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First Thoughts

A Personal Update from Pastor Heath

Dear First Baptist Family,

Today is the first day I’ve felt able to reach out to you (and been allowed to!), so I wanted to share with you some of what has happened.

Most of you know that on August 4, I went to the hospital for surgery to relieve the pressure on the trigeminal nerve in my brain that now, for five years, has been causing pain, spasms, and difficulty chewing, speaking, and swallowing.

After surgery, it was immediately clear that the operation came with some significant costs as I lost all the hearing in my right ear. This was very discouraging. As the days progressed and I began to be able to get out of bed, it was also clear that I was dealing with an unusual amount of dizziness and disorientation. Having been through these surgeries before, I expected some unsteadiness, however, and we all expected it to slowly resolve.

After I had been home for several days, it became clear that this expected resolution was not happening. I was not improving and was unable to move without help. There also were concerning signs with the incision in the back of my head where they enter my brain. When the neurosurgery team heard what was happening, they asked to see me.

When we got to the hospital, the surgeons discovered a serious problem. The tissues around your brain are not meant to be sliced and sewn, sliced and sewn, and then sliced and resewn again. After three surgeries, those tissues were not healing, and my brain was leaking spinal fluid. So, on August 16, neurosurgeons opened the base of my skull again for the fourth time since 2020 (I wonder what the record is?). This time the goal was not to work on nerves but to seal the two leaks they found around my brain.

Then things got worse.

During the operation, the surgeons inserted a tube to drain the spinal fluid from my brain. This was to keep the pressure in my brain low so that the surrounding tissue could have time to heal and seal. The tube that they inserted, however, began to leak. This created a number of problems, but the most significant was the risk of an infection in my brain. When doctors tested my spinal fluid, they found a high white blood cell count, which is a significant indicator of infection. Most of my physicians believe that the white blood cell count is due to inflammation from the surgery and not infection. But because an infection in my brain or spinal column would be so serious, the doctors felt they needed to begin treating me for such an infection in the interest of safety.

So a spinal fluid leak and a concern about infection have significantly set back what was already a difficult recovery.

To be candid with you, the recovery from these surgeries has been the worst physical trial I have ever endured in my entire life. The suffering from this round of treatment has dwarfed the pain from my earlier surgeries. Perhaps I’ll share more one day, but the excruciating pain, the level of anxiety, the dizziness and disorientation, the distance from you, and the days in the ICU have felt overwhelming.

As I finally begin to feel somewhat normal again, let me share with you where I am at this point in my recovery and help you understand the two big obstacles I am facing.

First, I am really not out of the woods on the healing of the tissues around my brain. The doctors are optimistic that the problem has been solved, but they have also been honest that, now, after four surgeries, I am at risk of another leak in my brain. If that happens, it will require another surgery to fix it. Would you please pray that God will heal the tissues around my brain and that such a surgery would not be required?

Second, I was released from the hospital only after physicians inserted a line into one of the veins in my arm so that IV antibiotics could be administered directly into my bloodstream. We have had nurses in the house training Lauren on how to administer these drugs. I receive them three times a day, and they are powerful. They make me feel terrible, but they are necessary to eliminate any risk of infection. I will be on them for the next two weeks. Would you please pray that they work and that I do not develop an infection in my brain?

My next appointment with the neurosurgery team is on Monday, August 29. That is when we will have the best indication of how I’m doing and what will happen next. Until then, I am trying to follow the doctor’s orders with great care so I can get back to normal and see all of you as quickly as possible.

August of 2022 has been full of challenges, but it would not be right to end this update without telling you some of the wonderful things the Lord has done during this significant trial.

First, I have experienced an outpouring of love like never before in my life. I have received an overflow of love and compassion from you. There were times in the hospital when it was dark, and I was alone and in pain, but I knew some of you were praying because you told me you would. That means more to me than I could ever share. I want you to know that I love you with all of my heart. I also want you to know that I have felt your love. This is what the Christian life is all about. There is nothing better than this. I will remember it and cherish it forever.

Second, the surgery on August 4 to relieve my nerve problem appears to have been successful. I have had no nerve pain since the surgery, and my spasms are dramatically improved and lessening each day. Since surgery, I have had longer stretches without spasms than at any point in the last five years. Many of you told me that you were praying the third time would be the charm, and it appears that it was.

Finally, many of you know that I experienced a true miracle with my hearing. I awoke from surgery on August 4 stone deaf in my right ear. The neurosurgeons told me that the nature of the damage to my nerve meant that my hearing was totally gone. One doctor likened the damage to that of a cheese grater going over the nerve. They assured me it would not return. I trusted the Lord with that loss and was thankful for the hearing in my left ear, but it was a painful reality. I wept. But I also prayed. And you prayed too. And on the evening of Tuesday, August 16, The Great Physician did what no human doctor could ever do. My hearing came back. I’m hearing out of it right now. I don’t know how to tell you how grateful I am to Jesus Christ that he would do for me from his throne what he did to so many during his earthly ministry. It is one of the most precious gifts I have ever received in my life.

There is more I could say and more I will say later, but I say these things now, so you will see all the good God has been accomplishing in a truly challenging time. I am thankful to him for all of it.

I am so grateful for all of you for your prayers and your support. I am asking the Lord that I will be restored to you soon.

Rich blessings in Jesus,

Pastor Heath.

Dr. Heath Lambert is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL. He is the author of several books, including The Great Love of God: Encountering God’s Heart for a Hostile World. 

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