By Mark Ellis —
Mike and Vicki Zoradi were celebrating Vicki’s 60th birthday at their cabin in northern California over the July 4th holiday — a long weekend that changed the course of their lives.
“I had just finished my 21st school year and had the summer off,” Vicki told God Reports. She had also been named Teacher of the Year. As they relaxed on beach chairs near the river, she felt some surprising pain in her back, and thought she might have “tweaked it.”
After they went to bed on the night of the Fourth, Vicki woke up at 1:30, and felt like the pain was moving. “It moved from my lower right backside to my lower right front.” Vicki had always been healthy and accumulated hundreds of sick days as a teacher.
She woke up Mike and he was worried, thinking it might be appendicitis. He drove Vicki to the emergency room at Marshall Hospital in Placerville, California, where a CT scan was performed, and doctors found a kidney stone.
“They assumed it was between 5-6 mm and gave me a prescription for medication and said you’re good to go. There was no infection in my blood, no fever, just pain. They gave me some pain meds and said, ‘Go home and pass it.’
On July 5th Vicki was lethargic, resting most of the morning. “There was no blood in the urine or anything that would be alarming,” she recalls. Vicki’s immediate family arrived from Sacramento to throw her a birthday party at lunch. She stayed on the couch the whole time.
The next day, she never got up. Mike thought something must be wrong. “You don’t seem yourself,” he told her. “Something is off. I don’t know anything about a kidney stone and how people react, but you seem off,” he said.
Their daughter Tiffany came over and Mike said, “Talk to Mom and see what you think.”
Tiffany, a nursing student, said, “Yeah, Dad, something’s wrong.”
Vicki’s eyes were glassy as they led her to the car, and she doubled over in a semi-fetal position as she fell into the seat.
Return to the hospital
Mike raced Vicki to Marshall Hospital, the triage nurse took one look at her blood pressure, and immediately wheeled her into the emergency room. “Wow, what is going on?” Mike asked.
“Her blood pressure is dangerously low,” a doctor informed.
“What does that mean?
“It’s life threatening.”
“Life threatening right now?”
“We were thinking of taking her to Sacramento…” (to a larger hospital, but a longer drive)
“It’s a good thing you didn’t,” the doctor replied. “She would not have made it to Sacramento.”
They quickly discovered the kidney stone was larger than doctors initially thought, and it had completely blocked her kidney.
“I need to step outside and pray,” Mike said, as he digested news that turned increasingly grim.
Urine was flushing into her kidney, which led to an E.coli infection — with an unexpectedly severe result.
“The doctors were shocked it was only E. coli,” Mike reports. “They said, ‘This is standard E. coli. We’re not sure why your body is having such a severe reaction.’ It put here in septic shock. The infection was spreading through her body at a very rapid speed.
“In 36-hours we went from no infection to you’re almost dead with a blood pressure of 50 over 25.” To treat it, doctors tried fluid resuscitation, but her infection was too advanced. It wasn’t working.
Doctors then used vasopressors to raise Vicki’s blood pressure and keep blood flowing to her five major organs. The downside risk of using vasopressors is that less blood flows to the extremities.
Then doctors performed emergency surgery to insert a stent, allowing urine to pass to the bladder. “They didn’t touch the stone because it was very tenuous and dangerous. The urine was passing, but the damage had already been done.”
Sepsis is a bacterial infection in the bloodstream that has overwhelmed one’s entire body. “She only had 20% cardiac output,” Mike recounts. “She had a clot on her liver, she had two liters of fluid on her lungs, bilirubin count of 28 (liver function) and it’s supposed to be about one, lactic acid count should be 1.5 and it was 28; she had a white blood count of 80,000; it should be about 8,000. She had a ph. balance of 6.75 and most doctors would say anything below 7 doesn’t support life.”
A trauma surgeon told Mike later, “Any one of those could potentially take you out. All of those issues together — the probability of sustaining life is virtually zero. In 35 years, I’ve never seen a patient in her situation live.”
Storming the gates with prayer
But the Zoradis are strong Christians and Mike began to marshal an army of prayer warriors. Mike knew the next 24 hours would be critical. “Well Lord this is all about you,” Mike cried out in prayer. “If Vicki is going to live it is because you intervene!”
“At one or two in the morning we contacted pastors at church, our small group leader, family and friends, and they spread this out. We got ahold of people in the middle of the night. By the time morning hit, there were thousands of people praying for her. It was all over social media and her school found out.”
“We had 50 women showed up that morning to pray at church.”
Incredibly, Mike received more bad news from one of the physicians. “It’s a now a small probability her liver will make it.”
“You can’t live without a liver!” Mike gasped.
“I’m sorry…there’s less than a 10 percent chance her liver will make it.”
“What has to change for her to make it?”
“Her bilirubin is 28 and it’s been rising every day,” the doctor told Mike. It needs to be 24 tomorrow, 20 the next day, and continue moving below 20.”
Mike began praying very specifically her bilirubin count would fall to 24 the next day. “I put that fleece out for prayer. The next day it was 24, the next day was 20, the next day was 18, and it just kept going down.”
Vicki’s liver was saved! “We saw God show up in ways that were undeniable. When the doctors would said no, God could step in and say yes.”
The next day doctors couldn’t find any detectable blood pressure or pulse. Doctors said, “Say your goodbyes. She is going to crash at any time and there is nothing we can do.”
A vascular doctor went into her room and spent an hour, came out and told Mike he couldn’t find any blood pressure.
“Is that unusual?” Mike asked.
“Highly unusual…in all the years I’ve practiced that has never happened.”
Another vascular surgeon came on duty and said, “I can’t believe he couldn’t find it.” He went in and spent time with her, then came out and said, “I can’t find it either… It is time to say goodbye.”
Reeling from the dire news, 15 family members gathered in Vicki’s room to pray and sing Vicki’s favorite hymns for an hour.
Despite being in an induced semi-comatose state, Vicki could hear their singing. “My soul wanted to sing with them,” she recalls.
Next, doctors decided to transport Vicki to Sutter Hospital in Sacramento, because the larger hospital could offer continuous dialysis for her kidneys. “They didn’t know if I would survive the transport, but they knew I would die if I stayed there.”
After she arrived at the larger hospital, she got worse. Even though she was semi-comatose, somehow, she could pray with her mind. “I would pray to God at the top of the ceiling, where the wall met the top of the ceiling in my room. In my mind my eyes were open, but my eyes were not really open.”
Then she beheld something extraordinary. “I looked up and I saw a tower of angels. I thought, This is weird because they are not ministering to me. So I just observed them. They looked like iridescent bubbles with human form, but you could tell they were angels. It was like a bubble you could look through. The top angel was huge, and he was wielding this humongous sword, like in battle.”
Meanwhile, Mike and 15 family prayer warriors were on the other side of her wall in the family lounge, within 20 feet of Vicki’s bed. “There were 15 of us in that room praying like we’d never prayed,” Mike recounts. The sound of their singing could be heard through the entire 60-bed wing of the ICU.
.The enormous top angel was warding off evil and death in a titanic battle. “The lower angels looked like they were in fervent prayer on my behalf. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I could tell they were in prayer to our heavenly Father. I observed them and it gave me peace. I had no idea I was dying…I wasn’t fearful.”
God had opened Vicki’s eyes to see the unseen, supernatural battle between light and darkness, which reminded her of a passage from 2 Kings 6:
And when the servant of the man of God arose early and went out, there was an army, surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”
So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, and said, “Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:15-17)
Mike was keenly aware of the spiritual warfare. “The head of the ICU is an atheist, the doctor told me, ‘I don’t have faith at all; I don’t believe in God.’ But that physician would be shocked by what happened next.
Doctors can’t find a pulse
“They knew Vicki had a pulse, but it was so weak it wasn’t showing up in the monitors. They said, ‘This has been going on for 8 hours that we can’t find blood pressure. She will pass at any time.’
Doctors left the family alone in the room with Vicki to say their goodbyes for the next hour.
After an hour, Mike’s niece turned to him and said, “Uncle Mike, there is a blood pressure on the monitor.”
“What?” He whirled around and stared at the monitor in disbelief. “She has heartbeat, and the monitor is going!” he exclaimed. “It’s 65 over 35.”
He rushed to find the head nurse. “Is this true?” he asked.
“Monitors don’t lie. She suddenly has a blood pressure!”
That night, Mike slept at the hospital. When he woke up the nurse said Vicki’s blood pressure was 120 over 60, completely normal. None of the medical professionals could explain it.
When physicians arrived that morning they were stunned by the turn of events. They said, “She is still here? And her husband is here? And she’s still alive?”
Vicki spent 35 days in ICU. “They had me in an induced coma. When I woke up, I remember looking at my hands and the fatty part of my thumb area was turning gray. I thought that was really weird. I didn’t know anything about the medications I had been given. The next thing I knew they were doing doppler readings to see if there is any blood flow to my hands and feet, and there was not.”
A dreadful development
Within two weeks the vascular surgeon delivered the terrible news to Mike: “Her hands and feet have no chance.”
“At this point, they were pretty dark,” Mike recounts. “They kept the vasopressors going for four or five days, and that’s too long. It’s like getting frostbite. Your hands start turning black. I saw it as it was happening.”
Mike remembers crying as he walked out of the hospital, completely devastated. We’ve been through all this, God, it looks like she is going to make it, and now this?
Mike had trouble falling to sleep, but then God gave him a remarkable dream. “Vicki and I were in the grocery store, there were three or four people in line. This lady was looking at Vicki’s hands – and they were artificial hands. Vicki noticed the woman looking and said would you like to hear my story?
“Yes,” the woman replied.
“Vicki started telling her story and she got to the end and she gave her the Gospel. It dawned on me. I had been looking at this for the here and now, the temporal. God is showing me this happened for eternal reasons.” God brought to his mind a passage in John 9:
And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. (John 9:2-3)
Ok, I get it Lord, he muttered to himself. God has his hand on this in a different way than I looked at it…
Mike didn’t want the doctors to tell Vicki she was going to lose her hands and feet. He thought he should be the one to break the news.
When she was coherent, Mike went to her bedside and said gently, “Honey, I have seen you looking at your hands. I think you can probably tell there is something wrong with them. The vascular surgeons have been in and I’ve gotten more than one opinion. Nobody thinks your hands are salvageable. They all think they have to take your hands and feet…”
“Well, from what you tell me, it is a miracle that I lived,” Vicki replied softly. “I guess my ministry will be that I have no hands and feet.”
Mike was stunned by her response. “I thought, Who are you? What did you just say? I tell you you’re going to lose your hands and feet and that’s what you say? Nobody says that. That’s not a human reaction. It’s not my reaction.
Mike was amazed at the way God had prepared her heart.
At Kindred Hospital in Southern California, a surgical team was assembled for the amputations and both Mike and Vicki felt they found “the best of the best,” highly experienced surgeons who also taught other doctors.
The night before the amputations, Vicki was still holding out hope for God to bring another miracle. Mike and his son-in-law read to Vicki from the Bible, they prayed together, then left her about 8 pm.
After they left, Vicki sought solace in her Savior. She said, “Lord, It’s still not too late. You could heal me right now.
Then the still small voice of the Lord spoke to her heart: No, that’s not what I have for you.
“Lord I need your strength to get through this,” she cried. Then God imparted a vision to comfort her soul.
“I was at a wedding, I could see a little girl dancing on her daddy’s feet, and he is holding her hands, and her feet are directly on his shoes, and he is guiding her around the dance floor. He said, I will be your hands and feet. Don’t worry about a thing.”
As Vicki went through surgery the next morning, she felt like the nurse had put a warm blanket over her. When she looked down, there was no blanket there. “It was the covering of God. It was God, saying, I’ve got this.”
On September 1, 2018, surgeons performed the amputations.
Afterward, Vicki wondered what her life would look like going forward. She grieved over the loss of some of the things she loved to do, like play the piano, knit and crochet, make crafts, cook, and travel.
In God’s providence, the owner of one of the top prosthetic companies on the West Coast, Rick Myers, attended their church and lived 10 minutes away. On his first visit with Mike and Vicki, he said he only wanted to pray, not talk about prosthetics. “That really touched us. He has been like a real brother, looking out for us. God was ahead on that too.”
The first year she dealt with phantom pain seeming to emanate from the hands and feet that were no longer there, severe at times. “It was the most excruciating pain, like 9 or 10, it felt like someone was shooting my hand with bullets, like a nail driven through your hand and feet…”
Then it dawned on her. “How did Jesus die for me on the cross? He was nailed to the cross through his hands and feet, and I just got a glimpse of his crucifixion, Him dying for me.
“From then on it became a privilege to feel that. Most people never get a chance to feel that. Every once in a while, I feel that. In his grace and mercy, most of the pain has gone away.”
Their daughter Tiffany got accredited for occupational therapy three months before the crisis hit. She and her husband, Mike, moved in with Mike and Vicki for a year to help her recovery.
“It took me a year to get my legs and started walking. There was no more wheelchair. It is hard to learn to walk. You have no arms to balance. At the time I didn’t have my arms. You walk like a snowman because you feel like you are on stilts.
Vicki has worked up to walking a mile. “Now I have hydraulic ankles and can go up hills. God is good. I got my arms in March.”
Vicki’s arms have electrodes inside that can read her brain waves. There is direct contact between the electrodes and the remaining ligaments and nerves in her arms to operate her artificial hands. Vicki’s brain tells her ligaments what to do. “I am moving a wrist I no longer have, but in my mind, I still have it.”
When she visits a classroom to share, the students love it when she spins her hands.
Vicki is not on any medications and hasn’t used a wheelchair since January, 2019. She can eat by herself, but it is hard to cook, which takes more dexterity. She directs Mike in the kitchen as they prepare meals together.
She spends time on her iPad. She’s written three books in the three years since her health crisis and is working on a fourth.
“If this is all about the here and now, it is tragic, but if it is all about the eternal, then it is a privilege that we have been chosen to do this,” Mike says. “One out of 2 or 3 million lose their hands and feet every year. We never ask why this happened to Vicki. We look at it as a platform to get the gospel out, to help others, and glorify God.
“God has constantly shown us this suffering is not in vain.”