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Heart failure patient shares her return from brink of death
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Donna Murphy and her husband Greg pose for a portrait at Hopewell Baptist Church in Gainesville, on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. Earlier this fall, Murphy was experiencing heart and lung problems, as well as slipping in and out of a coma. Despite the mounting challenges, the couple never lost faith that she would recover. Since then, Donna has recovered significantly, attributing her regained health to the power of prayer. - photo by David Barnes

Doctors’ hope may have been fading for Donna Murphy, who lay in her Emory University Hospital bed hooked up to a life support machine for her heart and lungs.

But prayers weren’t slowing among family and fellow members of her church family at Hopewell Baptist Church in South Hall.

About 10 days into the ordeal, a doctor told Donna’s husband, Greg Murphy, “I can’t explain this, but her heart has started beating on its own.”

“I know what happened,” Murphy told the doctor. “It was prayer and God. There is no other answer. I have no other answer.”

So began a renewed journey in faith for the Murphys, who talked in detail about the events that have gripped their lives the past few months in an interview at the church last week.

“During all this time, God was here,” Donna said. “He had always been there for me. God had put his hand on my heart and took a heart that was beating at less than 10 percent to now beating at 60 percent.”

“It’s been an emotional ride,” Greg said, adding that at one point doctors had told him there was a 95 percent chance she wouldn’t survive.

Donna’s battle with heart failure began long before Emory.

Several months earlier, she had been experiencing symptoms such as fatigue, a burning in her stomach and fluid buildup in her ankles and lower legs. An ultrasound had revealed a fatty liver, and she had been taking some medication.

“I couldn’t go to the mailbox and back without being out of breath,” Donna said.

On Sept. 14, Greg had been out running some errands when he returned home to find Donna surrounded by some neighbors. One of them was a doctor, who told Greg to call 911.

Donna “was sitting in a recliner about to fall over, about to pass out,” he recalled. “And she was turning blue around her face and lips.”

Paramedics arrived and started working on her, taking her to an ambulance, where her heart stopped. They were able to revive her in the ambulance.

She was taken to Northeast Georgia Medical Center, then later to Emory. During the trips, Donna had slipped into a coma and was under a nurse’s constant care.

Even after her heart began beating on its own in late September, Donna would not regain consciousness until after a few days.

Throughout the ordeal, “a whole church was praying for me,” she said.

Greg, meanwhile, was still trying to process all that was happening to his wife.

At one point, a Sunday school teacher drove him to Emory.

“I was told I (was) not in any condition to drive to Atlanta that night,” he said. “I found out later it was (the teacher’s) anniversary, but (that) he and his wife chose to take care of me instead of thinking of themselves.”

Greg added: “They were being Christ in the flesh (in showing) love to me.”

The ordeal had an impact on fellow believers, as well.

“This has been such a public display of God moving ... and it’s been powerful,” said Kent Barrett, executive pastor of Hopewell Baptist. “You have a living example here, in real time. It’s God putting himself on display in high-def.”

And afterward, as Donna began her recovery, including physical therapy, the church has continued to reach out to the couple — something that’s left them a bit uncomfortable.

“We’re doers,” Donna said. “We’re not used to being receivers.”

The Murphys, married for seven years and church members for about that long, have been active in their church. She works in the food pantry and he sings in the choir, and both have been active in mission trips.

They’re planning a mission trip to Tennessee this week.

Donna is still working to get her strength back, but “my cardiologist gave me the approval,” she said.

Her primary care physician, Dr. Marti Gibbs, said in a phone interview that Donna “is very motivated to continue to work, to gain back her strength, and really, her heart function has returned back to normal.”

And Gibbs has been impressed, saying that Donna “definitely is a fighter.”

“God just brought healing to her while she was hospitalized,” Gibbs said. “It really is a miraculous story, to bounce back from what she went through.”

The experience was life-altering on several levels. Donna has adopted a low-sodium diet and shed body weight, but she has also found a new outlook on life.

“The person before wasn’t the person who came out of this. I had unforgiveness, bitterness and anger,” she said. “Different things had just engulfed me. Now, that’s all done. It’s in the past.”

Also, the Murphys have a dramatic story to tell, and it has a happy ending.

But they don’t want the story to focus on themselves or show any bitterness on their part.

“Never did I blame God for what had happened,” Donna said. “It was not his fault. This is a testimony of how awesome our God is.”


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