The North Bend Eagle


Rauses have seen, felt the miracle of Christmas

by Mary Le Arneal
Published 6/6/06

Joe Raus and his family will always remember the date 12-12-12. Not because it is catchy, but because of all the angels who gathered that day to deliver a miracle to Joe and his family.

It was a normal December day. Joe talked that morning to his wife, Jackie, who had stayed in Omaha for work. They talked about the date and the weather.

“It’s going to be a great day,” Jackie said. Little did she know.

Joe, 73, was going hunting with four friends in the woods near his home. Adam Emanuel was there getting the duck decoys ready. Duane Glather from Fremont arrived and started the coffee. Raus was near the blind, setting up goose decoys. At 7:12 a.m., a tremendous pain in his groin area came out of nowhere. Raus doubled over and hit the ground immediately. Jerry Zelazny arrived followed by Marlyn Eckerson, finding Raus bent over with pain.

“Are you all right?” Zelazny asked.

“I think so,” Raus replied. “Get me into the blind and let me catch my breath.”

But it didn’t get any better. The pain continued. “Like two trains meeting head on and I’m trying to stop them both,” Raus recalled.

Glather suggested he get the hospital. Raus refused, thinking he needed to rest a little bit and the pain would pass. He couldn’t get comfortable and might have passed out.

The next thing he knew, his van was next to the blind and he was helped into it. With Zelazny driving, Raus gave him his phone after he punched in Jackie’s phone number. Zelazny updated her and she met them at the Fremont hospital.

At the emergency room Zelazny went to get help, while he was gone Raus started vomiting. Raus was going in and out of conscientious as they wheeled him into the ER. Raus’ blood pressure was 25/20. They took him to CT scan. All Raus remembers is someone saying, “We can’t do anything for him here.”

As Raus was being prepared to be taken to Omaha Jackie arrived. “You aren’t a widow yet,” Raus remembers telling her, “but I’m working on it.”

Jackie smiled back.

The clock read 10:10 a.m.

During the helicopter ride Raus kept passing out. He remembered being cold. He was taken to University of Nebraska Medical Center. Jackie had called their daughter Rebecca Begley in Omaha. She was at the hospital when her dad arrived. Jackie was told to wait for the helicopter to take off before she left. She drove herself to the hospital, arriving after Joe was in surgery.

“You go into automatic pilot,” Jackie said. “I made the calls I needed to make and then drove to Omaha like I always do.”

Raus was met by Dr. Jason Johanning, Chief of Staff Cardio Vascular Surgery at the VA Hospital working out of the Med Center.

“We’re going to take care of you Joe,” Johanning said.

Another unexpected angel stepped in. They had just finished a similar surgery so the team was already assembled.

Glather’s daughter, Courtney Thompson, an R.N. at the Med Center, had been called by her dad and was there when Raus arrived.

Around noon, Raus was in surgery. It took about six hours to repair the ruptured aortic aneurysm. The main blood vessel that carries blood from his heart to the rest of his body had burst.

Because his veins had collapsed and he had a muscular injection of the blood initially, the breathing tube was left in his mouth even when he was awake. The tube was his biggest complaint after surgery. He was still in and out of conscientiousness. The Rev. Donald Shane, a family friend, was there and gave him last rites.

The tube was taken out and he was out of intensive care early the next morning.

Later that morning the cardiac team came in to see him. By then Raus was fully awake.

“Do you know how lucky you are?” Johanning asked him. “Well, pretty lucky because I’m alive,” Raus responded. “I never thought I was going to die, never, ever. And if I did die, so be it, I was ready.”

The doctor went on to explain that the rupture had left his abdomen was swollen with all of his blood that had spilled out of his aorta. The doctor said this would dissipate over time. In all he received 12 units of replacement blood.

“You could have died,” Johanning said. “You’re the one-tenth of one percent of people who live with this.”

The doctor went on to explain that normally when a weakness in the aorta is seen, it is operated on when it is six centimeters long so it doesn’t rupture. Most uncaught aneurysms that rupture are nine centimeters long.

“You set the record right now,” Johanning said. “Yours was 13 centimeters long.”

He asked if Raus had felt any pain prior to the major episode the 12th. Raus said he had felt weakness and fatigue all fall, but no pain until “the two freight trains met head on.”

“You’re a very lucky person,” Johanning repeated.

Five days later Raus was released from the hospital. Johanning scheduled him for another CT scan the end of December. On Jan. 4, his brother Leo’s birthday, he had the stent moved over a few centimeters, a placement more to Johannings liking. This was an outpatient procedure.

For the first year Raus went back for CT scans every three months, now he is down to yearly CT scans.

“All of (Johanning’s) nurses look at me and say, ‘You shouldn’t be here you know.’”

Raus asked what could have gone wrong. He was told he could have lost his kidney function, been unable to walk, lost his vision, his hearing, his memory, or he could have died.

Raus has gone over the experience many times in his mind, but never shared the complete story before.

“What, why.... we just have to say it was meant to be,” he said.

Raus is thankful for the four angels: his hunting companions who were with him Dec. 12 and made it possible for him to get the help he needed. Other angels included the doctor and staff all ready assembled.

Though it has been three years since this happened, Raus still has questions of why.

“Why did everything work out?” he asked. “Everything that could have gone wrong, didn’t. It all just fell together. It just blows my mind.”

Daughters Rebecca Beagley of Omaha; Elizabeth Wess and Barbara Raus from South Dakota; and Deb Murphy from Ohio gathered for a very special celebration that year.

Raus is unable to explain how the experience changed him and his outlook.

“Umpteen people have asked me that,” Raus said. “How do I feel about life? I love it. But I think the alternative is going to be wonderful too. My outlook on life hasn’t changed. I wonder if it wasn’t... I had to be alive for Elizabeth’s daughter who came premature so I could see her. I had to be alive for Barbara’s wedding. And I had to be alive for the birth of her son. That’s three good reasons right there, but I don’t think that’s it. The pinnacle, I don’t know where it’s at or what it is and I’m not trying to find it. Whether it’s somebody I’m suppose to apologize to in this world, somebody I’m suppose to help out. I have no clue what God has for me.”

His faith remains strong after feeling that God carried him through that difficult time.

The only change he has made in his life is that he now grows a 9/11 beard to remind himself to remember the event. He leaves the beard until May 18.

Christmas has always been special to Raus, and remains so now, more special because of the grandchildren. They have a cross stitch poem in the home titled “Living.” It reads, “We do not know how long we have till time for us is past. So let us live as if this day is going to be our last.”

“Life is more meaningful to us,” Jackie said. “You take each day as a gift. The whole family enjoys the beauty of nature, the gift of life, more.”

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