Jesus Took the Wheel

 A survivor of sudden cardiac death shares his story

Jim Young can’t remember the accident he had in 2018 while driving a semi from Holland to Grand Haven, Michigan.

The driver in the vehicle behind him said that Jim had signaled to turn right on Hayes Street in Grand Haven when, instead, the truck veered left and crossed the median and lanes of oncoming traffic on U.S. 31. Jim’s big rig ended up wedged in the brush.

Luckily, a retired doctor — who usually traveled along another route — happened to be on Hayes Street and heard the crash. He and others got Jim out of the truck, where Jim was pinned in the cab on the driver’s side. Jim had suffered sudden cardiac death.

On the day of the accident, Jim remembers driving to Holland from his home in Muskegon, but even now, “I don’t remember anything after that,” he added.

The doctor who stopped to help Jim “worked on me doing CPR. Then EMS came and shocked me five times. They never gave up,” he said with appreciation. “God was with me that day.”

The night before, Jim had no symptoms. “I was running around playing ball in the backyard with our youngest granddaughter,” he shared. “I had no chest pains or light-headedness beforehand.”

Jim’s wife, Gwen, added, “He was healthy as a horse.”

EMS transported Jim to the Mercy Health Mercy Campus, where Cardiologists John Skallerup, MD, and D. Dirk Bonnema, MD, attended to Jim.

“It was a rough time,” said Gwen. “They didn’t think that Jim would make it. We even called our granddaughter who was in Basic Training in San Antonio to see if she could come home.” She came immediately.

“Dr. Skallerup and Dr. Bonnema were very good to my wife,” said Jim. “They didn’t give up on me, even though they said it didn’t look good.”

Dr. Skallerup inserted three stents and connected Jim to an external defibrillator, saving his life. “All of the doctors and nurses who helped us out were so good and kind to us,” said Jim.

Nearly a year later, Dr. Skallerup (now retired) referred Jim to Dr. Bonnema, so Jim could have an internal defibrillator implanted. “If my heart gets out of rhythm, the defibrillator will shock it,” Jim said. “I am grateful to all of the doctors who have this technology to save people.”

Jim’s most recent cardiac procedure has brought peace of mind. “We feel more confident that Jim has a lifesaving device implanted. It’s our security blanket,” Gwen added.

“I would recommend Dr. Bonnema to anyone,” said Gwen. “He is so caring, so thoughtful, so loving. He explains everything so you can understand. He didn’t fail to give me a hug when I needed it.”

The Youngs describe Mercy Health’s medical care as “top of the line.”

Mercy Health has a great crew,” said Jim. “We highly recommend Mercy Health.”

“They need to make more doctors like those two [Skallerup and Bonnema] because of the caring, support and love that they give families,” said Gwen.

Despite the damage Jim’s heart sustained, Jim still works three days a week, although no longer driving for the company. “It makes me get up in the morning and get out and do something.”

He and Gwen also take walks together, exercise several times each week at a gym, go camping and bike riding together, and often care for their 8-year-old granddaughter.

Gwen and Jim say they don’t take things for granted anymore. They try to live each day to the fullest.

“We plan on traveling to see our granddaughter who is now in the Air Force in Okinawa, Japan,” said Jim. “We’ll go in December.”

Gwen calls Jim her miracle and says that the Lord is watching over him because of his strong faith.

“Everything seemed to work out…from Jim being in Grand Haven at the time when the doctor was on Hayes Street, to his not hitting anyone and not smashing up the truck, to Dr. Skallerup being there to put in the stents, to being able to get a  hold of our pastor to come to the hospital…to my daughter hearing ‘Jesus Take the Wheel’ on the radio when we weren’t sure if he would make it.”

Learn about Mercy Health’s Heart & Vascular Services

Photo of Trailer: Taken by Becky Vargo. Used with permission of Grand Haven Tribune.


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