschools her children in the mornings and in the afternoons, visits local mothers in town to build relationships and share the Gospel.


After working with Samaritan’s Purse Ministries in Africa, Jon now serves with Voice of the Martyrs, where he is responsible for accountability and reporting on 53 projects. He lives with his family in Uganda.

Mary Ann Miller, a former missionary to French-speaking Africa with her family, joined SF (then BLF) in Belgium in 1995. She worked in the Literature Sponsorship Program and edited and facilitated the publication of our Sunday School curriculum for Africa. Mary Ann and Russ were Bible study group leaders and Sunday School teachers in a Belgian church, and today they serve as SF associates.