Our 2 years of active duty in the US Air Force in many ways were good ones. I had been able to work those years as a surgeon with the usual military restrictions. I had avoided duty in Viet Nam, and the military involvement there was beginning to wind down. Our family had increased by one. Mary Katharine was born on February 10, 1970 at Moody Air Force Base, Valdosta, Georgia, and by this time John Aaron was almost 4 years old. We lived close enough to Cathy’s parents in Fort Lauderdale, Florida which allowed us to visit them and enjoy her family every few months. We loved the small town life of Valdosta, Georgia, although there was no spiritual involvement or even hunger in either one of us. We occasionally attended First Methodist Church and had Mary Kay baptized there when she was several months old.
By the middle of 1971 we had made the final decision to move our family to El Dorado, Arkansas to begin my surgical practice. Cathy’s family wanted us to move to South Florida to establish a medical practice there, and it was very tempting on many levels. My family’s medical ties in El Dorado and the relatively quiet and peaceful atmosphere were huge deciding factors. We certainly did not pray about our decisions but relied on our best judgements. Our moving date was the middle of August 1971 when I was released from active military duty.
Cathy and I moved into a very nice 3 bedroom rental home on East Ninth Street which was about 4 blocks away from my Mom’s home on North Madison. It was owned by our friends, Henry and Venie Craig who lived 2 doors west of us. They had maintained the home well and had it freshly painted inside and out just before we arrived. Our rental payments were very reasonable, and we were happy with our arrangement and friendship with the Craig’s. Our plan was to rent for a year or two until we could save enough money to either build or purchase a permanent home.
On the fateful day of Cathy’s accident which was on November 11, both she and I had been recovering from upper respiratory tract infections. As I left the house very early my last words to her were, “Why don’t you open our bedroom window and air out the room for a couple of hours.” My attitude that particular morning was not the best, and my statement was more on the order of a command rather than a suggestion. I had one surgical case scheduled that morning, and it was a gall bladder removal which usually takes 1-2 hours.
As I finished the procedure I was in the recovery room writing post-operative orders when the hospital phone operator notified me I had an urgent call from my wife. (This was long before cell phones). Upon answering Cathy was almost screaming, “You need to come home right now. I’ve cut my foot!” I thought perhaps she had dropped a glass and cut the sole of her foot, because she usually walked around the house bare footed. I didn’t delay however, but dressed quickly and drove the 10 minute drive home.
Upon arrival there were 3 cars in the driveway which increased my anxiety. As I opened the door to the kitchen, Cathy was sitting in the floor in a huge pool of blood with a thick towel wrapped around her right ankle. I estimated there was 1/2 pint of blood on the floor. Mary Kay was standing behind her holding her security blanket and with eyes widened in fright. My Mom was standing in the kitchen in an almost a state of shock, but said she had called an ambulance. As I applied more pressure to the wound I told Mom to get me a sheet for a tourniquet, and because of her shocked state of mind said, “But they are brand new.” After applying the tourniquet I could examine the wound more carefully. Cathy was more calm and said she had tried to open the bedroom window, and because of the new paint the window was stuck. She lay on her back on the bed and with her right foot kicked against the sill of the window. Her foot glanced off the sill and broke through the glass. When she reflexly pulled back her foot she deeply lacerated her ankle. The Achilles tendon was severed as well as the main vein to her foot. Fortunately the artery was not severed or she might have bled to death before she could get help. We got her to the hospital quickly, and I had already alerted my surgeon friends Drs. Yocum and Tommey who met us in the ER.
Following the successful repair Cathy had to remain in the hospital overnight and was discharged the next day on crutches with a long leg cast on her right leg. I hired a full time care giver for the children because I had to continue my new medical practice which was very small. Managing crutches and the discomfort of an ungainly cast was initially difficult for Cathy. The pain was controllable, but not being able to do her usual household tasks and fully care for two small, active children was very difficult for her.
The woman we initially hired to care for the children seemed ideal. She had children of her own and was skilled in child care. In addition she was an excellent cook and prepared wonderful meals for our family. However, after about 3 weeks I received a phone call one morning at my office from the police department saying there was a problem with our care giver. It seems she was caught in a local grocery stealing items for her own use. The embarrassing thing was she had our almost 2 year old daughter Mary Kay with her. Someone recognized our daughter prior to them being transported to the jail, and this prompted the call to me. I drove to the jail to get Mary Kay, and found they were releasing the lady without bail while charging her with petty theft. I fired her from employment while we searched for a replacement.
So many people in El Dorado offered various kinds of assistance which showed us a depth of love we had not previously experienced. Neither Cathy nor I were Christians, and we saw the love of Christ poured out on us in kind acts and also in healing words. We began to deeply examine our goals in life, and our lack of any spiritual emphasis with each other and with our children. We wanted to raise our children in a good environment which included church membership. Early on we had joined First Baptist Church because that was where Mom, Berry Lee and family were members. We later learned church membership and faithful attendance are not the indicators of Christianity.
There were some wonderful Christians who ministered to us during those weeks of recovery. They included Dave Dawson who lived in Greenville, Texas and was a Navigator friend of my brother Berry Lee (Bubba), the Shepperson sisters, and Mrs. Garland Murphy Sr. who at age 80 years personally prepared several meals for us. Cathy’s Mom came from Fort Lauderdale to stay with us for a week to assist us in so many ways but especially with the children. There were others, but these stood out to us. They not only served us with food and kindness, but also by words concerning the healing which Jesus Christ was doing in both Cathy and me. All of these experiences were impactful to us at a time when we were young, inexperienced and vulnerable.
We learned among other great truths the Lord Jesus comes to the weak, the sick and the helpless with healing with hope and with salvation. Cathy’s painful ordeal and the experiences of physical and emotional healing led us finally to surrender our lives to the salvation of Christ in 1977. What initially was a tragic accident was used by God to totally transform us. To Him be all the glory!