Touched by His Strength


After I joined the Church, I learned to understand the power that had sustained my young patient.

It was a particularly bad night, even for the middle of January. I recall pacing to one of the few windows in the intensive care unit of the Indianapolis Methodist Hospital to look outside, wondering how I was going to get home. The snowstorm had not yet reached blizzard proportions, but there was no telling what would happen in my remaining three hours of duty.

Luckily, the last hours of my shift went smoothly, and as I prepared to go home, the only things on my mind were the icy roads and the snowdrifts that had no doubt accumulated.

“Dianne!” I heard my name called before I reached the elevator. I turned to see one of the surgeons headed my way.

Oh, well, I thought, knowing I was about to be drafted to work an extra shift. At least I won’t have to tackle the roads until morning.

My supervisor told me there was a young automobile accident victim in critical condition who would soon be admitted to intensive care. His chances of survival were almost nonexistent, but if he did make it through surgery, he would need someone with him, and I was to be that someone.

Several years earlier, when I was preparing to become a nurse, I pictured myself wearing a crisp white uniform and hat, fluffing pillows and dispensing medicine and smiles to patients who were happy to see me. What I got, however, were dingy, ill-fitting green scrub uniforms, hard work, and patients struggling to cling to life. But tonight, as I set up the various life-support systems for the young patient I was about to receive, I was grateful that my once-distorted view of nursing had been replaced by the love I now had for the critically ill.

Meeting Randy

When I received Randy Moore in the intensive care unit, there was no time to look at him. He had to be hooked to monitors for his heart, blood pressure, and brain. He needed a ventilator connected to a tube implanted in his throat to breathe. Tubes were in his chest, arms, and groin, and he had to be placed on a special bed for people with severe head or neck injury. We gave him blood transfusions and put him on cooling blankets when, after surgery, his temperature went so high he had seizures.

The doctors told me Randy wouldn’t last until morning. His injuries were so severe, there really wasn’t much that could be done.

Eventually, as the mad rush died down and the surgeons and other medical personnel had dispersed, I was alone with my patient, and for the first time I took a good look at him. He was young, maybe sixteen or seventeen, and although he was badly swollen and bruised, I envisioned a handsome, almost angelic face. I had been told that his car slid off an icy road into a pole while he was on his way home from some sort of school activity. They said he was a very good kid—an example to all his friends.

The intensive care policy was to admit visitors one at a time for no more than five minutes every two hours if the patient’s conditions warranted it. Randy’s condition did not warrant visitors yet, but we did make exceptions for ministers, and I had been informed that Randy’s minister wanted to see him.

I didn’t expect to find three men waiting to give my patient a “blessing,” as they called it, and normally I wouldn’t let that many people into the intensive care unit at one time, especially with Randy’s condition so unstable. Although I intended to restrict them, I was surprised to hear myself allowing them all to enter. One of the other nurses even questioned my judgment, but I told her Randy needed all the help he could get since the doctors expected him to die sometime that night.

As I watched the men stand by Randy’s bedside and quietly say a prayer, the only thing I could think of was, I sure hope they know what they’re doing, because right now Randy is more in God’s hands than anyone else’s. I always wanted the best for my patients, and I knew nothing less than a miracle would work for Randy. I remember wondering if those men from his church could make miracles.

As the hours went by, I stayed busy helping Randy. As badly as he was injured, I could best help him by maintaining his life supports. When I left him in the morning, I took one last look, not expecting to see him alive the next time I worked, and I was saddened by seeing such a vital young life slipping away.

The Battle

Randy’s life didn’t slip away, though, and I was amazed and excited to find that he had managed to survive the hours I was away from him. This continued to happen day after day. The doctors couldn’t explain why he survived, but he did. I made sure I was assigned to care for Randy each evening, because at the time I was convinced he needed me. Years later, I realized it was just the opposite.

Randy’s course wasn’t easy. It was an uphill, downhill journey that it seemed he had to travel alone. Even Randy’s parents had become overwhelmed with the situation. He had yet to regain consciousness, and the doctors were convinced his brain was so badly impaired that he never would. They said that if he lived, he would be a “vegetable,” always hooked to life-support, in need of constant care. If he lived, they said he would be nothing more than a body, but I questioned their expert opinion. What was it inside Randy that kept him fighting to live? I asked myself. Maybe it had something to do with those men from his church who visited him from time to time. Perhaps they did have the key to the miracles that kept Randy alive against the odds.

Before I went into nursing, I had thought I was a good enough Christian. I had faith, I tried to do what I thought to be right, and I knew some of the things I was supposed to know. There were big holes in my religious pursuits, however. I learned to ignore the inner turmoil when answers from my church leaders were vague, contradictory, and downright confusing. But I did believe in miracles, and that belief increased each day Randy survived. Some power greater than Randy himself was waging a valiant fight on his behalf.

People usually think a miracle comes in the form we read of in the Bible: The blind man suddenly sees or the lame man miraculously walks. Anything less spectacular isn’t considered a miracle—it’s just progress. But Randy’s slow progress was a miracle. When he lost ground, he eventually caught up. Most viewed Randy’s progress as a slow, hopeless gain, but I saw it as tiny miracles mounting day by day.

Over the weeks, as I cared for the unconscious young man, I talked and sang to him. I told him about my life, my frustrations, my ambitions. I gave him weather reports and briefings on current events, and I even talked to him about my cat. I didn’t know if he could understand or even hear, but it didn’t matter. I only hoped that if something in Randy did understand what I said, he would know I cared.

One evening as I stood by Randy’s bed, I saw his swollen eyes open. This is not uncommon with coma patients, but as I examined him for other responses indicating consciousness, Randy smiled at me. He was on his way back.

It took long and frustrating weeks, but Randy did improve. Tests indicated that his extensive brain damage would prevent him from ever walking and talking. He had a severe seizure disorder that might be controlled but never corrected, and he had a diminished breathing capacity and couldn’t survive without the aid of a ventilator. At best he would be awake, unable to communicate or do anything more than lie in bed and be taken care of. The doctors said Randy’s future was bleak, but since he had come so far already, I wasn’t convinced.

He was eventually taken out of intensive care and sent to another hospital with a rehabilitation unit equipped for the special, long-term care he would require. Over the years, I thought about Randy from time to time and wondered how he was. Had he lived, or had his weakened body failed?

The Reunion

Seven years after I cared for Randy, a friend introduced me to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. In the Church, I found answers to my questions. I found a new and fuller understanding of the meaning of life, and I was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

During my first fast and testimony meeting as a member of the Indianapolis Sixth Ward, I was amazed that people would actually stand and bear testimony to the truthfulness of the gospel and say how important it was in their lives. As I listened intently to every word, someone behind me bore a testimony I couldn’t understand. His words were garbled and full of effort, but as I looked at the smiling faces of the people around me, I knew they understood him. After the meeting, I went to meet the person I couldn’t understand and was greeted by a smile that sent me back to a snowy January night and a young man who fought desperately to live.

I was truly amazed by what I saw. It was Randy. He had disabilities, but he walked, talked, and breathed on his own. He was an intelligent, spirited young man. He lived alone and took care of himself, for the most part, and he had a very active life. I also learned that he was devoted to the gospel and to the Church, serving as home teacher and assistant ward clerk. The ward was like a family to him. What Randy had become was far more than I had ever thought possible for anyone in his circumstances, but he had done it through faith, determination, and the power of the priesthood. The accumulation of the tiny miracles I recalled in the hospital had added up to what is perhaps the biggest miracle I will witness on earth.

As I came to know Randy, I wondered if I should tell him about all the weeks I cared for him. I wasn’t sure what to do, but Randy took care of the situation himself.

“Has your singing improved?” he asked.

I knew my singing was pretty bad, but I never sang loud enough for anyone to hear. “What do you mean?” I asked him.

“All those weeks in the hospital, I knew it wasn’t the voice of angels singing to me. Angels wouldn’t sound that bad,” answered Randy with a big grin.

Randy remembered, and that remembrance became the basis of cherished sharing, learning, and growing for both of us.

Friendship Years

Over the next years of our friendship, Randy’s battles were much like the ones he had fought in the hospital, always uphill and downhill. But I came to understand his inner strength and faith and realized the reason he always overcame adversity. Even with his extreme disabilities, Randy knew he had a purpose in life and was a valued child of his Heavenly Father. He knew his life might not be a long one, but he also knew that each day was a precious, unique gift from God. And unlike most of us, he never took the day for granted.

It was Randy’s dream to serve a mission, but his accident took away that possibility. Still, he was always ready to teach the gospel and bear his testimony.

Once I took Randy to a public hearing about accessible transportation for people with disabilities. I was worried because he had been suffering from seizures and a serious bout with pneumonia, but he argued that he had to get to the hearing. Nothing I said would change his mind. He said he knew Heavenly Father meant for him to get there, and he would be fine. So I took him.

As we entered the hearing room, Randy asked me to put his name on a list for speakers.

“What?” I exclaimed. “They’ll never understand a word you say.”

“They’ll understand,” he said, and smiled. He knew something I didn’t, and he was right. They did understand. It was as if his speech difficulties disappeared as he addressed the committee. He later said Heavenly Father put the words in his mouth and made them come out clearly.

“Ladies and gentleman,” he said distinctly, “I want to tell you why the disabled deserve accessible public transportation …”

Going Home

Randy returned to his Father in Heaven thirteen years after I first met him. At his funeral I heard people talk of his sufferings and difficulties and how he was finally at peace. But I knew he had achieved peace years before through his understanding of the gospel and his faith in what was yet to come. I also knew this was what sustained him in the hospital when there was no reason that he should have lived.

As I reflect on the joy and strength with which he faced life, I recall Randy’s belief that no matter what life holds, we have to make the best of it. He died strong in his faith, firm in his testimony, honorable in his priesthood, and grateful for a life many would have considered difficult to endure or even not worth living.

Today, in my city, Indianapolis, when I see specially designed buses for people with disabilities, I see a legacy that Randy left for people who never knew him yet who benefit daily from his courage.

I also marvel that Heavenly Father loved me enough to entrust me with the care of one so precious as Randy and then brought him back to touch my life again. I was blessed by his incredible zest for living and strengthened by his grace and dignity when faced with overwhelming adversity. His life after the accident was nothing less than a miracle.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Keith Larsen

Dianne Holmes Despain is the Relief Society compassionate service leader of the White River Branch, Indianapolis Indiana Stake.