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Diary of a Miracle
The miracle you will read about is not one that happened at a specific moment in time. It began long before Wayne became ill.

In March 2003 a dark cloud settled over Toronto that would cast a shadow over many lives. It was elusive because it was unprecedented, but it would become known as SARS—Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

Wayne and Kaarina Hsieh attend Agincourt Pentecostal Church in Scarborough, Ontario, where Wayne is on the worship team.

Life changed significantly for many in Toronto as steps were taken to prevent the further spread of SARS. Hope came in late September when the final case of SARS left a Toronto hospital, but not before there were 331 reported cases in addition to 44 deaths.

On September 28 a Toronto Star headline quoted doctors who said, "Those who lived [are] bound by a miracle." This story is about God's miraculous work in not one life, but the lives of two people: Dr. Wayne and Kaarina Hsieh.

Wayne and Kaarina enjoy life and would tell you they are truly blessed to wake up every day, excited to go to work and serve God. Wayne has fulfilled his lifelong dream of becoming a family doctor. Those who know him consider him to be easygoing, calm and a "safe place" for people. Kaarina has a joyful spirit and expresses this joy in her work at Tyndale University College and Seminary as dean of students for the seminary. In whatever circumstance they find themselves, they live to honour God and the people God has placed in their lives. The miracle you will read about is not one that happened at a specific moment in time; rather, it began long before Wayne became ill.

Kaarina shared with me that she had cared for loved ones suffering with serious illness for most her life. I suggested to her that perhaps this was the beginning of their miracle. In her last years of life, Kaarina's grandmother battled cancer and other illnesses, and her late father was disabled due to a stroke when Kaarina was nine years old. Shortly after she married Wayne, her father suffered a massive stroke resulting in a coma that lasted three years until his death. Kaarina agreed with me that this was a time in her life when God was preparing her for what she would experience in later years.

Wayne and Kaarina were enjoying their last evening at the Shaw Festival when Wayne began to feel sick. They returned to Toronto, where Wayne's symptoms quickly worsened. Having learned that patients of his colleague were showing symptoms of SARS, Wayne and Kaarina began to worry.

The next day, Kaarina took Wayne to Emergency at North York General Hospital. Because of the precautions, Kaarina had to wait outside—but not before they prayed and asked God to be present with them. Kaarina waited for hours, anticipating that Wayne would walk out of the hospital at any time. Instead, he called to say he was being admitted for suspected SARS. Kaarina drove home that night alone thinking it was all a bit surreal. Just before midnight, Wayne was rushed to ICU, where he was intubated. Kaarina recalls their last conversation when Wayne told her not to worry. Twelve hours later he went into a coma.

A week later Kaarina found herself in hospital as she, too, began showing symptoms. She was discharged in two weeks but continued in quarantine, the telephone her lifeline. Although the isolation was hard, her practice of silence and meditation helped her cope. Still Kaarina was devastated, knowing so little about the illness except that it could take Wayne's life. During the following weeks Kaarina received calls from nurses with updates including the times Wayne "coded." In those moments Kaarina needed to consider that Wayne could die.

Doctors tried different treatments, but nothing worked and no one knew why. Because of the length of time on life support, they weren't sure Wayne would ever recover or have his life again even if he did emerge from the coma.

During this time Wayne felt the journey was really Kaarina's. She describes this journey as the darkest period of her life. She said, "I didn't doubt God would care for him or for me, but I was grieving the life together that we might lose." Kaarina was reminded daily by family and friends of God's presence with her; this was a comfort in the midst of her loneliness and grief. One night God gave her Psalm 41 and she made it her prayer. Verse 3 reads, "The Lord will sustain him on his sickbed and restore him from his bed of illness." When asked, Kaarina could not sign a DNR—Do Not Resuscitate—order because she knew God could heal Wayne, and it was for healing that everyone prayed.

Four months later, Wayne woke up and at that moment he knew he would survive. He remembers seeing blurred images of staff through the window in his room but wasn't aware they were crying and cheering because he was a miracle. There were no medical reasons why Wayne should be alive. As soon as Wayne understood how sick he had been, he, too, knew it was a miracle. The miracle took more than six months to fully manifest itself as Wayne endured rehab—learning how to swallow, speak and walk again. This period of time was a journey in itself, but by then they knew he would live. Wayne has since returned to his practice as a family doctor because he believes God has called him to this ministry.

When Wayne and Kaarina think back, they realize that the miracle was much more than surviving SARS. Part of the miracle was also their experience of true community for the first time in their lives. They had always been the givers; suddenly they were the ones being cared for in ways that were miraculous in themselves. Nurses read Scriptures to Wayne or played him a tape of Scripture readings and hymns sung by Kaarina. I asked Kaarina if there was a hymn she sang often—she replied, "Amazing Grace." While Kaarina was quarantined at home, friends talked to her by phone as they sat in their cars on the street so she could see them.

"It was overwhelming to know that the Body of Christ was with us in such a real and tangible way. I had no words to ask for help, but the Lord provided me that help." Although Kaarina was terrified of losing her husband, she knew in the depths of her heart that God was faithful; even if Wayne didn't survive, he would be in glory and God would look after her and protect her. Neither Kaarina nor Wayne has ever asked the "why" question because they understand that with the Christian life one can expect suffering and hardship.

Kaarina and Wayne say their lives haven't changed much but they now have deeper relationships including their love for one another. They have seen God's grace expressed in ways they could never have imagined. Kaarina and Wayne give testimony to a miracle only inasmuch as it has been an expression of God's presence and work in their lives all along. Whether or not Wayne survived, they knew God was in control—He is faithful, and He is good because He is God. God did not reveal anything new to Kaarina and Wayne; He just affirmed what they already knew—the family of God is an awesome one to belong to and a safe place to stay.

Timothy Myland is a social worker at Bloorview Kids Rehab in Toronto. His wife is a social worker, too, and they have two teenage daughters. Timothy facilitates More than Words, a writer's group at Agincourt Pentecostal Church in Scarborough, Ontario, where he attends.

Originally published in Testimony, June 2006.




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