“This Evening You Will Be Dead”
By Awake! correspondent in South Africa
“ARE you aware that you are dying and that by this evening you will be dead?” the doctor asked.
Weak from loss of blood, 15-year-old Wyndham Cook replied that even if it meant losing his life, he was determined to obey the Bible command to ‘abstain from blood.’—Acts 15:20.
“Would you put a gun to your head and shoot yourself?” countered the doctor.
“I would not,” explained Wyndham. “But refusing a blood transfusion is not committing suicide. It is simply obedience to God’s command.” Wyndham has varicose veins in the esophagus, which at times leads to internal bleeding. To make matters worse, Wyndham is a partial hemophiliac.
A Crisis Looms
Understandably, Wyndham’s parents were worried when, on Tuesday, November 28, 1989, he started to bleed again after seven trouble-free years. Wyndham was immediately taken to the hospital. After undergoing an endoscopy (internal viewing of the esophagus), his hemoglobin count dropped to 6.6 grams per deciliter. (A normal hemoglobin count is from 14 to 15 grams per deciliter.) That night everyone was uneasy as Wyndham slept off and on.
By midday Wednesday his blood count had dropped to 4.3 grams, and he was still bleeding. This initiated the first of several discussions with the hospital staff as to why Wyndham could not have a blood transfusion. Wyndham’s father, Chris, explains: “We reasoned at length on the Scriptures. We made it clear also that we were not rejecting their medical help, or life itself. In a crisis such as this, we desperately needed their medical expertise. We were only rejecting blood as therapy.”
At 2:00 p.m. an inflatable tube was to be inserted down Wyndham’s throat, which could be pumped up to put pressure on the swollen veins and thus restrict bleeding. The tube also extends into the stomach to draw up any blood that has collected there from internal bleeding. At this point, when Wyndham’s parents were not present, a nurse said to him: “Just a few units of blood and your life could be saved. Your parents and minister need never know.”
“Jesus took blood with his 12 apostles,” argued the doctor. “Christ said, ‘This is my blood . . . drink it.’ You call yourself a Christian and you want to follow Christ’s example, so why not take a blood transfusion?”
Wyndham explained that when the apostles drank from the cup Jesus offered, it was wine that was merely symbolic and was not Jesus’ actual blood. Wyndham’s uncompromising stand made such an impression that a note was put into his file to the effect that, at age 15, fully conscious and of sound mind, he had categorically refused a blood transfusion. This strong stand was to pay great dividends the next day.
As the sun rose on Thursday, Wyndham seemed to have stabilized somewhat. But the relief was short-lived. He began to bleed again. By 9:00 a.m. his blood count had dropped to 3.0. His situation was critical. The senior doctor in charge of the surgical section asked if Wyndham’s family would leave the room as he wanted to speak to Wyndham alone.
“It was not easy to leave him on his own,” says his mother, Judy. “We were scared that in his weak condition his resistance would wear down. But he had been baptized six months earlier, and so he had a right to make his own defense.”
“All we could do now,” recalls his father, “was beseech Jehovah to help Wyndham maintain his integrity. We learned the real meaning of the word ‘supplicate.’” Young Wyndham says that what helped him was remembering Revelation 2:10. “The words, ‘Prove yourself faithful even to death, and I will give you the crown of life,’ kept turning over and over in my mind,” he said.
A Court Order?
Finally the doctor said that he would apply for a court order to permit a blood transfusion. As Wyndham was a minor, everyone expected that the application would be granted. The prayers in Wyndham’s behalf were intense. “Virtually the whole congregation lived through the ordeal with the Cooks,” explained Neville, the congregation’s presiding overseer. “When Wyndham improved, the whole congregation breathed a sigh of relief. When he deteriorated, all in the congregation held their breath and prayed for a happier outcome.”
“During the time we were waiting for the result from the court,” recalls Judy, “most of our body of elders arrived and were waiting in the patients’ lounge. What a blessing they proved to be! With the bleeding continuing and a blood count of 2.9, Wyndham did not seem to stand a chance.”
Within the hour, a reply came back stating that the court order to force a blood transfusion on Wyndham had been refused. “We were told,” explains Chris, “that the reason for the refusal was that Wyndham was fully conscious and of sound mind. He was aware of the consequences of his decision, and he had made a carefully considered decision consistent with his Bible-based beliefs.”
But Wyndham was not getting any better. In fact, at noon Thursday, Chris and Judy were informed: “Your son has just a few hours to live. If you want your minister and relatives to see him before he dies, you had better call them immediately.” Wyndham’s brother, 9-year-old Jonathan, was brought to see him.
At 1:30 p.m., the staff removed the tube down Wyndham’s throat so that he could die with dignity. For the next few hours, Wyndham’s life hovered in the balance. Although critical, his condition remained stable as a high fever raged through his body. He hung on throughout that night.
Then, over the weekend, he began to improve. On Monday it was decided to send him home, as there was nothing more that could be done for him in the hospital. Upon his arriving home, things took an ominous turn. Chris recalls: “We carried Wyndham into the house and tucked him into bed. Not 45 minutes later he woke up and began bleeding heavily again. We were devastated! We prayed to God that he would help us cope with the situation in the right way.”
Within 30 minutes Wyndham was back in the same hospital, in the same room, with the same doctor attending him. His hemoglobin count had dropped to 2.5. By that evening Wyndham was put on oxygen, since he was finding it difficult to breathe. The struggle for life was still continuing the following day when a most encouraging visit took place. “Our district overseer, Sarel, and his wife, Maryann, came to see Wyndham,” Judy explains. “Sarel stood by Wyndham’s bed and, holding his hand, offered a heartfelt prayer to Jehovah. We felt strengthened after his visit.”
Throughout the crisis the Christian congregation provided practical assistance. There was a congregation roster of those who would supply food not only for the Cook family but also for the other Witnesses on shift with them. Youngsters cleaned the house, fed the dog, put lights on, and so forth. They did all the little things the family didn’t have time to think about. Support and encouragement from fellow Christians at a time like this should never be underestimated.
The doctors decided again that, aside from giving blood, there was nothing more they could do for Wyndham. So, while still on oxygen and with a blood count of under 2, he was sent home.
The drug erythropoietin, a synthetic form of a hormone that stimulates the bone marrow to produce red blood cells at an accelerated rate, was recommended to build up Wyndham’s blood count.a This therapy is not registered in South Africa, but a waiver was signed and the drug was administered by the family doctor. Over a period of three weeks, Wyndham’s blood count rose to 6.2, and within six weeks it was 11.5. Two months later, Wyndham was strong enough to spend a month with his family engaging in public preaching as an auxiliary pioneer.
One of the fine results of Wyndham’s close encounter with death was the effect that it had on other young ones in the congregation. Judy observes: “I think it came home to them that they could be called on to take a similar stand on short notice. They were at the hospital, involved with the whole ordeal, and I think the message got through to them, ‘Are we taking the truth seriously?’”
Since this episode, Wyndham has successfully endured two other bleeding incidents. Wyndham realizes that he may suffer another setback at any time. But whatever happens in the future, Wyndham Cook keenly anticipates the time when Jehovah God will ultimately reward him with perfect health in the coming Paradise on earth. In the meantime, Wyndham is firmly resolved to keep on living in accord with Bible principles.b
b As this magazine was going to press, Wyndham died after suffering another bleeding incident.
[Picture on page 15]
Wyndham and his parents