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BEDSIDE ANGUISH TURNS TO HOPE

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To a bishop, late Sunday night telephone calls are not unusual, so when the phone rang at that time last March 11, Bishop J. Larry Ford of the Ogden 20th Ward thought a ward member was calling.

But this call was from a bishop in the Florida panhandle where their son Jim was visiting a friend.Bishop Doyle R. Reeves told them that a car and then a pickup struck their son Jim as he crossed a highway near Destin, Fla. Jim suffered severe head injuries and lay in a coma, said Bishop Reeves. He told Bishop Ford doctors offered no encouragement for Jim's survival.

The Fords immediately reached out to notify others. "It was a most lonely feeling for a minute," Bishop Ford recalled.

Then, he called his stake president, Mark L. Johnson, who immediately came with the previous bishop and gave Bishop Ford and his wife, Doris, a blessing.

In a few minutes, Bishop Ford's counselors arrived. Through a hastily organized telephone chain, ward members were notified of a special ward fast to begin Monday and culminate with a gathering and prayer Monday evening.

The next morning Sister Ford left on a flight to Pensacola, Fla. Her flight was met by Bishop Dennis R. Earl of the Pensacola 3rd Ward, and she stayed with the Earl family.

When she saw Jim, he was still in a coma. Days passed without his condition changing. All she could do was wait.

"I could see him for two hours, and then I had seven and a half hours to sit and wonder if he would live or die," she recalled. "I found myself talking to Heavenly Father more than I had ever done before. Under these circumstances, you get closer to Heavenly Father - there is a different way you talk to Him, as a friend, as a person right next to you at night. I remember staying awake at night and looking up at the ceiling and talking to Him.

"The first couple of days were the hardest. The Spirit helped me get through. They had a little prayer room where I would go in and cry for a while. The Spirit was there, and I'd have the strength to face another day.

"I was stressed out on about the fifth day. I stormed in where the doctors were and demanded them to tell me if Jim was going to live or die. I wanted to know if he was breathing alone. They still didn't tell me, but they did call the psychiatrist."

In the 20th Ward in Ogden, members rallied to their bishop offering food and comfort. "The phone didn't stop ringing as people called to find out how everything was," he said. "So many people were concerned."

Still he faced trials. This was another blow to a new bishop who, just two months earlier, had attended the funeral of their foster Indian son.

During the day, the self-employed contractor would try to work at his shop. After an hour or two, he would go back home to check his answering machine. Finding no news, then he would return to work for another couple of hours.

Later in the week the ward held a party to cheer him up. During the party, the assistant ward clerk for membership suffered a fatal heart attack.

"I almost thought the Lord had forsaken me," said Bishop Ford. "This was my first funeral. But the next day, my first granddaughter was born. That gave me the strength to go on.

"We still had problems in the ward - a tremendous amount of personal problems. I found out that each person's problems were as serious to them as mine were to me. This thing made me stronger as a new bishop. Now, I can read their thoughts and feelings inside. It has really given me an opportunity to counsel with them better."

The news they waited on came after a week or so. Sister Ford was holding her son's hand one day when she felt him squeeze her hand. Then he coughed and his whole body moved. "I knew then that he would live and that he wasn't paralyzed," she said. Her husband received spiritual confirmation about the same time.

A week or so later she returned to Utah. After another month - about the first of May - Jim came on a special medical flight to the McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden. There he was laboriously re-taught to chew his food, how to swallow, and later to crawl and walk.

He was particularly fond of his teacher-nurse Ellen Butcher. His progress in recovering, she said, is beyond their initial expectations.

Today, Jim uses a walker. He's regained some of his memory and mental abilities. "The hospital people are wonderful," said Sister Ford. "They are really unbelievable."

He also has a closer relationship with his mother and with the Church.

Many trials remain. "We still have adversity, and every day is a challenge," she said. "But when one is feeling low, the other is feeling strong, and we lift each other. And the members around us offer continual love and concern.

"We grow in experience, self-assurance and faith," said Sister Ford. "Each trial has made me stronger."