A Christmas miracle; Part 2: Coming back for Christmas
The following is the second part in a series of two articles on Don Hamilton's brush with death and his subsequent recovery, as told by his family and himself.
Don Hamilton was in a hospital bed in North Memorial near the Twin Cities. Prior to being hospitalized, he had fallen into a coma after a near-fatal hunting accident. And after being technically dead for 20 minutes, he had been resuscitated. But weeks after the accident, he had yet to regain consciousness. One by one, his organs began to fail.
His family and friends watched over him constantly. Every day could be the day when Don slipped away from them forever.
His sister, Ruth Richter, remembers what that time was like.
"Thanksgiving weekend was the worst. They (his doctors) were sure he wouldn't make it through the weekend. Then the beginning of December came, and things were still not good," she said. "They kept saying in December, 'Well, you need to start looking for a nursing home. He's just going to be like this his entire life.'"
Don's family prayed for him every day. One of their main prayers was that he wouldn't be taken out of the intensive care unit while still in a coma, because to them, that meant the Don they knew would never come back.
"That just seemed so final, that his whole life he would live like a vegetable," Ruth said.
Problems with Don's organs kept him in the ICU, and his family remained hopeful for his recovery.
For the first part of his time at North Memorial, Don laid motionless in his bed, his eyes open but unseeing.
As time went on, though, Don began to move around while still unconscious. He would thrash uncontrollably and pull at the wires and tubes connecting him to hospital machines. The behavior perplexed Don's doctors, especially since he was heavily medicated for the pain associated with his leg wound. On Dec. 14, something happened that would astound them even further.
"The doctor came out and said, 'I think Don is responding to me. I asked him a question, and I think I got a response. I think he squeezed my hand.'" Ruth remembered.
From there, Don's miracle began to grow. He started recognizing his visitors and gesturing when they talked with him. After several days, doctors were able to remove his ventilator.
Then, Christmas arrived. After having their emotions whipped around for months during Don's time in the hospital, his family simply didn't know what to do when that time of year finally came around.
Ruth's only wish for the holidays was for Don to call her and wish her a Merry Christmas. When she was about to take her family to church on Christmas Eve, a surprise came.
"The phone rang and it was my dad, and he was kind of in tears. He said, 'Somebody wants to talk to you,' and it was my brother, and he said 'Merry Christmas, Ruthie.'"
From there, it was weeks of grueling therapy before Don was able to get out of the hospital. When he eventually got out in late January, he was determined to return to the athletic lifestyle he had before the accident.
"I got into a boat on crutches in July and went water skiing even though I could only stand on one leg, I rode a motorcycle ... it just felt like I had to go back and make sure I could do everything I used to do," he said.
Don even went out deer hunting the year after the accident happened. He got a deer, but one missed shot brought up negative feelings.
"I was afraid that I might have hit somebody with that missed shot," he said. "It wasn't worth it for me to go anymore. The excitement was gone."
For the most part, though, Don has managed to take back the life he had before. He said his social and work lives are both fine. Also, he plans on retiring soon.
Don doesn't doubt that what happened to him was a miracle.
"I came back alive. I should be a vegetable as far as everybody's concerned, or at least not capable of doing what I'm doing," he said. "I had people praying for me all over the place, all over the world, and I think that definitely had something to do with my recovery."
His mother, Marilyn Hamilton, agrees that a miracle took place.
"Even some of the doctors have admitted that. One doctor, who he (Don) saw not too many years ago ... said, 'Don, we don't know why you're alive. There's no medical reason why you're alive.'"
In describing what it felt like to get Don back, Marilyn knew just what to say.
"Nothing could have been better, of course. I just never gave up hope," she said.