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July 1, 2013

Pastor’s sermon on miracles eclipsed by ‘a resurrection’

“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? And Jesus answered them, 'Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.'” — Matthew 11:3-5

When Brian Branam got up one Sunday morning earlier this year prepared to preach a sermon on why people should still expect miracles to happen, he had no idea his sermon was going to be interrupted so people could witness a miracle firsthand.

Pati Kelley was singing in the choir just like always.

Michelle Smith was seated on the other side of the congregation.

Branam read from the Bible — Matthew 11:3-5, where Jesus sends word to John the Baptist about miracles being performed.

The choir began to sing.

George “Pudgy” Albertson, who had just begun attending church again, went to the altar to pray and rededicate his life to God.

Corbin Albertson was glad to see his dad refocusing his life to follow God. He and his wife Kellie joined Pudgy’s side in prayer.

Then that moment of joy became stressful, chaotic and scary.

Pudgy turned to head back to the pew and saw his left hand was extremely swollen and yellow. He reached a pew to sit down, knowing something was wrong. He fell, hitting his head on the pew.

The sound echoed through Liberty Baptist Church that Sunday morning in March.

Corbin reached his dad first only to be pulled away by someone. He doesn’t remember by whom.

“I was scared. Sad,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do.”

Kelley, an emergency room nurse at Hutcheson Medical Center in Fort Oglethorpe, reached Pudgy’s side and quickly realized he was in complete cardiac arrest — no breath, no heartbeat.

“It’s not common for people to come back from full cardiac arrest,” Kelley said. Even in a hospital full of doctors and technology, patients rarely survive complete cardiac arrest, she said.

Smith, a physician assistant, ran to get the church’s automated external defibrillator (AED).

“I was praying ‘Not like this. Not at church with his son watching,’” she said.

Branam led his congregation into the church’s gym, leaving behind only those working to save Pudgy’s life. He took Corbin into another room away from everyone else.

Kelley’s years of training kicked in as she went into autopilot trying to resuscitate Pudgy. She hadn’t even noticed the congregation filed out around her.

Someone ripped Pudgy’s shirt. Smith put the AED in place. There were times the machine didn’t detect enough activity to shock Pudgy. There were times it did.

Kelley says about eight minutes passed while several people worked together to save Pudgy’s life.

The first responders got there just as Pudgy’s eyes opened. He pulled on Smith’s shoulder to sit up.

“I woke up in the floor with my shirt ripped,” Pudgy said. “Someone said I needed to lay back down, but I said ‘I’m fine.’ It wasn’t until I got in the ambulance I realized what they had been trying to tell me... It was a traumatic experience.”

Even when people are resuscitated, they are rarely that awake and aware, Kelley said.

Kelley knew she had just witnessed a miracle.

“Working in the ER, I see a lot of bad stuff, but this was the highlight of my career,” she said. “This was a God thing, a definite God thing. I never thought I would use this outside of the hospital. It was a surreal experience and I felt honored to be a part of it.”

Smith agreed she had been part of a miracle that was made possible only because of God.

“He went from completely out to completely aware of who he was,” she said. “It’s not anything we did. It’s what our prayers did.”

Corbin was overcome.

“I was crying,” he said. “My tears of sadness went to tears of joy and shock. It was a show and tell for God.”

Branam’s message was on how Christians should expect to see miracles happen daily, but most don’t anymore.

On Sunday, Branam said he wanted to honor all heroes in light of the Independence Day holiday this week. Those in the military, law enforcement, medical fields and educators were recognized. But there was a special recognition for those who had a part in Pudgy’s story.

“Today we’re talking about heroes and rescuers,” he said. “All songs, everything we do points back to God being the great rescuer.”

Pudgy and Corbin stood on stage as those who helped hugged and shook hands.

“I’ve said thank you, but I could never say it enough,” Corbin said.

Pudgy’s story has become his testimony and a way to witness to others about God’s mercy and love.

“I tell people and they don’t believe me,” he said. “God’s led me here for a reason. Right now I want to tell people what he did. It’s hard to grasp what happened.”

Branam wrote a blog about Pudgy’s story, which can be found at feelmyfaith.com. It is the entry posted on June 11.

“On a day I had scheduled to preach on miracles, God scheduled a resurrection,” he wrote. “When you have a sermon on miracles written out, and then God actually raises the dead, it sort of causes you to trash your manuscript. ... Miracles are still happening. It’s time to raise our expectations.”

Pudgy says he’s handed out many copies of that blog post.

“How many churches in Murray and Whitfield counties have defibrillators?” he asked. “I wasn’t at home. I wasn’t driving. How many are fortunate enough to have a trauma nurse working on you? I’m thankful for these people and this church. I stayed in the hospital for a week and the doctors couldn’t find anything that would have caused this. I’m thankful for all who did what they did. I’m a very lucky man. I’m glad to be here.”

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