Back From the Brink: MennoMedia Board Member’s Near-Death Experience

Dan Jack and his wife Marguerite live in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Dan is a small business owner specializing in custom gutter installations. Some Canadians call gutters “eaves troughs.”

For many years Dan served on MennoMedia’s Board as one of three Canadian representatives. He was forced to resign in the fall of 2013 because of deteriorating health due to Crohn’s disease and complications from surgery two and a half years earlier.

As his health worsened, he sought another surgery to remove a pulmonary embolism from his right lung. The clot was reducing the oxygenated blood available to his body and damaging his kidneys and liver, which in turn were causing his heart to fail.

In mid-December, 2013 he had surgery in Ottawa which removed this massive clot from his lung, made repairs on his heart, and restored his lung function. The surgery lasted 26 hours.

Damage to his liver and kidneys slowed his recovery. He left intensive care on January 6, 2014, and on January 22, Dan was transported by air ambulance from the Ottawa Heart Institute to the Peter Lougheed Hospital in Calgary, close to his home.

Dan Jack Medical Flight                                                             Dan Jack being transported from Ottawa to Calgary by air on January 22, 2014

At several points during Dan’s prolonged illness it wasn’t clear whether he would pull through. But he did, and we are thanking God! One of his doctors called him “a walking miracle.” I hoped to meet with Dan back in August; in an email exchange with him on August 6th in preparation for a trip to Alberta, he wrote, “You may be surprised at my health progress–thank God.”

I had the pleasure of having dinner with Dan and Marguerite in their home in Calgary on August 21, 2014, eight months after his medical ordeal began. He has faced death and lived to tell the story.

DanJack                                                              Dan and Marguerite Jack

My oldest brother, who will turn 70 next year, is in very good health but is clearly thinking about his own mortality. He is a writer and recently sent me the following poem which I am posting with his permission.

Realms of Light & Darkness

Light informs,
nurtures worlds,
tells of distant stars,
planets and moons.

Measures
incalculable distances
from distant candles.

Light is allegory,
a duality of
particle & wave
mind & body.

While realms
of dark matter disavow
light’s blessings;

a mythic kingdom
embracing
darkness,

as we spin toward
and away
from our sun

travel through days
and seasons, its
saga of opposites

awaiting our
ultimate
eclipse.
© Bill Carpenter

Dr. Glen Miller has also faced his own death. He experienced two heart attacks and one cardiac arrest (which means the heart stopped) and lived to tell the story. Actually he has written skillfully about these experiences and more in Living Thoughtfully, Dying Well: A Doctor Explains How to Make Death a Natural Part of Life, which Mennobytes wrote about here. He writes, “I now know my ‘terminal illness’—congestive heart failure.” In this new book he challenges his readers to reflect on their lives and make preparations for a “good death.” By that he means a death that comes while resting comfortably at home, surrounded by family and loved ones, not while lying in a hospital bed surrounded by machines with tubes coming out of your nose. His premise is that everyone deserves a good death and to achieve that takes planning. His book contains many personal reflections.

Living Thoughtfully

In addition to providing a helpful check list, Dr. Miller recounts occasions when the patient’s wishes, clearly expressed in those documents, is ignored until the doctors decide there is nothing else they can do. Through stories and role-playing he demonstrates the decision points where the family gives control back to the doctors, even when it goes against the patient’s expressed wishes.

This book is especially helpful for those who are caring for aging parents or who have recently retired and are making important life and end of life decisions for themselves. Following Dr. Miller’s advice will help avoid “futile care” performed on the grievously ill while planning for a measure of dignity and privacy in death.

For those who prefer video or would like to supplement Dr. Miller’s book, in 2007 Mennonite Media produced a DVD documentary resource on this topic, called Embracing Aging: Families Facing Change.

Embracing Aging                                                                                     DVD Embracing Aging

***

How have you addressed end of life issues with your aging parents?

It is a difficult fact we sometimes ignore—we will all die. In light of that fact, how do you want to go?

Do you know your “terminal illness?”

Have you communicated your wishes to those who will care for you?

We’d love to hear your comments, questions, ideas!

Steve Carpenter, Director of Development and Church Relations

Steve Carpenter, Director of Development and Church Relations

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