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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19 Comments on “Dead for 78 Minutes

    • Yes, absolutely.

      I read a paper last night which drew on a number of sources and demonstrated mixed results. The ultimate problem with testing prayer by the experimental method is that it assumes that there is a determinable observable outcome (healing / change etc) to a fixed input (getting down on your knees enough). The reality is that prayer is an interpersonal relationship with a transcendent God who acts in line with His will, not ours. In some sense true prayer is about aligning the individual’s will with that of God’s – petitionary prayer is just one aspect of that process.

  1. “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.”

    Well it proves one thing; to get that peak in tweets you have to be a very popular, young football player. Jesus’s messages to people he cured or helped were often to loan outsiders like the Samaritan woman at the well or the gentile centurion who probably had no one praying for them.

  2. I’ve also been fascinated by the massive outpouring of prayer for Fabrice Muamba in the UK, which many commentators often describe as a ‘post-Christian culture’. Two points:

    1. Surveys seem to show that while participation in organised Christianity has fallen in the UK the proportion of people defining themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious’ has risen. There doesn’t seem to be any significant increase in the proportion of people self-identifying as atheists. So in any crisis the response of most people is still to either pray or to value prayer. I’ve found this is true in South Africa as well where I’ve found that friends who have been quite hostile to Christianity are quite happy to be prayed for in a personal crisis. People may not believe in a personal God, but they’re still searching …
    2. It seems clear that people have been ‘hoping for a miracle’ and have been using that language, just as did the doctor reported here. Clearly people hope and express that hope in many different ways and understandings. But that’s not really the important point. The Bible tells us that as we come near to God he will come near to us. He doesn’t wait (thankfully) for a perfect understanding of prayer and faith. I wouldn’t be surprised if quite a few people start to think more seriously about God as a result of Fabrice Muamba’s experience.

  3. It was announced today that Fabrice Muamba, only 24, is having to retire from professional football on medical advice. He is obviously distraught. Would it be provocative to wonder if all those (including your good self, and the lying nutters of The ”Christian” Institute) who got sermons, blog posts etc out of the original tragedy and supposed miracle will have some follow up thoughts? Far be it from me to have a pop at the always-relevant evangelical mindset, but one of its downsides is that it can lead to a tabloid newspaper style focus on the Next Big Thing. Were perhaps some people a bit overhasty to make capital of the original incident? One can look at the celebrations after Brazil won the 2002 World Cup, say, as an instance of spontaneous prayer to God. But retweeting a hashtag is not the same thing as actual prayer.

    • How is praising God for saving someone’s life after so much prayer a bad thing?
      I see no problem with this. He obviously has a cardiac condition which prevents him from continuing his current career. He will find a new one. Perhaps this is even part of God’s plan, using that which the world sees as “failure” to achieve his purposes.

      • That’s begging the question. Templeton showed conclusively that petitionary prayer doesn’t work, however much you try to slice it. As for God’s plan – ah, that’s anybody’s guess. Is his heart condition, that may shorten his life ( do we know whether it was a consequence of what happened to him on the field or entirely unconnected?) still part of God’s plan? There are horrible things, genetic diseases like Huntington’s Chorea, are they part of God’s plan?

        • Not sure God intends harm to his Elect but he permits harm to occur to use it for his purposes in order to demonstrate his victory over sin and the consequences of sin.

          So to use a very personal example, did God purpose my son to die? No. But did he permit it to occur in order that we might glorify him through our response to those events and in doing so He would demonstrate his power and victory over sin and it’s consequences in the world (death)? Absolutely.

                • I guess I was hypothetically responding to the idea he *might* intend harm to the Elect. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t intend harm to the Elect!

                  Harm to the non-Elect? Certainly it’s very clear he is a God of judgement. But as Jesus says,

                  “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell.” (Luke 12:4-5)

      • The point I was making is that Twitter RTs and hashtags are not prayer. The story was spun as a happy ending – someone could have died and God saved them. As Orson Welles pointed out, a happy ending depends on where you decide to stop the story. I think Muamba’s retirement indicates that some people were a dad premature.

        • People long for miracles, don’t they, even if they don’t face up to the issues that a true miracle would raise, such as why this baby was saved and not Peter’s son, or whether the laws of physics can be suspended/overturned or is there something else missing in the account which would provide a naturalistic interpretation. I can see faith (at various levels from the quasi-superstitous media response to the Fabrice story right thought to the deepest faith in a given religion provides one with meaning for the mystery of life but it still raises as many questions as it answers, to my mind.

      • if something is being posited as a ‘miracle’ – i.e. divine intervention by an Onipotent Being – then it’s reasonable to wonder why the Almighty couldn’t fix the underlying cardiac problem while He was intervening so.

        • oh, I see. I thought you were objecting to praying for the sick on principle. I can’t really answer that question. I don’t have enough medical knowledge to know whether his survival could be classified as a miracle in the first place. I also don’t know why God wouldn’t heal him completely of cardiac illness. I’m just glad for him and his family that he’s still alive, and I hope he can find fulfillment in another role in life.

            • miracle in the sense of “extreme unlikelihood to the point of appearing to defy normal rules of being” or (in this instance) “Divine Intervention spurred by RTs and hash tags”. They’re not exactly synonymous!

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