Dead for 78 Minutes

What’s the longest you can survive without your heart beating by itself?

As more and more facts emerge from Saturday evening’s events, the only word that can be used to accurately describe Francis Muamba’s treatment and recovery is miraculous. Muamba was in ventricular fibrillation for almost 80 minutes, a condition of arrhythmia which normally descends into “flat-lining” very quickly. Instead, constant CPR for over one hour managed to keep his heart going long enough for defibrillation to stabilise Muamba’s heart beat.

Dr Andrew Deaner, Consultant Cardiologist at London Chest Hospital happened to be in the crowd that evening and he rushed onto the field to help as soon as he saw that CPR was being used on Muamba. His story here on the BBC website is fascinating.

Reporter – How unlikely is it that a patient who goes 80 minutes without their heart beating to recover to the extent that he has?

Dr Deaner – It’s very unusual … but all his blood vessels were already dilated, all his muscles has just performed to their absolute optimum and maybe that protected him … something had happened that meant that he survived.

Was that “something” just the peak physical state that Muamba was in, or was it more? Within minutes of Muamba collapsing the #prayformuamba meme launched itself on Twitter, quickly rising to feature in over 1% of all tweets that evening as this chart show (click on the chart to enlarge).

The trend peaked between 7pm and 8pm, the exact time that Muamba’s heart finally responded and stabilised its rhythm and then faded away again despite the fact that there was no news released by the hospital OR Bolton Wanderers until 9.30pm, two hours later. Make of that what you will.

Jamie Cutteridge wrote an interesting piece on the Christianity Magazine blog two days ago on whether this prayer was just a social cohesion exercise or whether the bonds on cyberspace were being formed not just horizontally but also vertically.

Former Bolton teammate Gary Cahill, a player with no professed faith, celebrated his goal for Chelsea by displaying a ‘Pray for Muamba’ T-shirt. In an extraordinary gesture, the Real Madrid team warmed up for Sunday evening’s game in similar tops. This morning’s newspapers feature tweets from Muamba’s fiancée stating that ‘God is in control,’ while Bolton’s manager Owen Coyle, himself a Christian, hailed the power of prayer, saying it has been ‘A real source of strength for the family’.

It would be insensitive and inaccurate for us to proclaim this weekend as a ‘victory’ for Christianity. Muamba’s life remains in danger and he still might die. Many of the pleas for prayer were not directed at a Judeo-Christian power, but rather at some unnamed deity.

But it does tell us something about prayer and its place in wider society. Perhaps all we learn is that in moments of desperation people are willing to cling on to whatever form of hope they can find. That people see prayer as a last resort, the final roll of the dice when the odds are stacked against you.

But I’m not sure this is what was going on here. Much talk this weekend has focused on the community within football, that the game ties fans of all teams together – in this case, to support Muamba. And when we cry out to God, when we pray together, we become part of a wider community, one that ties all of humanity and creation together. In the same way that Muamba’s name on the back of Bolton shirts shows that fans are with him, humanity’s call for prayer in these times cries out that we are not alone in this.

We continue to pray for the recovery of Muamba, we thank God for the skills and quick response of the medical staff and the support of those around them, and believe we have a God who performs miracles. But this weekend showed the other side of prayer.

The real power of prayer here was of support, of community, of knowing that Fabrice Muamba and those close to him are not alone, that they have a world of people around them, loving them – and a God who remains in control, remains loving, and who ties all of those together, even when he feels most absent.

Interesting thoughts. Of course, Jamie wrote his piece before we all learned that Muamba was technically dead for over an hour on Saturday night with the only thing keeping him going being people pumping his chest to the rhythm of the Bee-Gee’s “Staying Alive”. And that’s exactly what Muamba did.

Miracle? Answer to prayer? You decide, but the events of last weekend have put communication with God right back on the popular frontpage. With the CofE promoting their excellent Pray One For Me website, should the next project be “Help Me Pray One For You dot com”?

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