It was a fairly normal day and I was on my way home driving busy I-70. As is my habit, I turned on the radio. The news had just come on and there was a little blurb about an entire village in India wiped out by some unknown pathogen. Doctors were dispatched from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)in Atlanta to investigate it.
Four days later coming home from church, I heard another radio spot. Thirty thousand people in Rajasthan, India were dead from the mysterious flu. That night FOX and CNN ran headline stories on the growing death toll. I have a soft spot in my heart for India so I felt a growing concern for the suffering going on there. But another apprehension also registered. My son, Peter, was in Bangalore on a mission trip. Our family prayed even more fervently that night for Peter, his team and all of India.
By Monday evening every news station carried the tragic account of an enormous death toll. From Rajasthan what was now called the “Bikaner Babesia,” had spread to Pakistan, Nepal and China. Each nation attempted to quarantine their effected states but by the middle of the week it was obvious that tainted people had traveled beyond the containment areas. Peter called and said he could not get a flight out—he and his team were stranded in Bombay. He told us not to worry, but how could we not feel anxiety when the state of Maharashtra was reeling under an ever-mounting death toll. It would take two full weeks before we would hear from Peter again. His emails went unanswered and we could not get through by phone.
Doctors from CDC were thoroughly baffled by the virulent illness that in some ways mirrored Avian flu but with a much higher potency. The President of France made an announcement that shocked Europe. He closed French borders to any flights from affected countries. Yet within two weeks, hospitals throughout Europe, including France, were inundated with sick people. Panic spread as the death toll climbed into the hundreds of thousands.
The United States quarantined any travelers with symptoms of Bikaner Babesia and cancelled all flights from nations with disease outbreaks. People, taking their cue from the Japanese, bought masks that covered their mouths and noses to add protection. I was flabbergasted by the raging spread of this terminal flu. Four weeks to the day from the first broadcast news of this malady, I was reading in my office when my wife ran in and said, “Come here and watch what’s on the television.” Fifty-seven infected people lay in beds in New York hospitals dying. We pulled in the kids and prayed for our nation and the world.
Later that night Peter called us from a hospital in Bombay. It felt like the air in my lungs was sucked out when he told us he was infected. Becky wept and Peter’s brothers and sisters joined her sob for sob. I sat down on the couch feeling helpless and overwhelmed. There was absolutely nothing we could do but pray.
Despite the best efforts of medical researchers Bikaner Babesia continued its deadly onslaught. Like most Americans, we elected not to leave our homes for fear of contracting the disease. On Thursday morning, the phone rang and Peter’s weak voice uttered three precious words. “Dad, I’m alive.”
“Oh God, thank you, thank you!”
“Dad, I’m coming home. I’m one of only a handful of survivors and there is no sign of Babesia in my body so they are letting me leave the country.”
By the time we picked up Peter at the airport, seventeen million people were dead. On the way home, KNXQ 750 broadcast a medical announcement. Indian scientists found a possible antigen for Babesia. They needed O- blood from a person who had survived the disease. Unfortunately, Babesia was particularly fatal for people with type O blood. There were no known survivors. We continued towards home, grateful that Peter was with us and prayerful that someone would be found with the right blood.
Do you have moments in time you will never forget? Monday, three days after Peter’s homecoming, the phone rang. It was Dr. Yanam calling from Mumbai St. Peter’s Hospital in India. He was the same doctor who provided care to Peter. He excitedly told us that Peter had O- blood and that we must immediately get him to Atlanta’s CDC. He told us not to worry about the expense—the government was already sending a helicopter to pick us up and transport us to the Denver airport.
It seemed to me like the globe must be spinning faster. One minute we were discussing survival strategies and the next moment we listened to the wop-wop-wop of a descending helicopter. In the middle of a football field now turned into a helipad, Becky, Peter and I clamored into an Army Blackhawk after making hasty arrangements with our neighbors, Nairb and Nerak Sztuap, to watch our other two kids.
Eight hours later, Peter, wearing a white pajama robe sat patiently on an overstuffed tan couch as we spoke with a group of doctors. “Mr. and Mrs. Huff, since Peter is a minor we need you to sign a consent form.”
I began to sign the paper but something seemed very wrong. Now I’m no doctor, but I knew from watching “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” that the average adult only has ten pints of blood. So why were these doctors asking us for permission to take 10 pints of Peter’s blood?
“Dr. if you take ten pints of Peter’s blood how is he supposed to live?”
“Mr. Huff, we understand your concern. We will replace Peter’s blood with the same blood type. But there is the danger that his body will reject that blood and he could die.”
“Wait a minute? You’re asking us to put our son’s life on the line—why can’t you just take a few pints and replicate it?”
“Sir, one pint of blood typically saves the lives of three people. But in this case, ten pints of your son’s blood may save the world. That’s how much we need to successfully create the antigens necessary to help people produce the antibodies to survive Bikaner Babesia. We need all of Peter’s blood. We can’t force you and your wife and Peter to give his blood. With your consent, he has to willingly give it. On behalf of the world, we’re asking you to sacrifice his blood. We’ll do our best to keep him alive.”
Peter heard the whole discussion. He walked over and took Becky and my hands. “Mom and Dad, it’s okay. I’m willing to give them my blood. If it will save lives, how can I say no?”
“Oh son . . .” Becky cried as she held him in a mother’s death squeeze. I stood transfixed, not knowing what to do when the tears for the first time came flowing down my cheeks.
Two weeks later many in our town and most of our church came out for Peter’s funeral. His body was too weak to withstand so much transfer of blood. I suppose on one hand we should have been grateful that he even made it back from India. I know God has a higher purpose. But at that point I really struggled to understand it all. We received thousands of cards from all over the world from grateful people. Even the networks paid us significant money to air Peter’s story. Still, our whole family was left feeling numb.
Six months later, I deeply feel the loss of my son. The world has returned to normal. Bikaner Babesia is contained. But who remembers Peter’s supreme sacrifice? Some think we were idiots for letting Peter give his life. They tell us we should have refused and waited for another survivor with the right blood to show up. Most of our friends don’t want to hear about our grief anymore. They want us to get on with life. I pass by people on the street each day, normally going about their lives and I want to scream “MY SON DIED FOR YOU! DON’T YOU CARE?”
Sunday morning our church “celebrated” communion. After the Pastor’s brief sermon, the bread and wine made their way row by row and we all ate and drank together. And then it hit me. How many times have I taken the bread and downed the juice with little reflection and perfunctory gratitude. How many times has our once-a-month ritual found me looking at my watch thinking of other activities? When was the last time my heart was touched by the pain of my Savior who hung on an undeserved cross for an undeserving me?
“Oh God, how many times have you looked down on earth and cried, “MY SON DIED FOR YOU! DON’T YOU CARE?” Seeing the Son through the eyes of the Father changes things doesn't it?
Luke 22:19,20--And He took bread, gave thanks, broke it, gave it to them, and said, “This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He also took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant established by My blood; it is shed for you.
The Lord’s Supper is a symbol of what we should be doing all the time. It is not a memorial of One who has gone, but of One who is always here.—Oswald Chambers inNot Knowing Where
©2005 Daniel York ARR. Reveration is the weekly devotional ministry of First Cause. If you would like to receive these devotionals go to www.firstcause.org and click on the “Click here to receive weekly devotionals” box. Unlimited permission to copy this devotional without altering text or profiteering is allowed subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.
Ecclesiastes 12:10-The Teacher sought to find delightful sayings and to accurately write words of truth. (Holman CSB)