The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 16: Joy in Suffering (1 of 4)
Joy emerges from the ashes of adversity through your trust and thankfulness.
—Sarah Young, Jesus Calling[i]
When Fred Chapman woke up on the morning of Saturday, August 8, 2009, he had no idea his world would soon be flipped upside down. A racetrack chaplain for the Central Motorcycle Road Racing Association since 2003, Fred looked forward to supporting and ministering to the racers at Hallett Motor Racing Circuit in Hallett, Oklahoma. His youngest son, Jake, then thirteen, was scheduled to compete in a mini endurance race at Hallett while his 19-year-old son, Zac, warmed up for the WERA Nationals at Virginia International Raceway in Danville, Virginia. Zac, already a professional racer, planned to do well enough that weekend to pay for tires, gas, and racing fees for the AMA Pro event at Virginia International the weekend after.
Zac had taken his own motorcycle onto the track that morning to log a few practice laps, but while rounding one of the turns something went wrong. He lost control of the powerful motorcycle. Instinctively he tried to correct the heavy bike’s trajectory. “I started to fall and I saved it,” said Zac, “but when I did, it sent me off the track at an angle you don’t normally do. It usually doesn’t happen that way.” He hit the weathered, hard tire wall head on at 60 to 70 miles per hour. Zac and the motorcycle decelerated in an instant, sliding along the barrier in a crunch of metal, fiberglass, plastic, and flesh. He skittered to a stop in the grass, facedown.
By the time the corner workers reached him and turned him over, Zac insisted on getting up, but the officials wouldn’t let him. After the track ambulance arrived, the crew transferred him to a backboard, strapped his head down, and transported him to the pit area where he talked to his team owner and insisted he was okay. However, when Zac removed his helmet he began complaining about severe neck pain. Another ambulance then drove him to the local hospital for a CT scan.
Soon after the crash, Fred received a phone call from Zac’s team owner telling him what had happened. Because Zac had appeared relatively coherent and intact, Fred wasn’t immediately alarmed. He hung up and continued to carry equipment to the staging area, helping his younger son’s team set up for the upcoming four-hour endurance race.
“I soon got another call,” said Fred. “It was the emergency room doctor—he was on his personal cell phone—and he said, ‘Mr. Chapman, I’ve got your son. We’re going to give him a CT scan because he’s not answering all the questions right.’” Not responding correctly to the questions was a sign of a concussion. Fred hung up after asking the doctor to call him when he received the results.
“It wasn’t ten minutes later my phone rang and it was that same number,” Fred recalled. “My first thought was, ‘Well, you can’t get the results of a CT scan that quickly.’ I answered the phone and the doctor said, ‘Mr. Chapman, I’m sorry to inform you, but when we put Zac into the CT scanner and started the scan he went into a coma and aspirated.’” The medical crew performed an emergency tracheotomy, then flew him via helicopter to Roanoke Memorial Hospital Trauma Center in Roanoke, Virginia.
A friend rushed Fred to Tulsa International Airport, and three hours later he was on his way to Roanoke. On the flight to Virginia, the man sitting next to him offered to pray for him and Zac. Until that moment Fred hadn’t invited the Holy Spirit into the situation, so as the man prayed over him, Fred also prayed: “Holy Spirit, all of my Christian life I’ve heard You say that You’ll give us peace beyond understanding,” he implored. “There’s no way I could understand that right now, but I want that peace.” Peace and relaxation suddenly flooded over him. Back pain he’d suffered from for twenty-seven years melted away, like he’d just received a full-body massage. “That’s when I laid my head back in the seat and closed my eyes, and I started talking to the Holy Spirit. That’s when I heard Him tell me, ‘Don’t worry about Zac, I’m going to fully restore him.’”
On that promise, Fred rallied for his son after doctors confirmed he’d suffered from massive trauma to both his frontal lobe and his brain stem. During the impact, Zac’s brain had torn loose from his cranium, a condition known as “brain shear.” For all intents and purposes, the impact destroyed his frontal lobe. The neurosurgeon at Roanoke Memorial urged Fred to let Zac go, but he confidently refused. Joy and peace settled over him. “When you hear from God it gives you a peace,” Fred explained. “The key to that is getting quiet and having the communication between you and God through the Holy Spirit. When you hear from God, you have to be obedient to carry out what He says and do it.”
Because of the swelling, surgeons removed Zac’s cranium from above his eyebrows to the temples and across the top of his head, and for nearly three months he lay in a coma on a respirator. Fred never gave up hope in God’s promise, and he never left Zac’s side. After Zac was flown back to Fort Worth, a medical crew transported him to Kindred Long-term Acute Care Hospital, where, five days later, the staff managed to remove Zac from the respirator. Three days after that, they succeeded in waking him from the coma, but he remained in a vegetative state. Four more weeks passed before he was transferred to Baylor Institute of Rehabilitation in Dallas. There doctors reattached the piece of bone removed from Zac’s cranium to protect his brain from any further injuries.
After successfully completing this procedure, the neurosurgeon at Baylor confirmed the status of Zac’s brain. “His frontal lobe is just like jelly lying in the bottom,” he told Fred. “Lifeless, just destroyed.” The area where his frontal lobe should have been was concave. Because reattachment of the cranial bone was intended for protection and nothing more, the doctor cautioned Fred not to expect any “big results” from the surgery.
“I understand,” Fred replied.
After the surgery the medical team conducted CT scans every two hours throughout the night to monitor Zac’s brain for swelling. “At six the next morning I was sleeping at Zac’s feet in a chair, and the doctor came rushing into the room and startled me,” Fred said. “He really freaked me out saying, ‘Mr. Chapman! Wake up! Come here, you’ve got to see this! You’ve got to see this!’ He grabbed my arm and I threw off the blanket and here we go!” The neurosurgeon hurried Fred to the nurses’ station where a bank of large computer monitors stood, each displaying a CT scan. He pointed to the computer screens. “As I looked at each one,” said Fred, “I saw that the frontal lobe had come back. And I said to the doctor, ‘What are you telling me?’ He said, ‘The frontal lobe has come back!’”
[i] Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004. 301.
Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes