I went for open-heart surgery when I was 2 years old. But I was so young then that it seems like a figment of my imagination, an event I cannot recall, nor would I want to.

But the month before I was due to graduate, I went for what I hoped would be a routine “all-clear” visit to my cardiologist. Instead, he told me: “You need to have surgery within the next few months.”

It was devastating for both my family and me. I was in denial that anything needed to be done. I felt normal.

I felt betrayed by God at the point of time. Many years prior, I’d attended numerous healing services where pastors would proclaim that I would be healed. I found myself thinking that those were all lies.

Yet I knew deep down that God is good and He can heal me in whatever way He pleases, even through surgery. But I hated for that to be true; it was my biggest nightmare.

In the following month, I got caught up in the joy of getting engaged, graduating from university, and going on holiday with my family. I tried not to think about the pain or discomfort of the surgery, or the fact that there was a small chance that I would not make it through.Every night up until the day I had to leave for Singapore, the thoughts about every aspect of the surgery raced through my mind.

I broke down a few times, and was fortunate to have my fiancée with me at each moment. I felt terrible as she tried to grapple with feelings that not many people have experienced. It was tough for her, I could tell.

Having studied and worked in the veterinarian, I roughly knew what the surgery entailed, the number of chest drains that I had to be fitted with, the breathing tube down my throat. Each thing worried me tremendously. It was one thing to assist in such surgeries with furry animals, and an entirely different experience to be going through it.

As I lay awake, I decided each time to cry out to God and proclaim His promises that He had given me. Every night, I declared:

  • “I am alive with Christ.” (Ephesians 2:5)
  • “I am born of God, and the evil one does not touch me.” (1 John 5:18)
  • “I am more than a conqueror through Him Who loves me.” (Romans 8:37)
  • “I am an overcomer by the blood of the Lord and the word of my testimony.” (Revelation 12:11)
  • “I am redeemed from the curse of sin, sickness, and poverty.” (Galatians 3:13)

But after making those declarations, I often became frustrated when I woke up in the morning feeling lousy and fearful again. Shouldn’t I have more faith? Why do I still feel these feelings despite committing it to God? I couldn’t understand.

The biggest complication that could have happened during the surgery was death. Not to be dramatic or overly technical, but my heart was enormous. It had gotten bigger and bigger over the years, partly because I refused to stop playing football or running around.

As it got larger, it began to press against my sternum, pushing it out on one side. I didn’t feel a thing because this happened gradually. But as the surgeon explained, no one knows how much space there is between my heart and my sternum. If it was “stuck” to the sternum, it meant that there was a chance that he could cut into my heart when opening the sternum. And that could be fatal.

However, he assured me that he would take his time, cutting millimeter by millimeter if he had to. As such, he couldn’t give us a proper estimate of how long the surgery would take, though he estimated it to be about 8 to 10 hours long.

I trusted him, not because of what he said, not because he was the one who performed my surgery when I was 2 years old, not because he is a highly-acclaimed cardiothoracic surgeon – but because I knew that he was a fellow believer and would surely commit the surgery to God.

D-Day came in a blink of an eye. The day before the surgery, and on the day itself, my friends and family members gathered to pray for me. I truly felt loved and cared for at that moment. My fiancée even took a month’s personal leave just to be by my side every day, up till today, words cannot express how much I appreciated that.

As my mother followed me into the preparation area, not many words were exchanged. I knew that it was much tougher for her, seeing her son going through something like this. There was no doubt in my mind that she would take this burden from me if she could. I just hoped to wake up to see her – and the rest of my family and friends – again.

I assured my mother that I had already accepted God’s plan for me, even if it meant for me to go to Heaven. It was something really difficult to say, but I needed her to know that I was in the hands of my loving Father. At this point, a place where there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, as described in Revelations 4, did not seem that bad compared to the thought of the events that would follow.

But a part of me could not help but feel that this cannot be it. I still had so much I could do on this earth for God – experiencing the joys of marriage and starting a family, spreading His Word, taking care of my parents in their old age.

I wasn’t ready to leave just yet.

The surgery suite was as cold as many had described it would be. As the anaesthetist injected the induction agent for me to lose consciousness, she did something I don’t think I will ever forget. She got the whole team of surgeons, anaesthetists and nurses in the theatre to join her as she said a prayer for me.

I couldn’t tell how many people were in the theatre at that time, but I knew then that not only was I covered in prayer, but the team, too, and things would be okay.

That peace was overwhelming, and it came right at the last moment before I lost consciousness, when I most needed it. I later woke up thinking that it must have been a dream that the whole team had prayed for me before my surgery, but later the anaesthetist confirmed it, and was shocked I had remembered.

Where was God through all this? He was everywhere. In the people who cared for me. With me as I laid in bed alone each night. Reassuring me in the form of friends and family, doctors and nurses.

The next thing I knew, I found myself awake and lying in the ICU bed. My friends and family were there and they took turns to come up to me. I could tell that they were overjoyed. As for me, it just felt like waking up from any other sleep. I remember turning to my fiancée and telling her that I felt fine, was bored and either wanted to go home or for her to bring the Xbox over. She laughed.

That night, as I lay in bed with the ICU staff coming and going, it finally hit me that the surgery was over and I had made it through alive. As I stared at the wall, it was the first time I felt confident, almost cocky, thinking to myself: “That was it? I could do it again!”

But that was the morphine speaking. I know because when they turned the dose down just a bit the following day, I felt the full effects of my discomfort. I also felt slightly disappointed by the fact that a pacemaker had not been put in during the surgery. This machine was supposed to be put in together with the valve replacement, as I had an irregular heartbeat and a resting heart rate of about 30 beats per minute at night.

The surgeon later explained to me that he didn’t want to risk putting it in, as he couldn’t locate the perfect site due to my heart being quite “fatty”. My parents say it was because of the pork belly and curry fish head that I love to eat, but my friends in Australia will probably think its the Indo Mee.

I blame the veggies.

Prior to the surgery, I kept thinking that I was going through this surgery alone. But in hindsight, I knew it wasn’t the case. I later found out that my church members had arranged to take turns to pray for me throughout my surgery, such that I was fully covered. Relatives and friends, as well as pastors and companions in Christ from my parents’ church and beyond prayed from me and/or came by during the surgery to be there with me and my parents.

I know one Aunty even tried to get into the surgery theatre to check if the surgery was completed. These are the people who you know would do anything for you!

In my 7 days recovering in hospital, two things stand out. The first is the love of my friends and family.

My parents and two of my friends – you know who they are – came to visit me at hospital every day without fail. They brought me food, tried to occupy me with board games, or simply just “hung out” while I just sat/lay there. At the times that I felt down in the dumps and didn’t want to say a word, they stayed beside me.

The constant love of my family was evident from the moment I told them I would need to undergo surgery. My brother flew all the way from Thailand, where he worked among the poor and needy, just to be with me for a day.

The second thing that stood out for me was the incredible ICU staff. I was kept in the ICU for 4 days because they were worried about my low heart rate.

I have met enough doctors and medical practitioners to know that this isn’t an easy line of work. There is something called “compassion fatigue” that sets in when you care so much about a patient that it affects you as much as it affects them.

As I took the time to talk to those caring for me, I never once doubted that they were still in this stressful job because of their love for their patients. I often wondered how they could still smile, laugh and joke in this stressful environment, or how they could still remain empathetic to me when I was not feeling great.

Where was God through all this? He was everywhere. In the people who cared for me, with the medical and surgical staff as he guided them through the procedure and in making decisions. He was with me as I laid in bed alone each night, when I thought on one occasion that I was about to die because I could hear my heart clicking in a very pronounced and discomforting way. He was there reassuring me in the form of friends and family, doctors and nurses.

After I got the all-clear to leave the hospital, I thought that things would be easy. But that was actually when the biggest struggles arose. Without the faithful staff that would bring me everything I needed before I knew I needed it, and with my constant coughing hurting my chest, it was torturous.

I felt painful and uncomfortable without the morphine, and there were numerous times I just had to cry out to God to take the burden from me. He got me through.

Even though I will most likely have to go through something like this again in my life, I have complete trust in all that God has planned for me. Even in the darkest and most difficult of struggles, I know that God’s plan is the best, and He is there with me – and you – no matter what. As Romans 8:18-31 explains, we need to “consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us”.

Two months on, I can finally say that I am thankful that God had planned this surgery, for there is much I have learnt through this episode. These months that I had dreaded, have changed the way I look at things forever.

Through this journey, I have witnessed the power of prayer, and what it can do when many come together to pray for one another.

Although my heart condition is what I consider to be a “thorn in the flesh” – something that I had tried to run away from for most of my life – I believe that I would not be who I am today without it. My biggest weakness and flaw is also my biggest strength. It is my hope that I will be better able to understand and talk to people who have been going through similar experiences. I know that in my line of work, empathy for my clients will be crucial.

Through this journey, I have witnessed the power of prayer, and what it can do when many come together to pray for one another. I believe that God allows struggles and difficulties in our lives to make us grow stronger through our faith in Him.

Our lives are a constant journey of struggle, sin, difficulties and trials. But, we must trust that God will use it all for good, as we persevere and overcome challenges. He brings joy to our lives despite the circumstances.

This was originally shared on the C∆pture Facebook Page. C∆pture (or Capture Triangle) is an artistic platform for Christians who dabble in writing, photography and graphic design. If you serve God in a similar way, please drop them an email at [email protected]

If you’re going through a similar experience related to health issues requiring surgery, Keefe also extends a listening ear at [email protected]