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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Prayers Strike Out H1N1

By John W. Kennedy
June 26, 2011

In the summer of 2009, Luke Duvall lifted weights and started running in an effort to improve his strength and endurance. By the start of the school year, his improved physical agility had paid off.

As a 160-pound, 15-year-old sophomore, Luke made the high school varsity football team in Atkins, Ark. (population 3,016), as a starting defensive cornerback.

Not only that, the coach plugged the muscular youth in as an offensive utility player at tailback, power back, fullback, wide receiver and even quarterback.

But the week before the fifth game of the season, many on the team came down with the flu. On that Friday night in October 2009, Luke felt sick during the 2½-hour bus ride to the away game and slept. The expressive teen with a good sense of humor uncharacteristically didn’t eat supper before the game.

During the game he felt exhausted when he ran. He played so poorly that the coach pulled him aside and asked if he really had the desire to play. Luke refused to relinquish his starting position and, even though wrung out, made three tackles. Rather than taking the team bus home, Luke rode with his parents and slept the entire way.

When he awoke Saturday morning, Luke felt tired and sore. The good-looking, self-assured teen didn’t think much about it because that’s common the day after a football game.

However, by Sunday morning Luke could no longer deny the lingering illness. He had a 104-degree fever and couldn’t get out of bed.

On Monday, Luke visited a doctor who diagnosed him with influenza. But the physician said the sickness had advanced to the point where medicine would be ineffective, so he advised Luke to tough it out.

Tuesday, Luke took a shower, which exhausted him. He stumbled back to bed and couldn’t catch his breath. He fell to the floor, panting on his hands and knees, coughing up blood. His father, Chad, called 9-1-1.

Luke doesn’t remember anything about the next dozen days, including the 12-mile ambulance ride to nearby Russellville.

Assemblies of God Pastor Chad Duvall of Atkins Ada’s Chapel, and his schoolteacher wife, Belinda, have been married 22 years. Luke has an older sister, Loren, 19, and younger sister, Olivia, 10.

The pastor has an unusually close bond with his curly headed son. Until high school, Chad coached every team on which Luke played. They work on repairing cars together. They play on the church worship team, Chad on guitar and Luke on drums.

The Duvalls sensed disbelief when H1N1 — the nation’s most deadly flu virus in four decades — attacked their healthy teenage son in 2009. Luke needed to have a tube inserted down his throat so that he could breathe, but doctors at the Russellville facility wouldn’t intubate a juvenile.

Chad knew Luke needed to be transferred to the state-of-the-art Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock, 70 miles away.

“He was sick enough we didn’t think he would survive an ambulance ride,” Chad says.

Helicopter medical personnel from Arkansas Children’s Hospital resuscitated Luke in the intensive care unit of the Russellville hospital. Luke’s blood pressure had dropped to zero when he went on a ventilator. The helicopter transported Luke and Chad to Little Rock in 20 minutes

A crew from CBS’ 60 Minutes doing a feature on H1N1 filmed Luke’s arrival and early trauma at the Arkansas Children’s Hospital pediatric intensive care unit. Luke had 11 intravenous tubes connected to his body while in a drug-induced coma.

“Belinda and I stood by his bed and decided regardless of how this turns out, it wouldn’t change our faith in God,” Chad says.

In the mornings, Chad began disseminating texts to family and friends about Luke’s condition, asking for prayer for specific medical problems. Through family Facebook postings, thousands of people stayed updated on the boy’s prognosis. Luke began receiving letters from people across the country, from Maine to California, in large part because of the 60 Minutes report on his illness.

A week into his stay, Luke looked as though he would die. His left lung had filled with bloody fluid caused by the virus. And he had developed “ventilator pneumonia” in his good lung, which collapsed because of a staph infection.

Luke’s blood pressure and oxygen levels dropped to lethal levels. A surgical team rushed to his hospital room with an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine, ready to open up Luke’s chest in order to keep him breathing. Belinda fell on her face in a conference room, praying in tongues. Within two hours, 100 friends and relatives had gathered at the hospital to pray for Luke. Medical personnel didn’t have to resort to the ECMO machine.

“We knew it was as much a spiritual battle as a physical battle,” Chad says. “We had one answered prayer after another.”

Families in the midst of a medical crisis often turn on the television set in the hospital room in an effort to numb the painful experience. The Duvalls determined to tune into God instead.

“We made a decision never to watch TV; that was not going to get Luke well,” Chad says.

Chad borrowed the whiteboard in Luke’s room and wrote healing scriptural confessions on it. Chad and Belinda prayed Bible verses over their son twice a day.

Doctors warned the parents that if Luke came around, he might not be the same child they knew. They said lung scarring, brain damage or a stroke could leave the boy permanently disabled.

Twenty days after the crisis began, doctors told the Duvalls that their son would survive. Except for one Sunday to preach, Chad never left his son’s side during the ordeal. (Deacons filled in to handle pastoral duties.)

Luke lost 36 pounds during his 34 days of hospitalization. The 2009-10 H1N1 pandemic caused more than 18,000 deaths worldwide.

Luke maintained his 4.0 grade point average at school, working on homework even before his Nov. 10 release. Doctors predicted full recovery would take 34 weeks — one week for every day hospitalized. Luke had to be weaned off morphine and methadone. He also needed to undergo physical therapy to regain muscle control.

“Rehab is the hardest thing I ever did in my life,” Luke says. “I pushed myself and got worn out.”

But by January 2010, Luke could bench press 185 pounds in his weight-lifting routine. In February 2010, he began pitching for the Atkins High School team in his favorite sport of baseball.

Cash donations helped take care of the thousands of dollars in obligations after insurance payments covered most of the half million-dollar medical bill. Insurance didn’t cover the life-saving $8,000 helicopter ride.

“We’d be paying for the rest of our lives if not for publicity from 60 Minutes,” Chad says.

“God had His hand on us the whole time,” Belinda says.

The extra effort Luke made in the summer of 2009 to make the football team likely saved his life.

“Every doctor said if Luke hadn’t been in such good shape he would have died,” Chad says.

Luke, who turned 17 in April, considers his dream job to become a pharmaceutical chemical engineer who makes vaccines. But for now, baseball remains the main connection for father and son. Chad puts on a catcher’s mask and shin guards to handle pitches that Luke throws in the backyard from a mound the father and son built.

“Although I never expected to go through such an ordeal, looking back I can really see how God had His hand on me the whole time,” Luke says.

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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