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December 16, 2013

High on Hope, Part 2: Family of former football star credits faith for his recovery from overdose

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.”

(Email: d_irwin@ncnewsonline.com)

 

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