When the ‘Waymaker’ topped the ‘widowmaker’

Mark Adkins has defied the odds: both one million-to-one and one billion-to-one. That he has survived to tell about it is a huge testimony to the cause he is embarking on this year, beginning a five-year process to be ordained as a deacon in the Catholic Church.

Several days ago, Mark and his wife Lanie sat for an interview before the vocations board for the Catholic Diocese of Alexandria, and he shared this story of grit and grace.

The key date in this story is January 6, 2018 — a Sunday, when, as an altar server, Mark had a “widowmaker” heart attack in the sacristy five minutes before 11 a.m. Mass at Holy Cross Church in Natchitoches. He had just conducted a class for adults wanting to become Catholics. Before long, a medical team — that hadn’t planned to be at that Mass but happened to be there by “coincidence” — was trying to revive him.

One of them was Dr. Marc Stokes, the head ER physician at Natchitoches Regional Medical Center. He intubated Mark on the floor of the sacristy.

As soon as the firefighters got there (from literally across an intersection from their station), they hit him 19 times with the IED to try to keep him alive. As an ambulance arrived to speed Mark to the local hospital, Father Mark Noel, the pastor, told the congregation what was going on and they immediately got on their knees and began praying.

Recalling what was told to him by Lanie, who was with him virtually every step of the way in his wild journey, Dr. Stokes approached her after about 90 minutes at the hospital and said, “I don’t know what more I can do for your husband.”

Her response: “There’s got to be something else.”

Stokes, after a few moments of shaking his head in remorse, stood up and, as if a light bulb flashed above his head, and said, “There’s one more thing I can try.” He hooked up Mark, a former defensive lineman, to not one but two, defibrillators, like jumping off a heavy-duty pickup.

“My heart started to beat again, but very faintly,” said Mark.

He needed more heavy-duty help, and after 19 hospitals in four states declined to assist him, Lakeview Hospital in Covington, a Trauma One medical center, agreed to take him. Yet, speedy delivery — faster than an ambulance — was needed. Helivacs were grounded because of a bad winter storm. A search for emergency planes finally found one in Missouri, which landed at the Natchitoches airport. When Mark got to the airport, he coded and came back; got on the plane with Lanie, coded and came back.

Just as the pilot was ready to take off, he got a message that all plane flights were being grounded because of the bad storm. He said, “I have no choice; if I don’t go, he dies.” He took off at 6 p.m., seven hours after Mark’s attack in the sacristy. Needless to say, it was a flight out of hell but they landed in Hammond, close enough to get him to Covington by ambulance.

There, Dr. Bruce Ennis, a cardiology specialist, greeted Lanie with news that he was going to try the only thing he could do to try to save her husband’s life — inserting an impella, a tiny but potent heart pump, into his chest to help the blood flow and give his weary heart a rest.

She agreed. Then he gave two warnings.

The first: “It’s a million-to-one odds he’ll ever open his eyes again.”

She said, “Do it.”

The second: “It’s a billion-to-one odds that he’ll have any cognitive ability again.”

She said: “Do it.”

On the fifth day on the machine — two more days than the usual max — his heart started beating again on its own. Each one on his medical team, he said, was wearing a cross.

The saga continued with twists and turns, hills and valleys, but the upshot is he went back to work that April.

Remember the class Mark gave just before his attack? A woman in that class told him, “I’ll never forget what you taught about that day. You taught about how God puts people, places and things in your life when you need them, and he puts people, places, things in your life when they need you.”

“God,” said Dr. Stokes, “uses us in ways we don’t realize.”

And remember the date of Mark’s attack, January 6? Thinking about it a year later, he thought, “The Feast of the Epiphany!”

“My Magi,” he said, “were there that day!”