ASHLAND Dr. David Bush is a cardiologist who has literally held the lives of patients in his hands.
But has he seen miracles?
“I have seen some things that surprised me,” he said. “Miracles are very rare. I don’t like to use that word.”
That was before the events of the past six months where Dr. Bush has gone from a body riddled with metastasized cancer to a walking, talking … well … miracle.
“I tell people I’ve had a miraculous recovery,” he said.
A devout Christian who has a lifetime of putting God first in his life, along with the results that prove it, Bush admits his recovery defies medical logic. He has cancer that had spread to both lungs, to his brain and on his spine. Doctors who examined him marveled that it was alive at all, but this diagnosis was a death sentence and he knew it.
Being a cardiologist with far more knowledge than the average patient, Dr. Bush understood that he may be on death’s door and it was all out of his control, or the control of skilled colleagues who were doing all they could. He looked at his own chest X-rays after going into the hospital on June 19 after it hurt when he breathed. “When they took it, I’m sitting there,” he said. “I go, ‘That’s not good.’”
But as bad as it looked – and he said it looked very bad - it wasn’t a surprise to the one who was the author of life itself. Nobody else knew it, but a miracle was in the making just when the darkest hour seemed imminent.
“I think unless somebody has been through a situation where you can clearly see the hand of God in it, the word miracle is something you read in the Bible,” Bush said. “Then it becomes personal when you go ‘Man, I shouldn’t be here.’”
This Thanksgiving, the Bush family is giving thanks for one more day, one more breath from a loving father, husband and brother and one more day to praise a loving God for second chances. His wife Kimberly and 22-year-old twins David and Rachael have more to celebrate than they ever imagined six months ago when Dr. Bush began an emotional, heart-wrenching and miraculous journey back from the valley of the shadow of death.
Dr. Bush’s outlook on life has drastically changed through the experience. He is looking through a different lens and has
refocused goals in his life. Those goal are now about what matters eternally not in the here and now.
“When you think about death, it makes you think about life,” he said. “It makes you look back on your life, what’s important and what’s not. Even your prayers change. I never, I don’t think, prayed consistently ‘Thank you God for life, for allowing me to breathe today.’ A verse in the Bible I preached in Romania is Psalms 90:12, which says, “Teach us to number our days so that we can have a heart of wisdom.’”
Dr. Bush understands, as highly influential Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon once said: Some great truths of God can only be learned through affliction. “I don’t like to hear that, no one does, but it’s true,” he said. “It changes the way you look at life. You look at things that have eternal consequences.”
They say doctors make the worst patients and Dr. Bush wouldn’t disagree.
“It’s really weird as a doctor being on the receiving end,” he said. “I’m trying not to freak my kids out too much. All I’m thinking is I’m going to be dead soon. The first thing I thought about was my daughter’s wedding, not that she’s ready to get married now, but it’s a dad thing. My son wants to go to medical school. I’m thinking, I’m not going to see that.”
Dr. Bush said he wasn’t afraid of what awaits in the afterlife but “I can’t say I wasn’t sad when I looked at my daughter, my son and my wife.”
His family and his church family, not to mention an adoring community that numbered in the thousands, were the rocks of the journey, Bush said. They prayed without ceasing and it mattered.
“There was one post on Facebook that had something like 2,500 likes,” he said. “I don’t know 2,500 people.”
Either his wife or one of the twins kept watch in his hospital room 24/7. He never woke up once without at least one of them in the room with him. They never lost the faith, even understanding how dire the situation was, and prayed for a miracle.
Rose Hill Baptist Church, where Bush has served as a deacon and Sunday School teacher for decades and is chairman of the board for Rose Hill Christian School, rallied around its servant and bathed him in prayer for months. He received visits, meals, cards and texts of encouragement, phone calls and prayers from as far away as Romania, where he has led mission trips for 18 years.
Churches, pastors, former patients, colleagues and more were praying for him daily. “It’s a very humbling thing to have that many people actually praying for you and who care about you.”
King’s Daughters nurses, doctors and administration were among the many who rallied around Dr. Bush who is forever grateful to them for the support.
His daughter managed the Facebook posts to help keep a nervous community up to date. Rachael’s posts were both heartfelt and informative. She had one post that showed only her hand holding his hand that drew much attention and more tears.
Rose Hill Pastor Matt Shamblin organized a 24-hour prayer vigil at King’s Daughters Medical Center when Dr. Bush was at his worst. Before that, Shamblin planned a laying on of hands service and asked Bush if he wanted to do it at his home or church.
“In Baptist churches, you don’t see it very often – we think that’s only for our charismatic friends,” Bush said. “We pray at home in our own closet. (But) this is biblical from James 5 and let’s go with it (at church).”
More than 200 showed up at the service, including a Romanian friend who called in on his phone to pray with them. They just kept coming to pray for their friend.
“It was really special,” Bush said.
But the next day, he took a turn for the worse and was rushed back to the hospital in Ashland. Bush was put in the intensive care unit and had a chest tube put in two days later. He remembers being in a fog as surgeon said they would have to cut through his t-shirt – a favorite from when Kentucky played in the Final Four in New Orleans – but there were pressing matters. He was having arrhythmias, renal failure and falling blood pressure. His life was on the line.
“That’s when they called in the family,” he said. “They told them, ‘He might not make it. He’s doing really bad.’”
Bush had already been to the Cleveland Clinic where another barrage of X-rays was taken a few days after first checking in to King’s Daughters in Ashland. It was at Cleveland Clinic where he learned that the metastasized cancer had spread to both lungs, there were seven spots on the brain and it was also in his spine. “That was the first mental low point,” he said. “I thought, ‘I can’t recover.’ It really hit me when it was in the brain because I know of the complications of tumors in the brain.”
Research at the Cleveland Clinic had been done for years on lung cancer with those who, like Bush, had cancer if though they never smoked or had been around asbestos. Fifty percent of patients in that category have a mutation, doctors told him, that could be targeted. If that was his case, they would recommend a third generation of medicine that had only been available for a year and only recently had been able to bridge the lungs and brain. They did more blood work and sent him home without any further treatment.
The Bushes received the news he did have the mutation while in the hospital in Ashland the second time and the medicine was a good risk although extremely expensive - $17,000 per month. They haggled with the insurance company until eventually having to purchase the medicine themselves because time clearly wasn’t with them.
He was in the ICU for two weeks and the hospital for about a month total. Dr. Bush left there weak and barely able to walk small distances, and only with the aid of a walker, but more strength was around the corner.
“That’s a humbling experience,” he said. “A few weeks ago, I was a busy cardiologist doing procedures and taking care of people’s lives. Now I can’t stand up without two people helping.”
Once he was home, Dr. Bush began to dramatically improve and started regaining strength. He had dropped 40 pounds – his appetite even for cheeseburgers wasn’t there in the hospital but returned – and he went to physical therapy. Within eight weeks he was walking, with oxygen, the mile-and-one-quarter around Central Park. He was coming back.
“One pill and all this prayer,” Bush said of the turnaround. The scan in September revealed miraculous results: All the spots on the brain were gone, the right lung was almost clear, the left lung had greatly improved and the spots on the spine were tiny, he said.
“No chemo, no radiation,” he said. “They used immunotherapy that goes directly to the tumor itself without hitting other things. I had a mutation and something triggered it. I was probably born with it.”
Bush goes back for another scan in December.
Dr. Bush’s next goal was to take his 18th mission trip to Romania, a place he has come to love like no other. His wife and a handful of church members joined him.
“When I got out of the hospital, I said I want to go there. My wife is like ‘We’ll see, we’ll see’ which was like telling me you’re not ready yet,” he said. “(But) I was going.”
But on Oct. 6, he was ready and ordered the tickets and gathered a team from the church. Everybody was stunned that he would make the long trip to Romania, but nothing was going to stop him.
“Romania was therapy for my soul,” he said. “People in Romania greeted me off the bus. This is the most special trip because I didn’t think I’d be there.”
Bush, who is 55, said he doesn’t know why God spared him and not somebody else who had cancer.
“There’s a lot of people better than me who aren’t cured of cancer,” he said. “I just know it fits in God’s plan and that’s what makes me more want to do God’s will. My life is a testament to the power of prayer. I do not think I’d be here without the amount of people praying. You put your faith in Jesus Christ and you know all things are in his control.”
Bush said returning to practice medicine is certainly something he’s looking forward to maybe in the new year. “I didn’t have this miraculous recovery just to retire, but I probably won’t do everything I was doing before.”
The cardiologist understands better now that life is indeed short. He has the same will, heart and love for God that he ever did, but his outlook for doing what has eternal purposes has been greatly intensified.
And isn’t that should be what happens when you’re part of a miracle?