Recording artist Ricardo Sanchez's son was hospitalized. He could not have imagined how prayer, a dream, and mysterious coincidence would change his son's life.
- Posted on Oct 12, 2017
My wife, Jennette, had dropped me off at the Atlanta airport that day to catch a flight to Jacksonville, Florida. I had my guitar with me and my gig bag. I’m a composer and singer, and I had a show that night. Back then, just eight years ago—it seems like eons—there wasn’t any Wi-Fi on the plane, so I would be out of touch en route. No problem. Jennette was used to being in charge at home. We had three boys. The youngest, Micah, was at summer camp, and the older two, Josiah and Ricardo, were swimming at a friend’s house.
We’d had an awesome family vacation the week before, out on the central California coast, where Jennette’s parents lived. The highlight had been the sea lions. We’d spent hours watching them dart among the waves, leaping and plunging into the breakers. “I’d love to swim like that,” Josiah, age nine, had said, mimicking their fearless diving. Josiah was pretty fearless himself. Tall for his age, athletic. I could see him growing up to be a great basketball player.
I felt mighty blessed as a parent and a musician, doing what I loved, writing and performing praise songs and raising a family. I’d just written a new song, “It’s Not Over.” The words said a lot about how I felt. “I know it’s dark just before the dawn.... So look to the sky—help is on the way.... When God is in it, there is no limit.” We can never be sure of the big picture. We can only live in faith and trust.
How true those words would prove to be that day.
As soon as the plane landed in Jacksonville, I checked my phone. I had a couple dozen messages. What’s up with that? I thought. The calls were from Jennette, our pastor and another friend. Standing in the aisle, I listened to Jennette first and heard the words that no parent ever wants to hear: “There’s been an accident...at the pool.... Josiah. He’s hurt.... I’m rushing to get there.... Don’t know yet…” Her words came in panicked bursts.
I grabbed my stuff from the overhead and called her back. I was in a daze, moving down the aisle. “We’re at urgent care in Flowery Branch,” Jennette said. “It’s bad.... They’re looking at the X-rays.... He can hardly move.... It’s his neck, his spine. Broken...” Evidently, Josiah had dived into the pool headfirst, just like those sea lions that had fascinated him, fearless. It was the shallow end. He’d hit his head on the bottom.
He could still stand when Jennette got to him, but he was woozy, disoriented, crying in pain. She rushed him to the nearest urgent care. There he was surrounded by doctors and nurses while his condition worsened.
I didn’t know what to do. Cancel the gig—that was a no-brainer. I had to fly back to Atlanta immediately, had to be with Josiah and Jennette and our family. I was like a zombie at the terminal, tears streaming down my face, my phone glued to my ear. What if my son dies? The first thing I did was buy a pair of sunglasses. If people saw me like this, they might not even let me on the plane.
Then I checked with Delta. The next flight back to Atlanta was in four hours. Four hours! All I could do was wait and pray. And keep checking with Jennette.
The X-rays were worse than anyone could have imagined. Josiah had injured his spinal cord at the C3, C4, C5 and C6 vertebrae, near the base of his neck. He was being airlifted from urgent care and taken to Scottish Rite hospital in downtown Atlanta.
“They wouldn’t let me go with him,” Jennette told me as a friend drove her to Scottish Rite. “He was crying. ‘Please don’t leave me, Mom,’ he said. He’s so scared.”
Me too. I was a basket case. I maneuvered my way between a row of seats at the terminal, dropped my bag and guitar and lay facedown on the floor. I’d never felt so hopeless. I’d never prayed so hard. My son could end up in a wheelchair for the rest of his life—if he survived—and there was nothing I could do. The words from that song I’d written careened through my mind: “It’s not over, it’s not finished. / It’s not ending. It’s only the beginning. / When God is in it, all things are new....” If only I could believe that.
The phone kept buzzing with people wanting to help. A friend was trying to charter a private plane that would fly me home. In the meanwhile, I booked myself on the Delta flight. I’d take whatever came first.
I called my parents in Arizona. They were shocked. “You’re such good people,” they said. “Why would God do this to you?” I couldn’t answer them.
I ended up on the Delta flight and, again, couldn’t check my phone. My son could be dead, and I wouldn’t know. I could only check in with God. I felt as if I were in some sort of cosmic waiting room, hiding behind the dark glasses, clinging to hope.
Friends picked me up at the airport and sped me to Scottish Rite. I rushed to the ER and hugged Jennette. She introduced me to the neurosurgeon, Dr. Brahma. He seemed excellent. But there was so much that could go wrong, that had gone wrong. Jennette and I held hands and prayed.
Then something amazing happened. Jennette’s mom, out in California, happened to be at a party with friends when she got the news. One of the guests was a prominent neurosurgeon. He got in touch with Dr. Brahma and the staff at Scottish Rite. They sent him a copy of the X-rays and the CT scan they’d just done. First we got a call from him—in the middle of our prayers—and he reassured us that our son would be fine. A doctor we didn’t even know, two thousand miles away. But he was so confident.
Then Dr. Brahma came out from the examination room, a look of wonder on his face. “I don’t know how to explain this. In all my years here, I’ve never seen anything like it. I compared the X-rays from urgent care with the results of the CT scan we just took. They don’t match up.” “What does that mean?” I asked.
“Your son broke his neck, but his spinal cord isn’t damaged. The injury is still very serious. We’ll need to do surgery, but he’s probably going to be okay.”
Jennette and I looked at each other in amazement. “How do you explain it?”
Dr. Brahma paused. Finally he said, “There is no explanation. I’m a Muslim and you’re both Christians. Just keep doing what you’re doing.” He must have heard us praying. “Just keep doing what you’re doing,” he repeated. “Don’t stop.”
We prayed continuously, most of that night and the next day, when Josiah had the surgery. Initially Dr. Brahma thought it was going to take eight hours, but it went much faster. He also said that our son would have to do physical therapy for six months when he got out of the hospital. But once Josiah got home, he was bounding around as usual. He didn’t even need a day of physical therapy.
Today Josiah is the scrappy, fearless athletic kid he was before. He’s six-foot-five and a star on the high school basketball team. What he went through when he was nine, though, will always be with him, like the scar that runs across his back. A few months after the accident, I heard Josiah sobbing in his bedroom. I went in to check on him. “Baby, what’s the matter?” I asked.
“Dad,” he said, “I almost died.”
I sat down next to him on his bed, rubbed his back, looking for just the right words. My fingers touched his scar. I paused. “Josiah,” I said, “never again will this scar remind you of death. Let it remind you of how God pulled you out of death.”
That song of mine, “It’s Not Over,” was released after the accident. It’s become one of my most successful compositions, sung at churches all over and recorded by other artists. But that’s not the most amazing thing. Before I’d shared the song with anyone, two friends visited us.
They’d each had a dream the night of the accident, both of them the same dream. One of them described it: “We both saw a boy fall into a pool. He was drowning. Then an angel appeared and picked him up from the bottom and lifted him out. ‘It’s not over,’ the angel said.”
It’s not over. It never is, not when God is in it. All things are new.
Editor’s Note: Ricardo’s newest album is Taste + See, a collection of songs written or co-written by him and recorded live at San Antonio’s Cornerstone Church. “I can’t wait for people to hear this album and know the heart behind the music,” he says. “Taste and see because God is good.”