On Friday, February 25, I took the latest step in the long journey I have been on regarding my health. Because so many have reached out about how I am doing, I wanted to share an update with you.
Here is the update.
In 2017, I began experiencing concerning spasms on the right side of my body. For a brief period, the doctors suspected something terrible like Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or a tumor, but quickly ruled these problems out. Eventually, they discovered that the problem was a dislocated cluster of blood vessels in my brain that was putting pressure on one of my cranial nerves.
Once the problem was discovered we began a lengthy season of discovering how to treat it. We met with numerous neurosurgeons and tried several different medical interventions to seek to reduce or eliminate the spasms. When it was clear that other solutions were not helping, all my doctors ultimately recommended brain surgery.
The surgery required drilling a small hole in the back of my skull, entering my brain, relocating the displaced blood vessels, and wrapping the damaged nerve with Teflon to protect it from any further damage. The surgery, in September of 2020, was intense. It required several days of recovery in the intensive care unit at Mayo Clinic and weeks of recuperation at home after that.
At first, the surgery seemed like a complete success. I was excited that 100% of my symptoms resolved. After a few months, however, my symptoms had not only returned but were actually worse. I was experiencing more extreme spasms across a wider area than I had before surgery. My doctors reluctantly made the decision to do a second surgery called a revision.
After that second surgery in May of 2021, some of the more extreme symptoms I had experienced went away, but I have not had a single day without spasms. Nerves are slow to heal, and the doctors were hopeful that given enough time I would fully recover. But my symptoms remain, and the reality is that I am forced to conclude that the surgeries which were supposed to help me, and which work in 95% of patients with my problem, have not been successful.
Where I Am Now
Realizing the situation, I went back to Mayo Clinic to hear from the neurology and neurosurgery teams about what is going on, and what the path forward for me is. They gave me bad news and good news.
The bad news is that my incredible team of doctors are no longer talking about solving this problem. For reasons that they are not able to explain, I am one of the very few patients that have been resistant to every treatment for this problem. It appears that this will be a problem that I have to live with for the rest of my life. Of course, the Lord can and may heal me at any time, but my human doctors are out of options to fully resolve this problem.
The good news is that, while they cannot fully remove the problem, there are options that can help to manage it and minimize some of the symptoms that I’m having. We have three really encouraging options that we can pursue. We are going to start with the least aggressive medicinal option and graduate to more aggressive options depending on how I respond.
I am excited to see if these options will work, though my expectations are tempered by the fact that every intervention we have tried for five years has been unsuccessful.
I will be honest with you. I am disappointed by the results of all these attempts at resolution. It is beyond discouraging that I have had two grueling operations on my brain without much significant improvement. That’s just the truth.
But as I observe my own heart, I also want you to know that I am far more encouraged than I am discouraged. No matter how I look at this situation, I can’t help finding more reasons for gratitude than for frustration.
The Bible says that we are to “Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Let me give you five quick reasons why I am so thankful.
Five Reasons I Am Grateful Right Now
- I am grateful for my health. It might seem ironic to be grateful for my health in the midst of a health struggle, but I really am thankful. Let me explain. During my recoveries from surgery, the incredible nurses in the intensive care unit would come into my room, unplug all the wires and tubes, and take me on short walks. On those walks, I would look into the rooms of the other patients, and every single person I saw was in worse shape than me. My problem is frustrating, but I can live with it. In the years since my diagnosis with this problem, I have lost many friends to more serious maladies. Viewed in that light, I am thankful. The Lord has been kind to me.
- I am grateful for my healthcare. Over the last several years I have met with some of the world’s smartest people, have had the most sophisticated medical evaluations possible, and have received care at the most elite medical centers in the world. My medical care has been incredible, and I have the bills to prove it! I am amazed at all the knowledge we possess, and all the care that is possible. Even though all this has not led to a cure in my case, I am still grateful for all I have received. The Lord has been kind to me.
- I am grateful for the relief of other problems. The last five years have been the hardest of my life. The fact of the matter is that my health ordeal has not come close to being the hardest problem I have faced. You might not believe the unprecedented ministry problems I have faced, and the personal pain I have endured. As bad as it has been, the Lord has delivered me from it. Let’s get coffee sometime, and I’ll tell you all about it. I could have far worse problems than what is going on in my brain. The Lord has been kind to me.
- I am grateful for my relationships. Nothing proves love like adversity. In the difficulty of this problem, I have discovered the love and care of thousands of people. The most faithful of them all has been Lauren. She has been with me every step of the way. She has supported me, cared for me, encouraged me. She fed me when I couldn’t feed myself, got me to the bathroom when I couldn’t go on my own, and everything in between. No one has ever loved me like she has. My precious children, Carson, Chloe, and Connor are the three best kids any dad ever had. They have helped me, been patient with me, prayed for me, and even made fun of me. In addition to that, I have had the unflinching support of the very best church in the entire world, First Baptist Church. Those wonderful people have loved and supported us with gifts, prayers, childcare, food, and encouragement like nothing we have ever experienced. Friends from all over the world have written notes, called, and prayed. People I have never met have expressed care. I have been overwhelmed with love. The Lord has been kind to me.
- I am grateful for my ministry. One of the great frustrations of my spasms is that it causes the right side of my face to contort and squint. It looks super awkward. Some people have wondered if I’m upset with them, or about to spit. This is very discouraging for a guy whose job is to communicate. I spend my days talking to individuals and groups small and large. I have often been concerned that my spasms will distract from the saving message of Jesus I am called to preach. With all my heart I don’t want anything about me to distract from the work the Lord has given me to do. Well, after five years of searching, I now know that there is not one thing in the whole world I can do about it. Rather than be frustrated, I am going to trust the Lord. After struggling with his own thorn in the flesh, the Apostle Paul said, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). So allow me to apologize in advance, right here, for all the funny faces I now know I am going to make throughout the rest of my ministry. I’ll add this one to the long list of weaknesses I already bring to my ministry and ask Jesus to use them all for his glory. The Lord has been kind to me, and I know he will continue to be.
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.