NEW CASTLE —
Medical science offered Pat and Red Shimrack no hope.
So when doctors told them that their son likely would not live through the night following a heroin overdose, the Neshannock Township couple turned to their faith.
“The doctor came in and essentially said, ‘You need to call the coroner,’ ” recalled the Rev. Laura Puleo, the couple’s pastor at Pulaski United Methodist Church who was with them Sept. 12 in the emergency room at Sharon Regional Hospital. “The medical community didn’t give him much hope, and that’s how it’s been. Here’s an MRI; he has a hollow brain. And even when he began to physically respond, they’d say ‘that’s pretty amazing, but he’s probably not going to be able to do much more than that.’
“So all along, the message has been, ‘Don’t have hope.’ But all along, Pat has never wavered in her faith in God and her hope that her son was going to come back. She wasn’t thinking that he was going to come back fully restored, but she really believed that God wasn’t done with him yet and she never gave up hope that he was going to recover to some degree.”
That faith — and the prayers that accompanied it from Puleo’s two churches (she also pastors Savannah United Methodist) and friends and family from New Castle to New Orleans — was fulfilled just six days before Thanksgiving. That day, 33-year-old and formerly comatose Randy “Bear” Shimrack looked at his parents as they entered his room at an area nursing home and greeted them with “Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad.”
They were the first words Pat and Red had heard their son speak since Sept. 11.
Although Bear won’t be coming home anytime soon — he still has multiple physical and cognitive issues to resolve — he continues to talk and laugh with his parents, recalling old times and sending them out for Burger King Smoothies.
“I’ve read about miracles,” Red Shimrack said, “and I’m skeptical about a lot of things. That’s the old police officer in me (he’s retired from a 30-year career in law enforcement).
“But when I see him talking, and his memory’s back, there’s no doubt in my mind. This was a miracle from God.”
BACK FROM THE ABYSS
It seemed clear from the start that nothing short of a miracle would save Bear.
An evening of inhaling heroin had left him not only with what doctors said was extensive brain damage, but also with a nonfunctioning liver and kidneys as well as an inability to breathe on his own. He was put on a ventilator and later, dialysis, which he was expected to need for the rest of his life if he did not succumb immediately to the damage he had inflicted upon himself.
Yet even if he survived, Pat Shimrack said, “They expected a vegetative state.”
Doctors at one point suggested that the Shimracks consider removing Bear from life support. Red concedes that he considered the possibility, even calling a local funeral director “just so if it came to what they thought it was going to come to, that we were prepared.”
But Pat, he said, would have none of it.
“She said, ‘No, we’re not taking him off life support until God tells me to do that.’ ”
Bear went from the emergency room at Sharon Regional to Allegheny General in Pittsburgh, where he eventually was moved from the intensive care unit to a step-down unit. It was there, Pat said, that the Shimracks received their first hint of encouragement.
“After a couple of weeks, he started opening his eyes,” she said, “just little slits, but it was a little bit of hope. I’ll take that.”
Sometime later, the Shimracks believed that Bear had nodded to them as they entered his room. “There was even a little smile,” Pat said. “Red was dancing.”
“They told us it was probably just some kind of reaction,” Red added. “Well, you can take it for what you think; we’re calling it encouraging.”
Bear suffered a setback of sorts when an infection in one of his legs forced the limb to be amputated at the knee. Still, he eventually began to breathe on his own and was taken off the ventilator, while kidneys that doctors said would never function again went back to work, and dialysis was ended.
“That was the first miracle,” Pat recalled, “because it opened more doors as far as nursing homes that would take him. Not everybody would take someone who had a ‘trake’ and was on dialysis.”
PRAYER AND PRAISE
Ultimately transferred from Allegheny General to a nursing home, Bear continued to show signs of progress until Nov. 22, when he greeted his startled parents as they walked into his room. Demonstrating long-term memory, a robust sense of humor and his old healthy appetite, he continues to amaze all who know his story.
Both Shimracks give the credit to God. Pat shows a Bible literally held together with duct tape after her constant forays into it, as well as two books — “Moments of Peace from the Psalms” by Baker Publishing Group and Max Lucado’s “God Will Carry You Through” — that bolstered her faith.
Moreover, the couple has come to accept that their ordeal might be the best thing that could have happened to their son.
“When I would pray, I would say to God, ‘He needs smacked up alongside the head,’ ” Pat recalled. “ ‘Do anything you have to do to get him off these drugs.’ ”
“I believe this was God’s way of helping him, and helping us,” Red added. “If this hadn’t happened to Bear, I feel he’d either be dead on the streets or in prison.
“We asked Randy, ‘Are you through now?’ He said, ‘I don’t believe what these drugs did to me.’ I told him, ‘Someday, you may be able to tell that to some athletes and teenagers,’ and he said that he’d like to do that; to talk to teenagers and football players, show them his leg, and tell them not to take the road that he took.”
In the meantime, the Shimracks aren’t going to keep quiet, either. They’re eager to share with anyone who might want to hear their testimony.
“It’s a true miracle,” Red said. “I’m a warrior for that now. I’m glad to tell everybody, ‘My son had a miracle from God.’
“Prayer works; it really works. If you’re ever in that kind of a situation, NEVER stop praying.”
NEW CASTLE —
Medical science offered Pat and Red Shimrack no hope.
- TOP STORIES
Local couple credits low electric bills to solar panels
Unlike some county residents, Bob and Mary Ann Reiter chuckle when they get their electric bill. “Amount Due — $0.00” said their Jan. 30 bill, because the Hickory Township residents had a $137.22 credit.
In February, the credit was $125.63.
Extending school hours could make up for snow days
The New Castle Area School District is considering extending this year’s remaining school days by 20 minutes. That is a possibility being considered to make up required instructional time lost by snow days the district had to take this year.
Photos, Video, Story: Shenango homecoming queen Brittany Chieze considers herself ‘a pretty lucky girl’
Rochelle Chieze admits she panicked at first when she learned her daughter had been placed on Shenango High’s Homecoming ballot. “I started thinking about the germs from being around so many people and how tired this would make her,” Rochelle said. “Even though she was thrilled — we all were — I went back and forth. I thought maybe we should say no.”
Police arrest woman wanted in Florida
An East Side woman whose car was stopped by New Castle police is wanted on felony charges in Florida. New Castle police have charged Vivian Lynn King, 54, of 1819 E. Washington St., as a fugitive from justice.
Electric bill complaints keep growing
If your electric bill has skyrocketed, it might help to complain to your electric supplier. One local resident actually received some money back from Pennsylvania Gas and Electric after she had called to express her shock at the size of her electric bill.
AFSCME, county to continue contract talks
A courthouse labor union and Lawrence County government officials are returning to the bargaining table to iron out a contract.
Jail workers get new positions, more pay
New job titles have been created — and pay hikes granted — for three Lawrence County jail employees. At a special meeting Monday, the Lawrence County Salary Board eliminated the positions of two non-union recordkeepers and a secretary at the jail.
Clutch coach: Intense practices, focus on film and lessons learned from local legends all help Blundo mold ’Canes into a history-making program
It all starts at the top. Like any quality organization, a foundation of success is built through strong leadership. That’s evident with the New Castle High boys basketball program.
New Castle Schools: Leave with pay was superintendent’s call
When a New Castle school district employee is placed on administrative leave, it typically is the superintendent’s decision. District solicitor Charles Sapienza said in an email last week that the district has no policy governing when and why an employee is placed on administrative leave or whether he or she should be paid during that leave.
East Side man dies in fire
An East Side man died after a fire destroyed his house Thursday night. Edwin Sheffield Lewis, 61, was found in an upstairs bedroom in the front of the house at 761 Lathrop St.
- More TOP STORIES Headlines
- Local couple credits low electric bills to solar panels