It was just after 4:00 a.m. on Thursday, March 15, 2007 when Darryl Perry died

The former University of Florida fullback-turned-financial adviser and his wife, Nicky, had settled down to sleep around midnight after an otherwise normal day. Perry usually worked 16-hour days, Monday through Saturday. The father of three also coached his then-8-year-old son's baseball team. A deeply spiritual man, Perry usually awoke around 4 a.m. to read the Bible and pray for his wife and children before starting his day. Though the forty-year-old's sudden cardiac death was a shock to his wife, family and friends, Perry knew it was coming.

Six months before, during his morning prayer time, he says God gave him a message. Alone in his room, Perry felt a hand touch his shoulder and a voice say, Son, you're going to have to die on my behalf. 

Shaken, Perry asked, "Who's there? Is somebody in here?" He felt a calming presence and believed it was God. Unready to face the fate of death, he pushed the moment out of his mind and carried on with his day. 

Things were going well for Perry, his wife and their three kids. They were happy. Life was good. He had never heard a message from God like this before. It couldn't have been true. 

Then, the Wednesday before his death, Perry heard the voice again. He had just dropped his two youngest children off at school. Son, it's time, the voice said. This time, there was no denying what he'd heard. He sat in his truck in front of his children's school and cried for 30 minutes, not wanting to leave them. 

But he made it through the day, and the night, and a whole week, as usual. Until the morning his wife awoke to the sound of his unusual snoring. Then, Nicky says, he was gasping for breath and foaming at the mouth before he stopped breathing. 

"My spirit was in the air looking down on Nicky giving me mouth-to-mouth," Perry tells Guideposts.org. "I watched the whole thing." 

There was no journey from his bedroom to Heaven that he can recall. The next thing he knew, he was just there, in a space of incredible brightness, warmth and indistinguishable colors. 

"An angel God sent to receive me was named Gabriel," Perry says. "He was huge." The 6'2, 230 pound-Perry says Gabriel towered over him. With brown skin, a muscular frame, locs in his hair and an immeasurable wingspan, Gabriel never said a word to Perry and Perry never had any fear. When Gabriel pointed to his back, Perry climbed up to rest as Gabriel flew him through Heaven to see his loved ones who had passed on. 

"I saw my uncle, my granddaddy, my wife’s grandmother," Perry recalls. And then, he says, he saw God.

"God in Heaven is a bright light," he says, as he was unable to make out any distinguishing features, only the presence of complete peace. 

Perry began to celebrate, saying over and over to himself, "I made it! I made it in!" 

Discover new books from Guideposts with amazing stories of those who have visited heaven and returned

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Back in the hospital, Perry's body was hooked up to a life support machine. The neurologist told Nicky that the only brain activity registering on the EEG machine was seizures, signs of dying brain cells. After an episode like Perry's, she was told, irreparable brain damage and death happen within 4-6 minutes of the brain being without oxygen. It had taken paramedics 7 minutes to restore Perry's heartbeat. 

Perry's body was transported to Orlando Regional Medical Center and he was placed in a chamber to induce hypothermia to prevent any more brain damage while Nicky prayed for a miracle. 

The neurologist suggested she prepare herself to take her husband off life support. Instead, she sought the second opinion of Dr. Ira Goodman in Central Florida. 

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In the presence of God, Perry says, there is no fear, no anger, only peace. In the middle of his celebration, Perry says God spoke to him.

"My people have forgotten my power," he heard God say. "He said, 'Son, go back.'" Perry couldn't believe what he was hearing. He didn't want to go back. He refused. He said, "No!" 

Then, he says God pulled back the veil between Heaven and earth and let him see his family. They were smiling, frozen, like in a picture. The same peace he felt when he realized he was in Heaven remained as he accepted returning to his body on earth.

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For days, Dr. Goodman would examine Perry, give him commands to obey and nothing would register. Perry would lie still in his bed, with no sound or movement beyond the whirring of machines. On March 27, day 11 of Perry's comatose state, Dr. Goodman came into his room, giving the same basic commands. "Open your eyes," Dr. Goodman told Perry. That day, Perry opened them. 

Dr. Goodman had warned Nicky that even if Perry ever regained consciousness and could breathe on his own, he would be severely impaired, have no memory of himself or his family. He would never walk or speak again, he warned. 

But when Perry opened his eyes, one of his nurses, named Missy, rushed to his side and asked him "Can you hear me?" Perry seemed to nod his head. "I'm Missy. Can you say Missy?" She asked him and he mouthed the word Missy. By this time, Nicky had rushed in from the hallway and was on the other side of Perry, holding his hand. "Who is that beautiful woman standing on the other side of you?" Missy asked and Perry turned his head and saw his wife. "I love you," he mouthed to her.

His doctors still have no explanation for his recovery, other than the nickname they gave him: "The Miracle Man." For Perry, his return to earth is less of a mystery.

God's words to him in Heaven, stick in the back of his mind: "My people have forgotten My power." When asked why he thinks God sent him back he says, "Just talking to you [is] why I’m here."

"They said I would never talk, never know my family," Perry says, 10 years after that early prognosis. "Well, I have proven them all wrong. I’m riding a bicycle. I walk every day and my memory is off the charts." Nothing but God's power could bring all this to pass, he says.

Still, Perry continues to be in recovery. After his cardiac episode, he was diagnosed with cerebral hypoxia, a chronic brain illness caused when he lost oxygen to his brain. Perry has learned that being a walking, talking miracle doesn't always mean total healing or frustration-free days.

"I have accepted the fact that I am always under a spotlight. People are always watching me," he says of life after death. "It gets hard sometimes. It’s like I feel like I have to be perfect all the time." 

Perry takes his moments of frustration out on a punching bag he uses for therapy. Some days, he cries. Though his life will never be what it once was, Perry has no anger about returning in an altered state or about having to leave the most peaceful, beautiful place he's ever experienced.

"I can’t be angry. I always ask God, 'What would You have me do?' I’m here because He sent me back for Him. But I will say, be careful what you ask God!" He says with a laugh.

Though the charismatic motivational speaker now has a slower, slurred speech, his message is as strong as ever.

"I’m not a quitter. I will never quit," he says. "As long as God gives me breath, I’m in the game."