Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Chris Miracle Story

Our family has been so moved by the huge wave of support that has rushed over us in the last 48 hrs. It is having a tremendous effect on us and on our continually evolving story. THANK YOU. THANK YOU. THANK YOU for all the love that has been sent our way.

I know that Chris' recovery strength is going to emerge from all the seeds of love that been planted in the dialogues created by these emails. He is a man who has tremendous faith in love. Your love will heal him.

I want to document this miracle as it happens so that we can share it with Chris when he is able to get the information and process it - because I know, hearing this story will help make him stronger.

Now, the story from the beginning.

On Sunday Aug 30th, the day after our 22nd wedding anniversary, Chris ran in the Cobequid Trail 10 km race. We went to the race to cheer him on. The racecourse takes the runners out 5 km from the Centennial pool in town towards the marsh and dykeland in Lower Truro and then turns back to the start. As many of you know, Chris runs marathons. He has done 9 so far and was training for his 10th this fall. This 10 km race was really just a small test to see if he was on track to get a better qualifying time for the Boston Marathon in 2010.

We cheered him and many other runners as they passed by. Chris looked great. He waved as he went by us at the 3.5 km mark. In a short time later, we saw him again, looking a little flush but happy. He finished the race 16th out of 113 runners.

When we meet him back at the house, he was pleased that his over all time was only 23 seconds longer then in last years’ race. He said he felt good although thought he looked a little red (flushed) but he was happy. We left the house at 12:40pm and as we left the house, I asked him to take the cake out of the oven when the timer went off at 1pm. He did this. At 1:30, Carmen dropped off a recipe for me. He thanked her and after she left, I think he went downstairs, where our shower is, and stripped down to one sock. After this we don’t know what happened. I believe that shortly after 1:30 and before 2pm – he collapsed on the bathroom floor.

My dear Aunt Shirley and Uncle John, who are from England and staying with us a few days, came home at 4:30 and found him on the bathroom floor awake but unable to move and trying to vomit. My quick thinking uncle tried to move him on his right side but Chris gestured with his right hand to flip him on him left side. He was unable to talk. John and Shirley called the ambulance and me.

I got back to the house by 5:15pm to find 2 ambulances and a firetruck on our street. I was scared. The EMT and fireman were great. They did what they had to do and after he was sent off the remaining EMT and fireman took time to comfort me and our children, Tara and Quinn.

Uncle John and I followed the ambulance to the hospital. In a short time, Dr MacLaren came to talk to us, she kindly said that this was serious and a CT would help figure things out. Without saying what she thought it might be, she conveyed frustration at the concept that something like this should happen to an athlete. This is when I got really scared. I knew that in her gut she was very worried. We went home to console the children and bring them up to date. The nurses had said that it would be OK if Tara and Quinn came to see Daddy after the CT. We all returned to the hospital within the hour. We were taken to a family room and Dr. MacLaren said she’d like to speak to me first.

Oh God, now I am really, really scared. She said that there had been a massive hemorrhage in Chris’s brain. It was a ‘catastrophic’ bleed … there was no hope. NO HOPE! I could believe that this was real – it had to be a very bad dream. After some minutes of comforting me, the clearly distressed Dr. MacLaren said that Chris had signed he organ donor card. OH GOD this IS happening. Now “no hope” was defined for me – there was NO HOPE. I went to the Tara and Quinn and told them – they couldn’t believe that their Daddy was going to die. I called Chris’s parents from the hospital room where Chris lay, and somehow mouthed to words for the second time “No Hope”.

When we got home, I tried to settle the children. Tara, who has a tremendous will, ran downstairs to Daddy’s room (Chris’ room that has all the comforts a man could want including a very large TV – some might call it a “man cave”). I found her in Daddy’s room with a tattered old flannel sheet wrapped around her, that Chris had always called the “Magic Blanket”. He used it to comfort the kids and himself when sick with colds or injuries. It was a magic blanket to Tara because it always worked. When the magic blanket went to work in the past, she always got better. It was a reasonable act in Tara’s mind – she believed in the magic blanket. Marianne (a neighbor) and I found her huddled in the blanket rocking herself, saying “I think that if I use Daddy’s magic blanket it might help my heart and it might help Daddy too”. Tara, Marianne and I held each other, sobbing with Annie, our family dog friend, gently licking our tears.

All I could say was that I thought that yes the magic blanket would help her but I didn’t think it would help Daddy. “No hope”, “no hope”, “no hope” kept echoing in my ears – I had to be a realist – for the children’s sake.

Quinn, Tara and I had the worst night of our lives. At 11:00, dear friends, Terry and Chris Giles came to the door, Marianne had told them – they were in shock. They stayed with me and gave me very sound advice – I must be there for the children – they are my priority. Chris G and Terry said that they would help in any way so that I would free me up to be with the children. Chris offered to tell people. We went through Chris’ address book to let as many people as possible know. I was grateful for this kind act – I could not say “No Hope” again. The words made it seem too real. Terry offered to get me information and support to help heal the children’s grief.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I wondered through the house – everywhere I looked there were reminders of Chris. I wanted to die.

The next morning and afternoon, Juanita, my very pregnant sister, helped me get by the seconds and minutes and hours. Slowly, a plan was forming. A plan of what I needed to do to make this as good as it could be for our little family. Jay, the minister, came by and helped me plan more for a service to help the huge network of friends that Chris had to get over this unbelievable news. Ideas were tossed about like a hot potato, no one wanted to hold onto the ideas – the act of holding on made it more real.

We were waiting for THE phone call from Halifax, where Chris was taken the night before at 10pm, to tell us that Chris was declared brain dead and that they would start to harvest his tissue.

At 2:15, I got a call from a doctor in the neurosurgery ICU. He said that Chris was not brain dead yet. This was not what they had expected. Death was supposed to be before now. Chris wasn’t dead! They did another CT to see what was going on and miraculously, the CT showed “slight” improvement. This was not what they had expected. Further testing showed brain stem reflexes and deep pain perception. The doctor said that this was something to check out and that surgery was possible. Surgery could lead to a “reasonable recovery”! A contrast CT scan showed no aneurysms or A-V fistulas. Surgery was his best chance. Surgery could save him. Without the surgery, he would die and that process could take days or weeks.

I had to ask what “reasonable recovery’ meant. I said that Chris still had the most important job in the world that only he could do … being a Daddy. I asked the doctor if he was a father? He said yes. When asked if “reasonable recovery meant Chris could still be a Daddy? The answer was… YES! I said yes, do the surgery and go with God’s speed. At 3:30 Chris went into surgery.

My brother Bill and Tara, Quinn and I went to the airport to meet my sister, Fran and Chris’ parents, Dick and Marion and his brother, Steve. We were giddy with the news of “possible reasonable recovery” No hope was gone – we had hope and we were not letting go. Chris was fighting this and so were we. The excitement built. By the time we carried on to the hospital from the airport – the mood had shifted and the momentum was building. We were running a marathon of hope for Chris. This is the beginning of the race when energy is high.

When we got to the hospital at 6:45 he was still in surgery, no news yet, the minutes ticked by slowly. 6:45, 7:00, 7:20, 7:40, 8:00 – oh God how long can it be … 8:40 finally, the 2 surgeons came to the family waiting. A large blood clot was removed and there were no signs of where the blood had come from. A mystery. A clot was saved for histopathology to gain a little insight. The Drs felt that the surgery went well and said that the clot had involved the right temporal lobe and that left sided weakness would be the legacy. The nurses were cleaning him up for visitors and we could see him soon.

Tara and Quinn are like emotional sponges. They absorb all the feelings around them. The mood was high. There were 8 family members plus Tara, Quinn and I. Everyone was happy … except me – did I do the right thing? – it was my decision to do the surgery – Chris would likely never run again - a passion gone. How could rob him of this – what if things are worse? – what if he gets depressed? – what if I made the wrong decision?

We had done up living wills when Quinn was born, 7 yrs ago – but I couldn’t remember what Chris’ said exactly. What if this was something he didn’t want? Did I make a very big mistake that will cause more sorrow and suffering then his death would? When I got the call from the hospital to make the decision to do surgery, I talked with very pregnant Juanita – and she said the only thing that a mother full of hormones could say. “Chris loves being a parent more then anything in life – this is his true passion and he IS really good at it.

Hearing and feeling those words made me say yes to the surgery.” I hope I had not made a mistake. The marathon continues, my family are running ahead, I’m stumbling – I can’t keep up – I start to express my doubts that I tried to keep inside me – my fears are leaking out – I can’t stop the flow. Quinn sees my face and asked with the innocence of a seven old, “Mummy, why are you sad?“ I take a deep breath and applied pressure to the flow of bad feelings and thoughts and said “ Quinny, I have always been a person who can see things in the future – I have a crystal ball in my head that allows me see what things will look like. And when I see the picture – I can see a way to make that picture happen. This has always worked for me. The last few days – the crystal ball has not been working – all the pictures a foggy and swirlly and I can’t see any pictures. And just now I got some pictures, scary pictures, pictures that I don’t want to see and I am scared. It’s like a TV channel that has a scary movie that I don’t want to see.”

Upon hearing this explanation Quinn jumps up and grabs the remote to the TV that was in the family room, points it at me and presses 29. (Chris’ favorite number – after a childhood baseball hero Rod Carew #29 for the Angels – it is not a coincidence that we were married on the 29th of August). This little act of faith in Daddy – picked me up from the stumble and with Quinn holding my hand, I am running again for Chris. I am with the pack of family and friends from near and far who love Chris and we WILL finish this marathon.

I thought my job was to be strong for my children but it turns out that Tara’s faith in Daddy’s Magic Blanket and Quinn’s faith in Daddy’s strength and quick thinking with the TV remote have saved me.


  1. I will run for Chris, Gwen, Tara & Quinn.
    I run for hope....

  2. What a great idea ...a blog.. Never heard of it. I'm looking forward tonight to the combined emotional and spiritual strength that I'm sure will provide love, comfort and support

    Marianne C

  3. Rob & Joelle BezansonSeptember 4, 2009 at 12:16 PM

    OMG Gwen. You and the family must be emotionally exhausted. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all, and we send extra strength and thoughts to Chris. If there is anything we can do, please let us know.

  4. Gwen, you are one of the strongest people I know, you can and are doing all that you can do. My thoughts are with you all and let me know if I can help...and GO CHRIS GO...I know he can do it x x x

  5. I don't know you but someone very special to me shared this with me. I am going through a very tragic event in my life that she knew I would understand! I have a very dear old friend of mine who had an accident 10 weeks ago and sheared the stem of his brain. He is pretty well a vegetable and in a coma.Your life right now is so scarey but so hopeful and this makes me feel good to hear a life like that is going on right now when my friends life is not hopeful!I now understand through you why his Mom (who I met for the first time when I went to see him after the accident) keeps thanking me whenever I speak to her or see her! I am there for my friend like I know he would be for me we just can't go thinking he's gone when he is breathing and just down the street at the QE 7th floor!!I want to see him! You've made me realize she is thanking me for just being there!!Your writing is true and honest I am crying with you when I am readiing it I am scared for you when you are feeling it! I am sending all the good karma and praying for something more powerful than us to see you through this!!!Your strong you will get trough this,this I know!

  6. The run for hope was a great success. It brought together alot of people who wanted to show their support for the Cashen family. We were proud to be a part of the experience. Terri & Marianne did an wonderful job. Gwen your strength amazes us yet again.
    Our Love & Prayers are with you all...
    Val & Brian

  7. I knew you a bit years ago and have had a bit of work related contact since. I was truly shocked to hear about this, and encouraged by what has happened since the intial diagnosis. I sincerely hope the prognosis keeps improving, and, regardless, my very best wishes for you and your family.

  8. Dear Gwen, Tara, Quinn and Chris....we have just learned this shocking news. I can't believe it. I hope you are coping well - it sounds like you're doing an amazing job...I know that Chris will pull through...he has so much determination and love of life....I've just pulled out the beautiful wooden Christmas ornaments that he made us every year and the girls and I will pray daily that he makes a full recovery to the vibrant funny happy to be alive person that he was....we'll be sending prayers from Yarmouth and I know that the family at Saint Andrews will be looking after you Kerry Munro Muise, Taylor and Evelyn Kerr (and Sophie)...

  9. Gwen,so sorry to hear about chris i know every one in north river will be praying for your family keep your head held high and we are thinking of you always.m.terry

  10. get well chris, your friends at truro homehardware miss your visits and we are thinking of you and your family everyday.

  11. If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.

    I will pray for you and your family.

  12. I first heard the news of your husband while attending the Fiddler's Run and I was shocked. I ran the trail on August 30 and remember your husband,s name but can,t remember his face. I now find myself reading your story each night and can,t believe your strength.I may be a runner but always a parent first and my thoughts are with you. I often wonder if people realize what influence they have on you without even meeting.Take Care