Three years ago, a heart malfunction nearly killed John Shepherd. But an encounter with Jesus brought him the strength he needed to pull through — and live a renewed life.
When John Shepherd opened his eyes in a hospital room about three years ago, his sisters and several doctors surrounded him. He turned to one sister and mustered a whisper asking how long he’d been there.
“She told me about 3.5 weeks,” John said.
Shocked, he asked the doctors if he was going to die.
“They said just don’t quit on us,” he said, but they weren’t optimistic.
John realized he was in for the fight of his life.
His deterioration to that point was sudden and unexpected. He worked in the Western wear industry and traveled from city to city visiting places like rodeos and stock shows. Exercise was a large part of his life.
“I was benching this and squatting that,” he said. “I was fit.”
But fatigue overtook his routine. At a doctor’s visit, he was told he’d experienced an aortic aneurysm, which was most likely stemmed from a defective aorta he’d had since birth. The doctor insisted on immediate surgery.
The surgery did not go well. John experienced bleeding issues, developed infections and had a stroke. His heart stopped completely three times and his kidneys shut down. He was unconscious. His sisters were prepared for the worst.
“I’m not sure he’s going to make it,” wrote one sister in an email to family several days after the surgery.
When he finally awoke from the trauma those three weeks later, he was spent, scared and in pain. He was highly medicated, and had trouble speaking or moving around. A feeding tube brought him nutrients, but he was in danger of severe infection and pneumonia. Prognosis was bleak.
Jesus had a bigger plan.
“That night I had a dream,” he said. “The kind of dream where I remembered every detail.”
The dream reenacted a passage of scripture from Matthew 14: Jesus walking on water to his awaiting – and terrified – disciples.
“In my dream I was a witness, just kind of there, watching what was happening on the boat on the rough sea,” said John.
When Peter began to sink and was saved by Jesus, the dream became personal for John, and he felt as if he was right there with Peter and Jesus.
“As he was speaking to Peter, it was as if He was looking right into my eyes and speaking directly to me saying, ‘You’ve seen what I can do — how could you doubt me?,’” said John. “At that moment, I was staring directly into the face of what I perceived as Christ.”
The next morning, John woke with complete clarity. Doctors found no signs of lasting brain damage from the stroke. But he still had weeks of fighting left. Slowly, he was weaned off the machines that kept him alive. He took steps down the hallway on his own. Ate popsicles and applesauce.
“Things are good,” his sister wrote more than a month after the surgery.
After weeks of rehab and several frightening setbacks, John was discharged. He had spent exactly two months in the hospital. He went home 50 pounds lighter with oxygen, a feeding tube and a frail voice — yet he felt a comforting sense of strength.
“My relationship with Jesus has only gotten stronger, my life has only gotten better and even though I still struggle with health issues, I’m happier and more fulfilled than I’ve ever been in my entire life,” said John. “I know where that happiness comes from.”
Today, John leads a relatively normal life. He attends the Lakewood Red Rocks campus and recently began volunteering for the church.
He hopes his life-altering experience can be testimony for those who also are struggling.
“I’ve realized my story demonstrates that no matter how much you’ve lost, no matter how bad it could be, whether it be the loss of a loved one, financial issues, a job — whatever it is, Christ is there,” he said. “If you can just open up to it, He’s there.”
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
Written By: Christie Henry