On July 2nd, 2013 the sun came up as always in Santa Monica, California, but I never woke up. In fact, it was almost 2 months before I ever did wake up. I was in a coma from July 2nd until late August…when I spoke my first word. When I went to bed the night of July 1st something happened and I experienced an anoxic injury (the flow of oxygen stopped or slowed greatly to my brain) causing my vital organs to begin shutting down. When my Dad found me in my bedroom he said that I was laboring severely to breathe. Upon arrival at the hospital emergency room the doctors told my Mom, Dad and sister Shannon that things didn’t look good for me and that they didn’t think that I would live. All of my vital organs were in very bad shape. My family had to deal with the fact that I only had minutes to live. I wasn’t ready to die…
I was only 23 years old, a senior at USC and just days before I had returned home from a study abroad semester at the University of Melbourne in Australia. I finished those international business classes and was only five classes away from graduating the USC Marshall School of Business. I arrived home in L.A. on June 30th. Just before I left for Australia in early February I had an emergency appendectomy surgery which took a long time for me to recover from. It leaked from my belly button for about 5 weeks. On July 1st I went out on the town in L.A. and partied with some friends, got home early (just after midnight) and told my Dad good night and I went to bed. The next two months are gone…
The morning (July 2nd) that I didn’t wake up, I was moving rapidly towards the grave and I was also on my way to hell. I had a Mom and Dad that were real, genuine Christians. They loved Jesus and lived out their faith in God…but as for me—that was another story. I had attended Christian schools, went to church every Sunday until I got to college but I didn’t have a personal relationship in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I had head knowledge but not any heart knowledge. I knew lots of Christians, many whom I thought were fake, but following Jesus was not for me. I wasn’t about to surrender my life to God and live for Him. I was living for me. I was having too much so called fun, too much partying, too much drugs and alcohol to consume…for me to live for God. I was in control of my own life, doing my own thing and I didn’t need this God that my parents worshipped and lived for. Back to July 2nd, I had one foot in eternity and was minutes from being separated from God forever…and something happened. The love of God happened!!! Jesus intervened and grabbed a hold of me and snatched me back from the bowels of hell. I can envision it now. The devil clutched to my leg pulling me downward towards hell and I’m slipping away when the Lord reaches down and grabs my arm and pulls me back to Him, back to life. Wow, was God really giving me a 2nd chance? After years of turning my back on God and running from Him…He intervened and rescued me. As I know today, Jesus did love me and He does love me that much! His amazing grace and mercy for me is real.
The journey was just beginning, because the devil wasn’t done in his efforts to get me down to his losing team. As I was in the emergency room and my life was in the balance God’s love sustained me and my vital organs somehow stabilized. I had pneumonia, my heart was pumping at only 20% capacity, my liver was failing, and I had bladder and urinary infections prior to being moved to the ICU (Intensive Care Unit). From my arrival at the emergency room to ICU and even today the prayers on my behalf continue. Prayers of my parents, sister, family, and parent’s friends were being lifted up to the Lord for God to heal me. I’m told that for sure, hundreds if not thousands of people were praying for me. This happened through word of mouth, phone calls, texts, emails and various prayer chains. The word was traveling about my life threatening situation and that I needed serious prayer. The enemy was not ready to quit in his battle for my soul. As I lay unconscious in the ICU hospital bed hooked up to so many machines, tubes and wires the prayers of God’s people were being raised up and increasing by the hour. My doctor, a respected and well known neurologist was working on behalf of the enemy. About 3 days into my ICU stay, the doctor took my parents and sister into an office to show them my brain scan. As it appeared on the screen my scan revealed a very sad, serious and horrible reality that I was as close to being brain dead as a person could be, but not quite brain dead. The scan showed a whiteness covering most of my brain, about 80 to 90 percent of my brain. The brain waves and activity were at a minimal. My situation didn’t look good…I was in dire straits. The neurologist informed my family that I was basically brain dead and my prognosis would be that I’d live the rest of my life in a severe vegetative state. He was saying that I would forever be a blob. This doctor went on to say “Shawn wouldn’t want to live like this, that his vegetative state would not be the quality of life that he would want…so Mom and Dad what I believe is best and what I recommend for your son is to pull his feeding tube and starve him to death.”
Yes, what’s best for your son Shawn is for his life to be ended… The doctor said that you don’t have to do “it” immediately, but within 30 days it’s what should be done and I recommend it. Shawn will not get any better, so do the humane thing and end Shawn’s life. Wow, the devil is still at it and recruiting me hard… I am so thankful that Peter, Shannon, Mom and Dad were believers and followers of Jesus. With all the abysmal reports on my condition they didn’t lose faith in the Lord and quit on me as the medical experts were suggesting. As my Dad said to the neurologist upon hearing his horrendous recommendation, “the Lord has plan and purpose for His life…not death at this time!” Ten days go by at this first hospital and the doctors, nurses and administrators pressure my parents into leaving and moving me to an old folk’s home, or an assisted living facility where I can go and be a vegetable and die… My family is fighting for me, for me to have the best medical care possible.
I was transferred after 10 days to the Intensive Care Unit at UCLA, a very good hospital only a few miles away. I was housed here for about 3 weeks. During my stay at UCLA the neurologists there stated that they couldn’t predict my future, but they thought that I’d eventually wake up. They didn’t know what it would look like when I did come out of my coma. After a few days I was moved from the ICU to a private room with around the clock care and attention. The nurses and techs would move and shift my body around often to keep me from getting bed sores. I was on a ventilator and was being fed intravenously through a feeding tube. Every few hours I was getting flam suctioned out of my lungs. I had numerous infections and my room was quarantined. I was being stuck and poked with needles to draw blood or get fluids pumped into my body frequently and throughout the day and all through the night. It was non-stop. No rest for the weary… As my stay at UCLA reached a week to ten days my parents once again felt the pressure of the hospital wanting me to leave. They felt that their help being provided to me was getting less and less beneficial therefore they couldn’t do much more to assist with my recovery. Plus and also an extremely important, money plays a critical role in the length of one’s hospital stay and my insurance was running out. Shannon from day one researched potential best hospitals or care facilities that I could next go to in hopes to receive the best treatment possible. Through Shannon’s and my Dad’s research and phone calls they repeatedly heard about Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colorado (just outside of Denver). My Dad contacted a friend who is a Colorado Rockies executive and he got my Dad in touch through their team doctor to Dr. Alan Weintraub, Medical Director of the traumatic brain injury program at Craig Hospital. What a blessing, we were led by the grace of God to the best doctor and best traumatic brain hospital in the USA. My Dad and Dr. Weintraub spoke over the phone and he told my Dad that he thought he could help me. Craig Hospital sent a lady staff person to LA to meet my family, observe me and to interview the UCLA staff about my condition. She determined that I was a good fit for Craig Hospital and to be under the care of Dr. Weintraub.
On August 6th (my Dad’s birthday) and about 5 weeks of being in a coma I was flown via Air Ambulance to Denver. Besides the pilots, Shannon went with me along with a nurse and respiratory therapist. We flew in a private plane and I was met at the airport by my Dad, friend Tracy Williams and my brother Peter Habyarimana. I checked into Craig that afternoon. I don’t remember anything from this 2 month coma, but I do recall my first word spoken when I woke up. I said in response to a hospital tech’s question…“YEAH”. That’s how my consciousness began…with one word. Over the next few days came I would begin to utter more words and then I started to put words together and form sentences. I can’t begin to explain how happy my Mom, Dad and Shannon were to hear me speak. The smiles on their faces was amazing for me to see. I can’t say enough about the care that I received at Craig Hospital. I am so thankful and gracious to the staff at Craig for doing what they do best; provide care and therapy. It all starts with my gratitude to Dr. Weintraub, my case worker Kent Hamstra and all the amazing nurses, techs, and special therapists. I had multiple therapists for; physical, occupational and speech therapy. I had six therapy sessions daily (except for the weekends, which was a time to rest) and two of each type of therapies. I was worked hard, pushed, challenged and motivated by the Craig staff. Almost everyone one of them made the most difference in my recovery by truly caring for me…of which I will always be grateful. Besides the fact that they were wonderful professionals, they are great people too. As a patient, when you know your medical team cares for you…it makes a difference. It did for me…
After about 3 weeks of being able to speak I was placed in a standing mechanism that helped me to re-learn how to stand, but it required much needed assistance. From there the physical therapists re-taught me how to walk. One day one of the therapist said to me, “your parents must be really close to God because I’ve never seen anything like this” (meaning my improvement and recovery). This is all pretty amazing considering that their primary goal upon my entry into the hospital was for me to just be able to swallow food. This they thought would be quite successful on my part. I guess the expectations for my recovery weren’t the best… Due to my brain injury much of what I needed (while my brain was healing) was to be taught how to eat, talk (not too fast or not too softly), to sit up (without falling over), to stand, and to walk, etc…all the basics I needed to re-learn. From early August this was the medical focus as my family and friends and acquaintances continued to pray for me daily. My vision was also a huge problem. Some thoughts were that I might be blind due to my brain injury. When I first saw the eye doctor at Craig he said my sight was like looking through a pin hole; very narrow and severely limited. A month later it had expanded and gotten broader. Vision plays such a vital role in so many ways, especially with balance and sitting, standing and walking. From my first eye exam to my second one and then my final eye exam prior to leaving Craig my vision doctor was astonished and impressed with my vison recovery. After the second eye exam he said out loud, that over this course of time my vision recovery was thus far nothing short of a miracle.
Each day I seemed to get a little better. I was extremely motivated to get back to normal. I was determined to work as hard as I possibly could to improve. My initial short term goal was to jog at Christmas time. After being in a coma for 2 months and not really walking for 3 months no one believed I would be able to jog at Christmas time, which (at that point) was less than 3 months away. But, my family believed I could do it. Life in this condition was a daily grind, not only for me but also for my family. My sister had left her job to be with me and my family put everything on hold to be take the best care possible for me. For the first 5 weeks of my coma I had around the clock, 24 hour family supervision. My Mom was with me all day long and my Dad was also there during the day, but he would spend every night (until the morning) with me in the ICU room and then in the private room. Shannon stayed with me a few nights too. I had family and friends around me from day one until early November. I am so thankful for God’s love and mercy to me and so grateful to my family too. The most intense part of this journey was culminated on November 8th…the day that I walked out of Craig Hospital. By the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ I was healed and set free. This 4 month intense (painful for my family) experience was filled with so much hope. Due to the amazing help that I received at Craig Hospital I decided that I’d stay in Colorado for 3 more months to continue my therapy as an out-patient. We returned to Los Angeles on February 2nd after 6 months in Colorado. I must admit, I fell in love with Colorado and the people there. I have hopes to possibly returning to live there, maybe after I graduate from USC.
In returning to LA, I immediately began therapy with an emphasis on cognitive improvement and fine motor skills development. I continued my 2-3 days a week physical training workouts at a fitness club. In May I began an intensive 3 day (now 2 day) a week physical training program at CORE (Center of Restorative Exercises). The focus there is on my balance, walking stride and mechanics. This training has been a big help to me. During my coma I lost about 40 pounds going from 164 to 124 pounds. I truly looked like a skeleton. I gained all my weight back and more (an additional 30 pounds). I topped out at 194 but with some recent understanding of my body’s metabolism I’m currently at the 179 pound mark. I think my best weight is about 165 to 170. Weight lifting (which I began in Colorado last November) and conditioning have really been helpful. I am much stronger now than I have ever been. In May I am headed back to USC to continue my education. I took one summer school class at USC called ‘Managerial Accounting’. I was blessed to have a great professor to start up my education once again. Most people thought it was too early for me to start back to school (due to cognitive reasons), but I wanted the challenge and believed that I could do it. I’m thankful to the Lord to report that I passed this difficult class with a ‘C’ grade. I’ve 4 more classes to take; 2 in the fall and 2 in the spring and I graduate (Lord willing) from the USC Marshall School of Business. My fine more skills are improving and I am getting better with my handwriting. I can tie my own shoes now, which took a while for me to get the hang of, but I am so grateful that I continue to heal. I look forward to driving once again, hopefully in the not too distant future.
I’ve shared with you about my cognitive and physical recovery, now to the most amazing report—my spiritual healing. Due to this near death experience and year long journey I had an encounter with Jesus. After coming out of my coma and soon thereafter realizing how close to death I had come put everything into perspective. I realized how close I was to eternal death, to going to hell where I would be separated, away from and apart from God forever and ever and ever… I recognized how much God loved me and that He had given me a 2nd chance. I also realized that I didn’t have a much needed personal and real relationship with Jesus Christ. I was a sinner and not in right standing with God. I prayed and asked the Lord for His forgiveness of my sins. I repented and turned away from my sinful lifestyle and turned to Jesus Christ. I surrendered to Him and asked Him to be my Lord and Savior. I can now say with much gratefulness and thankfulness that I am seeking God wholeheartedly. I desire to be in the Lord’s presence and to worship Him with all of my heart. A Bible verse that has special significance to me is in 1 Peter 2:9, where it says “that I can now proclaim the excellencies of God who called me out of darkness into His marvelous light.” I was living in darkness, chasing the darkness here in LA and God pursued me (as He does you) and He rescued me from eternal darkness (here on earth and in hell). I am now in HIS marvelous light. I am a follower of Jesus.