A Chaplain’s Miraculous Recovery
In December of 2004,
Army Chaplain Jeff Jay (M.Div. 2000) faced the
most difficult trial of his life. His story is
one of amazing hope.
During the few months I was in Iraq, I’d
been shot at and witnessed mortar attacks
and car bombings. I had gotten used to sleeping
through distant explosions.
When traveling through Iraq, it was much safer
to fly than to drive. On the evening of December
29, 2004, we boarded a plane and took off—the
engines laboring to speed us beyond the range of
small arms fire and mortars. The flight would be
short, just 30 to 45 minutes. I must have fallen
Two weeks later I woke up in a military hospital
in Germany. To this day, and perhaps this is a
blessing, I have no memory of those intervening
I learned that the plane had landed on a damaged
runway, skidding across a massive hole in the pavement
and shearing off the underbelly of the plane. I
was found 12 feet from the plane severely injured.
Doctors didn’t expect me to survive the day.
The list of my injuries was five pages long, single
The right side of my skull was crushed. An object
had penetrated the left side and blood gushed from
the wound. The sounds of the exploding engines
had ruptured both eardrums. Lacerations covered
my head and face. My nose was broken and my left
eye badly damaged. Several ribs were broken and
my liver was punctured. They said I had extreme
traumatic brain injuries and offered no hope of
five days, doctors tried to stabilize me at an
Army hospital in Germany. They asked my wife to
prepare to fly over to be with me in case their
efforts failed. Amazingly, they didn’t fail,
and they sent me on to Walter Reed Army Medical
Center in D.C.
When my wife of 14 years, Lisa, and oldest daughter,
Kourtney, arrived at the ICU, they didn’t
recognize my unconscious body. After verifying
it was me, all they had energy to do was to sit
down and cry.
Some time later, Lisa touched me gently on the
shoulder. My swollen eyes opened slightly and I
smiled. For the next several hours, Lisa and Kourtney
talked excitedly with sporadic responses from me
as I slipped in and out of consciousness.
It dawned on Lisa that I had not said her name
since she had awakened me. She asked me to look
at her, “Do you know who I am?”
I responded, “Charlie Brown.” Lisa
and Kourtney laughed for the first time since the
accident. Lisa asked again. “Rumplestiltskin.” Only
Lisa began to wonder how much of me she was going
to get back, “Jeff, I really need to know
if you know who I am?”
must have realized my comedic timing was in poor
taste, because I finally responded, “Lisa.”
Seven days after the crash, I began my full recovery.
The head trauma had knocked out my short-term memory.
I remembered everything from the distant past,
but not the color of the plastic cone the therapist
had just put behind his back. The hospital staff
told us they were recommending medical retirement
based on the extent of my injuries and memory loss.
I fought the recommendation and was sent home,
to be evaluated again after three months.
At home I discovered the true extent of my brain
injury. It negated my emotions, sense of smell
and taste, craving for food and messed up my vision.
I started speech and physical therapy.
Three months later, back at Walter Reed, they
planned five days of tests to determine the status
of my mind. At the end of the first day the head
neurologist said, “Captain Jay, we are so
sorry…” The doctor was smiling at
me. He said again, “We are so sorry to have
wasted your time. Though you aren’t through
the woods yet, you have made it much further than
we expected. See these three people tomorrow and
go home.” I was stunned. “Just don’t
go jumping from airplanes or deploying to combat
for a while.”
healing and recovery continued for 14 months. I
had spent the past year trying to get back to what
I was without realizing that I had become someone
else—I was a different person because of
the experience God had entrusted to me. God wants
to use this story to inspire many more people.
Now, I just want to be faithful to tell the story
of God’s amazing power to heal and preserve.
Praise the Lord!
Chaplain Jay was deployed to Iraq for a second
tour in September 2006.
This story appeared in the Winter
2007 Rapport Magazine.
Monday, April 5, 2010 11:40 AM