NORTHPORT, Ala. (BP) — Angela Howell once said that when she got better, she wanted to tell others of the wonder of God’s work.
That time would eventually come.
Following an uphill recovery that entailed relearning how to walk, speak, read and write after a life-threatening medical scare, Howell has since had opportunities to share her testimony at several churches in her home state of Alabama. It’s a testimony that includes, among other things, a “miracle baby.”
It all started one October day in 2007 that began just like any other for Howell at her job in Tuscaloosa’s DCH Medical Tower. She planned to meet her husband Billy and their daughters Meagan and Hannah Grace — both out of school on a fall break — for lunch that afternoon.
It wasn’t yet noon, and she sat down for a moment to rest her chin in her hand. It was at that moment that her hand went limp. When she tried to stand up and walk, her legs went limp as well. “My balance was really disoriented,” she recalled. The doctor Howell worked for at the time spotted her struggling, and she was whisked off for an MRI.
It was determined Angela Howell had experienced an acute ischemic stroke. A large blood clot was preventing blood flow to her brain.
“I was very, very scared,” she said. “The only thing I knew to do was to cling to Jesus and pray, and that’s what I did.”
She is able to recall those initial memories and she remembers the later weeks of rehabilitation. But she doesn’t remember much from “the middle” of her unexpected medical struggle, like the several-week hospital stay in Birmingham after being airlifted there from Tuscaloosa.
Once in Birmingham, Howell underwent surgery to remove the clot, a procedure that doctors explained to the family was not without risks.
Another scare occurred when, a day and a half later while in a neurological intensive care room, she experienced a severe brain bleed that caused her brain to swell. Doctors again worked to preserve her life by performing additional surgery, and prayers ensued from people across the state who had been alerted to her situation.
Cecelia Sanford, Howell’s mother, said, “The hospital waiting room … was just full of people hand in hand praying and asking God to let us keep her because she’s such a sweet, loving personality — always had been.”
Howell remained in surgical intensive care for about two weeks and was then moved to another recovery area for several more.
Her father, retired Alabama Baptist pastor Roy Sanford, said according to one of the family’s radiologist friends, she should not have lived through the ordeal. Another doctor friend said out of all his years in the medical field, he had only seen two times where one could absolutely say it was nothing but a miracle, and Angela Howell’s case was one of them. “It was God working all the way through it,” Roy Sanford said.
After a six-week stint of rehabilitation where Howell spent about eight hours a day in various therapies, she finally returned home. Paralyzed on her left side from the stroke, she began in-home therapy. “The doctor said it would be a miracle for me to walk again,” she said.
Billy Howell remembers the day his wife returned home in a wheelchair. “We sat on the couch and just talked, and I found out how much determination she had,” he recounted. And as a result of that determination, he added, 25 days later she was making tremendous improvements by taking small steps.
And there would be yet another miraculous element to his wife’s story — at the time of her stroke, she was 12 weeks pregnant with their third child.
Before her stint in rehabilitation, doctors presented Howell with the option to terminate the pregnancy based on potential issues both she and the baby could face. The prognosis was that the baby would be born with multiple handicaps and a pregnancy would make recovery difficult on her own body.
But she said she knew that God had a plan for her baby. Without the ability to speak due to her paralysis when the option to abort was presented, Howell instead gave her answer to the doctor in sign language, a method of communication she had learned prior to her stroke. “I [answered], ‘No way. The Lord gives me this baby. He has a plan for her. He will take care of her,'” she said. “[And] He did take care of her. She was born just perfect and she is such a blessing to us.”
Laci Belle Howell was born April 8, 2008. About 30 people — friends, family and church members — were at the hospital with the family that day.
Now almost 5 years old, sweet and playful Laci Howell is lovingly known as a “miracle baby” to her family.
When Angela Howell reflects on these past few years, she is quick to acknowledge the countless people who prayed tirelessly for her recovery. “I think that on behalf of their prayers, God listened and heard the prayers of His children and He decided to do a miracle,” she said.
At the time of her stroke, the Howells attended Lord of the Harvest Baptist Church in Northport, Ala. (now Harvest Church). “They were prayer warriors,” Howell said of her former church. Now members of Lakewood Baptist Church in Northport, the Howells continue to rely on a supportive church family.
Dan Williams, pastor of Harvest Church, recalled the faith the Howells demonstrated during that time despite the many unknowns and potential complications of Angela’s pregnancy. “They were committed to life with all the risks … that [the decision] potentially brought with it,” Williams said, adding it was one of the greatest acts of faith he has seen in his 25 years of ministry.
He also personally observed Howell’s outlook that God be glorified through her journey despite the obstacles she faced. One example of this, Williams said, was how she openly shared her faith with others shortly after her stroke.
Billy Howell was equally inspired by his wife’s heart to witness to others. “(Before she could begin to speak again) she was using sign language to … witness to nurses” in the hospital, he said. “She would witness to any hospital employee who would come in [her room] — that’s just mind-blowing to me.”
In the years following her stroke and the birth of daughter Laci, Angela Howell has boldly shared her story at churches including First Baptist in Tuscaloosa, where her parents attend and her father is a deacon.
“Of course I don’t like all the disabilities that I have,” she said softly as she reflected on her journey. “But the thing that I do like is that I have learned 100 percent how to truly rely on God’s strength to make it through each day.”
Julie Payne is a news writer for The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention, where this article first appeared.