An older gentleman and his granddaughter: stories of survival

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by Lauree Stroud Purcell

©Pinwheel Collective

In the fall of 2014, while running in the annual 5K race at the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale (Rockingham County Fairgrounds), Irvin Weaver of rural Linville, Va., had a heart attack. The doctors said he died for 18 minutes.

He was nearing the finish line when two small blood clots caused a big problem. Luckily, he was running near two nursing students from Eastern Mennonite University who had just taken a CPR course the week before. A doctor and ambulance were nearby, but Irvin describes the trauma as “a beautiful experience.”

“I have no memory of falling down, but I had a sense that I was waiting to see somebody—waiting to be ushered into heaven,” he says now. “There was a bright appearance and the feeling was so great. I was waiting for something better—kind of expecting to see Jesus. I had no fear, just a beautiful peace free from worry.”

But Irvin says he heard people calling him back to the present. “As they transferred my body out of the ambulance and into intensive care, I heard them asking me my name. It was an abrupt interruption, but I was kind of glad to come back,” he admits.

Irvin has been very strong ever since, walks a couple of miles every day, and golfs two to three times each week. Irving also maintains the lawns, hedges, garden and trees around his home. He has always been active and ran about 100 miles a month for quite a few years—he ran three to four times a week. He competed in 10K races from his 30s to his 70s and has been careful with his diet. “I have always kept large gardens so I’m used to eating lots of fresh vegetables and not a lot of sweets and candies,” Irvin explained. He’s thankful for his second lease on life.

This past fall, Irvin and his 12-year-old granddaughter Kate Weaver decided to do something together to celebrate their opportunity to be healthy and strong. Ten years ago when Kate was just 2, she had a fight for her own life. So grandfather and granddaughter registered to walk in the same 5K Relief Sale race that almost took Irvin’s life two years ago.

“I wanted to hang out with my grandpa to just walk and stay with him because of the last time when he had a heart attack in that race.”

“I don’t like to run, but I will walk with people so I can talk with them,” said Kate. “I wanted to hang out with my grandpa to just walk and stay with him because of the last time when he had a heart attack in that race.”

“We left at 5 a.m. that morning because the race started at 7,” said 87-year old Irvin.  “We had some coffee and a donut, and then we started out and had a nice brisk walk. Then Kate got excited, and we ran a little bit. She danced around and had a good time. I used to run a lot when I was younger, so it was fun.”

One of Kate’s favorite pastimes is dancing and singing with her friends Nora, Leena and Madelaine. Her sisters Sophie and Chloe and brother Luke also mean the world to her. Kate’s parents are Andrea and Dean Weaver.

Kate Weaver

Kate Weaver at the age of 2 underwent treatment for a brain tumor. Photo provided

Although Kate is perfectly healthy now, Andrea and Dean helped her through her own scary time when she had a cancerous brain tumor and underwent two surgeries at the UVA Neuro-Oncology Center in Charlottesville. Then she received chemotherapy at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Kate said the doctors there are “awesome,” and she has happy memories of her monthly visits back to where she changed into hospital clothes, fuzzy socks, snuggled under warm blankets, was given a flavored breathing mask, and got to wear movie glasses as she was rolled to the x-ray room.

Through Kate’s Illness
by Dean Weaver, Kate’s father
It was an awful, remarkable time.
It’s like a fog; hazy looking back, hazy looking forward;
A person tends to look more at what’s through the fog, just out of focus, trying to determine what it is.
I looked intently searching for healing but could not find that form through the mist.
What I found, or rather discovered, was that I had faith and with faith, hope.
Hope was my salvation and without a beacon of faith I would not have found it.
It was not somewhere just out of focus but within.
I found hope and with it healing, it was all around me.
It was an awful, remarkable time.
It’s like a fog; hazy looking back, hazy looking forward, clear within.

Kate is now a seventh grader at J. Frank Hillyard Middle School in Broadway. Besides playing the clarinet in band and taking gymnastics lessons, Kate enjoys speaking to hundreds of people at church, school, and various Relay for Life events to help listeners feel better about themselves and inspire them to help find a cure for cancer.

Since Irvin and her grandmother, Katherine (Kitty) Weaver live right behind Kate, she often drops by to say hello and visit with them. Irvin explains, “Kate comes over a couple times each day. On Saturdays and Sundays, she comes over before we’re up, and whenever she leaves, she says, ‘Goodbye, I love you!’ She’s a great social person and loves people.”

Irvin and Kitty raised four boys and four girls. Kate’s father, Dean, is the next to the youngest. A lot of times on Sunday evenings, Irvin, Kitty, Dean, Andrea and all the kids get together for pizza. They talk, watch sports and enjoy solving Sudoku puzzles, working on adult coloring books, and playing board games together. Irvin and Kitty have a total of 13 grandchildren. All of the extended family celebrated Christmas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., at the home of one of Irvin’s daughters. Irvin and his family have been attending Lindale Mennonite Church for the past ten years, and Irvin enjoys serving as a congregational chairperson there.

Before Irvin retired, he worked a number of years as director of Home Ministries for the entire Mennonite Church USA, working out of headquarters in Elkhart, Ind. But he traveled frequently to Harrisonburg because of a branch office here for then Mennonite Media, in the same building as Valley Living’s office now. He and Kitty loved the idea of retiring here.

Irvin is grateful he was given more time to do all the things he loves to do here and understands in a way he never could have before how precious each day is. The family is thankful for Irvin’s and Kate’s recovery and for the adventures that lay ahead, on this side and beyond.

LAUREE STROUD PURCELL serves as an editorial consultant for Living. She and her husband Steve have two daughters.

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