By Betty Brown
My son Aaron was diagnosed with a rare liver disease called sclerosing cholangitis when he was age 18 and on his way to study at Liberty University. In those first few years he managed the disease well, amongst many of life’s milestones. In October of 2019 he married Felicia. On July 31, 2021, he and Felicia welcomed their beautiful son, Ezra James, into the world. Both Aaron and Felicia faithfully served in various ministries at the church my husband, Jim, and I pastored, Open Bible Church in Portland, Oregon. In May of 2022, my husband stepped down as senior pastor, and Aaron was appointed to take the lead.
That same year Aaron’s health suffered a setback. Two episodes of Covid 19 wreaked havoc on his system; his health deteriorated to the point that his liver specialist felt it was time for a transplant. We researched facilities for those that boasted the best outcomes and picked Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Having set up an appointment and making the necessary arrangements, including sending Aaron’s records on ahead, we reserved a spot at a local Airbnb to stay during Aaron’s treatment. We were supposed to leave Thursday, October 6, 2022, which was good because for two weeks prior, Aaron had not been feeling well. Our whole family was worried about him. In fact, his brother Timothy had flown in from Mason, Ohio, to be with him until he left for Mayo.
Unfortunately, that Wednesday, while Aaron was leading worship rehearsal at church, he passed out. Timothy caught him and immediately called 911. Aaron did not want to go to the hospital though; he thought he would be fine. However, a couple of hours later he couldn’t breathe. Timothy took him to the hospital in Portland, where he was diagnosed with sepsis and liver failure. Extremely ill, he was placed in ICU.
Friday was a terrible day. We had been in contact with the doctors at Mayo and the Portland ICU doctors. The doctors from Mayo wanted Aaron flown to Rochester. The ICU doctors told me that Aaron was in complete organ failure, that he would already be gone if it were not for his young age.
That did not set well at all with me. I found myself smiling at the doctors, but on the inside, I was breaking down. They were dismissive of me, treating me as if I were a child. They seemed to be saying, “Your son is dying and there is nothing we can do about it. Just accept it.”
After another dire diagnosis from another doctor, I knew I needed to be alone somewhere. I made my way over to a spot next to a window hidden by dozens of wheelchairs where no one could see me, collapsed onto a stool there, and wept.
God! I cried out. I need your help. I need to get my son out of here or he will die.
Then I called Mayo and pleaded with them to help me get Aaron out of Portland.
Finally, I got in contact with a nurse who listened and assured me that she would talk to the head of the liver transplant department there, and she did. Dr. Leise, the director of hepatology, told the nurse to tell the staff in charge at Portland to call him directly.
I accompanied the Portland doctor when she went to a quiet place to call Mayo. I was thinking, “You do not understand. My son is not going to die here!”
When the doctor made the call, I told the operator at Mayo my son’s name. She asked if he had ever been seen at Mayo and if I had a medical record number. When I replied that he did have a medical number, the local doctor was shocked. She looked at me as if to say, “You have a medical record number?” (She apparently hadn’t believed me when I had told her Aaron had already been accepted at Mayo.)
Finally, the Portland doctor and Dr. Leise talked doctor to doctor. It was a very professional conversation; the emotional mother (me!) had been taken out of the equation. Dr. Leise had already reviewed Aaron’s records and asked the local doctor questions related to Aaron medical status, which she quickly answered.
Throughout our stay in the Portland hospital, the medical staff had warned me that Mayo did not have a bed for Aaron. They said there was a shortage of beds all over the country and Mayo was no different.
However, Dr. Leise said, “We want Aaron Brown life-flighted here to Mayo as soon as he is out of ICU.” When he checked on available beds, he was assured that anytime Aaron arrived he would have a bed. Dr. Leise then asked the local doctor to make all the necessary discharge arrangements for Aaron as soon as possible to get him transferred.
God had given us favor! Our local doctor was helpful and immediately began making the arrangements. The other two doctors who had been so dismissive of me never spoke to us again for the rest of our time there.
Early that Monday morning everything proceeded like clockwork. Aaron and I were taken by ambulance to a small medical plane equipped for all types of emergencies. By now my daughter, April, had flown in from California. She, Felicia, and baby Ezra would fly out on a commercial flight later that same day. Everyone had been fighting these past few weeks to keep Aaron from giving up. Now they gathered to see us off. My dear husband, Jim, was isolated at our home, having contracted COVID himself.
April said the best moment of her life was seeing her brother being placed on a stretcher, wheeled out of the hospital where he had been expected to expire, and lifted into the ambulance.
By the time we had boarded the private plane I was exhausted, but my favorite moment was touching down in Rochester. Watching Aaron, I wondered how we would get him from the airport to the clinic. His breathing was so shallow. But the moment I stepped off the plane, I saw a large ambulance coming toward us emblazoned with the Mayo Clinic emblem on the side.
It sunk in: “Mayo sent a private ambulance to get us!” I thought, “Does anyone else think this is the most amazing miracle that God and God alone could have orchestrated?”
The ambulance driver started telling me about Mayo Clinic. I was amazed by the level of attentiveness they convey. They treat you like there is no other patient except you and your family. When we got to a room, the doctor checked in with us. Everything was wonderful. When I saw a picture of Jesus on the wall in the room, I knew we were where we were meant to be.
The next morning around 8:30, eight doctors walked into the room and surrounded Aaron’s bed. They said, “Mr. Aaron Brown, we have been waiting for you!” It was the most amazing feeling.
Because he could walk, they let Aaron stay with Felicia, Ezra, and me at the Airbnb to prevent Aaron from catching any hospital borne infections. Our schedule filled with appointments, and Aaron immediately started getting better.
We met Dr. Watt, the head hematologist at the clinic. She showed amazing concern and told me, “You need to know I am going to do everything I can to advocate for your son to get a liver as soon as possible. Do not worry about this.”
It is hard to get on the transplant list. People can stay on these lists for months, but Aaron was so sick that he quickly went to the top of the list. Even so, we did not immediately get a call. Since Aaron was so young, they wanted to make sure he received a liver from another young person because they wanted it to last a long time.
Several weeks later, at 5:25 a.m. on Tuesday, December 6, we received the call we had been waiting for; a liver was being flown in. We needed to be at the clinic within the hour. I called everyone I could think of to pray, and that same day Aaron got his new liver. The transplant went well, and after three more weeks we were able to fly back home to Oregon in time for New Year’s Eve.
This whole experience has been such an amazing miracle. Every single week Aaron must have his blood drawn and sent to Mayo. As of the day this testimony was written, January 25, 2023, every single liver enzyme has been normal, and he has gained over twenty pounds!
People should never give up! We went from being instructed in October to prepare for Aaron’s death to being told in December and again in January that his liver enzymes were all headed in the right direction. So many people prayed, and we are grateful for God’s favor. Otherwise, we would still be in Minnesota or at a funeral.
I went to God begging Him to help me. He did!
About the Author
Betty Brown is the wife of Pastor Jim Brown. They have three amazing grown children (Timothy, April, and Aaron) and four absolutely perfect grandkids (Mercy, Grace, Ezra, and Honor). Betty is the executive director of Portland Open Bible Community Pantry and serves in supporting Pastor Aaron and Felicia Brown at Open Bible Church of Portland.