CMU rallies to pray for and support sick student

January 10, 2012 | Young Voices
Rachel Bergen | National Correspondent
Winnipeg, MB

Abram Thiessen is like his fellow students at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) in many ways. But unlike his classmates, he has a heart condition called ventricular tachycardia and nearly died on December 4.

When CMU staff, faculty, and students learned that Abram’s heart had stopped for a full 45 minutes before doctors could revive him and he had to undergo surgery at St. Boniface Hospital, they rallied together to pray for him and his family.

CMU held three prayer vigils for Thiessen drawing in almost 200 people, Jessica Erb, the Residence Director at CMU said. Erb organized the vigils; two occurred on the Sunday evening, and one on Monday morning before Abram’s ablation surgery.

Thiessen was diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia in 2010. It causes the heart to pump very quickly and irregularly. At one point before his heart stopped, Thiessen’s heart rate was over 160 beats per minute (BPM) while resting.

Thiessen’s surgery and recovery process was miraculous, said his mother Karen Heidebrecht Thiessen, the pastor of Level Ground Mennonite Church in Abbotsford.

“He was dead,” she said. But the right things happened at the right time to allow Abram to survive the experience.

The necessary doctors that aren’t usually in the hospital on a Sunday morning were at St. Boniface Hospital as they had just finished another surgery, so they immediately put Abram on the combined cardiac and respiratory support machine, ECMO.

Being on this machine and having an ablation is very risky, Karen said. The specialist that happened to be in Winnipeg from Toronto had only done one ablation on an ECMO before, making it a very high risk surgery.

“But to know that the whole campus had come together to pray... we were overwhelmed, that was just such a gift,” she said.

The nurses helping with the surgery even said, “We don’t know you, but there must have been people praying because that was amazing.”

“Over and over we were getting the sense that [Abram] was being prayed for,” Karen said.

The prayer vigils were important to students and Residence Assistants as well, Erb said, because RAs needed to be equipped to deal with this kind of pressure. The RAs of the Concord building were closely connected with Abram, therefore they especially required the prayer vigils.

“I, personally didn’t know what to do other than to pray – and I wanted to create a space for students to know information (without the aid of rumours) and to support one another,” Erb said.

Prayer is not all CMU did to support Abram and the students as they worried and prayed for their friend. Vice President Academic, Earl Davey sent out a student-wide email informing them that, if need be, they could take two extra days to finish up end of semester projects and essays.

Many students used the extensions, including Johanna Tse, a first year business student. She didn’t really know Abram very well, but felt very impacted by his illness and found it difficult to focus.

“I found it really hard to focus with Abram in the hospital and so knowing that I could have a little bit more time was very helpful and took some of the stress away.' Tse said.

She felt that the prayer vigils were very important for acquaintances and close friends of Abram’s to come together to stay hopeful and support one another.

Abram’s ablation went smoothly, they weaned him off of the heart machine and respirator, and he has since been released from the hospital. He will likely have to have one or more further ablations, which is not uncommon for people with ventricular tachycardia. The doctors say that a full recovery is possible.

“We have been carried by the prayers and the love of God’s people,” Karen said.

Abram is a 1st year general studies student at CMU focusing on biology, psychology, and music.

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