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|August 7, 2000|
A renewed lease of lifeSonia Chopra
This is a story of a man who was lying at death's door. One who promised god that if he lived, he'd dedicate his life to Him. Kalealil Thomas John broke that promise and soon found himself fighting for life again. He made the same vow and this time kept it.
"I was struggling with life. It was a miracle I was saved. I respect science and technology but what happened to me was beyond all that. god saved me. God wanted me to live, to do his work," said John, now Rev John, a pastor in Troy, Michigan in the Pentecostal Church.
Fourteen and a half years ago, John, a manufacturing engineer at General Motors and his wife, Aleykutty, a registered nurse, lived a "luxurious and very comfortable lifestyle". They had a big house with three cars. And "pleasure" was high on their list of priorities.
One day, as he began to stretch as part of his exercise routine before setting out for work, he collapsed. The doctors couldn't say what had happened.
"I was really healthy and strong. I used to play tennis and exercise everyday," John said.
He was an unlikely candidate for a heart attack, the doctors concluded after 15 days of observation and and medication. John was discharged but when he came home he had difficulty breathing or doing anything strenuous.
"I was in big trouble. I needed a heart transplant," John said.
A heart transplant must be done within eight hours of a male donor's death. John waited 128 days in excruciating pain, until he received a heart. It took the doctors 14 hours to transplant the heart of a 32-year-old man and John was in the hospital for 19 days.
"As soon as I was up, I went back to my old ways. I forgot about the promise I made. Life was back on the fast-track with all material comforts," John said.
Caught up in the grind of daily work, John was shaken back to spirituality when his wife died of cancer. A year later, he was back in hospital for another heart transplant. This time he was given the heart of a 24-year-old. Post-surgery was spent in intensive care, where he was in a coma for 69 days.
"As I laid there, I thought I was going to die. I couldn't even open my eyes. I dreamt that god came to me and I asked him to save my life, he replied, 'If I do, what will you do for me?' I answered, 'What can I do?' And he said, 'Give your life to me.' That's when I decided to dedicate my life to him," John said.
The doctors considered his recovery "a miracle" and John agrees his awakening is god's will.
He retired from his job and did a PhD in theology. Today, he is a registered chaplain and an evangelist. Apart from dealing with 300 families in his congregation daily, John takes time off to visit the sick and dying in hospitals.
"I know how it feels to be lying there, helpless and waiting for death. I want them to have hope. I want them to know that god is with them," said John, who estimates that he has prayed for 40,000 people so far.
He also takes an annual trip to India and distributes Bibles free to the poor. In the beginning, he used his money to buy Bibles but slowly he received money from others.
He is touched by the reaction of people who have elevated him to the status of a celebrity. Last year, when he went home to Kollam, Kerala, 300 people received him, surrounded him and talked to him for an hour and a half.
"They had heard of me. They held out copies of newspapers in which write-ups had appeared about me," John said.
He is also waiting for a prominent place in the Guinness Book of World Records. He should be famous for, living for the longest time, with two heart transplants.
"It is unique to have the third heart, like I do," John said.
He dismisses the myth that people seem to believe and have been in many books on heart transplant: that if you get a heart from a person, you also get the personality and character traits of that person.
"I am the same. I get upset very quickly. I still drink tea very hot and eat food very quickly before it turns cold. Nothing is changed about me," John said.
John immigrated to the US in 1973, armed with two Masters degrees in arts and education and political science. He started his career as a high school teacher in Detroit public schools and stayed there for six years. He accepted the job offer at General Motors and it paid for him to go to the Pontiac Motor Division Trade School.
He was born and raised in a Christian family in Kerala but as he grew older, he stopped being a practising Christian.
John lives with his only son Joseph, 21, who will be attending college at Oakland University in September. Now he too hopes to become a high school teacher, like his father and grandfather...
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