The hidden story of the brain-dead man who woke up
Day after day, the test results showed no change.
No measures of brain activity.
And day after day, Shannon Forrest maintained his vigil by his father’s bedside, examining his motionless body for any sign — anything — that could give him hope.
That Butch had survived the massive heart attack was a miracle in itself.
The healthy 63-year-old had experienced no warning signs. He collapsed in the office just after he got to work that morning in February 2009. He wouldn’t have had a chance without the quick response of nearby coworkers who had equipment and training for an emergency like his.
Butch was alive when the paramedics arrived minutes later, but his vital signs were perilously weak. On the way to the Greenville hospital, Butch went into cardiac arrest another three times, each time jolted back to life with electric paddles.
He looked at me, and that was the first time I knew he knew who I was. - Shannon
The first days held more questions than answers for Shannon and his family.
Nothing but endless, shapeless hours of waiting. Drifting in and out of unreality on tides of caffeine and prayer.
Butch was stabilized and on a ventilator, but a steady stream of neurological assessments over the course of 10 days gave no reason for optimism. He was, for all intents and purposes, brain dead, doctors said.
"Should they remove Butch from life support?" they asked.
That's what Butch had told Shannon's mom he wanted. But Shannon didn’t have God’s peace about it.
"I really feel like there's something else going on here," Shannon recalls thinking.
Shannon’s relationship with his father was strained since childhood. Butch’s focus on his retail management career had robbed Shannon of the quality time he craved with him as a kid.
Things couldn’t be left like this.
“It was just really one of the worst places I have ever been in my life,” Shannon says, “… the thought of not ever being able to have my dad look at me and recognize me or say my name again.”
“I was just saying, ‘God just let your will be done here. But if there's something — if there's anything — just let me feel it. Let me know,’” Shannon says.
I don't think he knew at that time just how much praying for me and my dad meant to me - Shannon
The family agreed to wait for a second neurologist’s opinion, but the extra tests he agreed to order only confirmed the devastating reality.
Then the decision to terminate life support became moot when Butch’s kidneys began to fail and doctors told him death would likely come naturally as other organs followed.
In a 2 a.m. haze of grief and exhaustion, Shannon left his father’s bedside to find sanctuary in the waiting room.
He recognized NewSpring’s teaching pastor Clayton King, who was there because of his own father’s life-threatening heart attack.
The powerful prayer they shared gave Shannon the peace he needed — that God was in control.
Clayton was glad to give comfort and kindness to a man facing the loss of his dad, but he thought nothing more about it.
“The prayer that we prayed was pretty short, and honestly I don't even know if we actually had faith that God was going to answer it,” Clayton says.
Eight years would pass before God opened Clayton’s eyes to how thankful he needed to be for that moment.
“I don't think he knew at that time just how much praying for me and my dad meant to me,” Shannon says.
I think we really just appreciate each other much much more than we ever did. - Shannon
As Shannon returned to his father’s room, the nurse startled him with the news: Butch’s kidneys were working again.
Shannon knew. God wasn’t done.
In the days that followed, Shannon insisted that doctors taper off the sedatives that could be affecting his father’s brain.
And he waited. And waited.
One day, as he was holding his father’s hand and talking to him, Butch’s eyes opened.
“He looked at me, and that was the first time I knew he knew who I was,” Shannon says. “I went and got my mom, and I said, ‘Mom, something is going on.’”
The doctors agreed to eliminate the medication altogether. And moment by moment, over the next six weeks, Butch came back to life.
Slowly, secretly, his brain had registered touch and sounds and faces and words. Then, visibly, unmistakably, Butch connected his thoughts to movements, such as lightly squeezing a finger. And then, after the tube was removed from his throat, his thoughts became speech.
“It was something that none of the medical personnel attending dad or anybody else … could attribute to science,” Shannon says. “Mentally, he's 110 percent.”
I didn't actually believe that God would do a miracle. - Clayton
The baffling, mysterious recovery progressed so that Butch was able to walk out of the hospital, returning whole to relationships with his wife, his son, and his grandchildren; to work and to everyday life; to a world transformed inside and out.
“God's given us an opportunity to have a relationship that is much more intimate, much more loving than ever before,” Shannon says. “We’ve just got a much closer and a much more complete relationship.”
Shannon had always intended to share the news with Clayton, but he never found an opportunity. It wasn’t until 2016 that Shannon and Clayton’s paths crossed again inside a sporting goods store. They celebrated the miracle they had prayed for and now had come to pass.
“My heart was thankful. Mostly I was amazed. I was also a little convicted that I didn't actually believe that God would do a miracle,” Clayton says. “It also made me aware of how many times I overlook the prayers he may have answered that I'm just not aware of yet.”
There was only one more thing Clayton had left to do.
Watch the video at the top of the page to see the moment Clayton set eyes on Butch for the first time, so they could all thank God to the full.