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A pastor’s journey: Heart trauma leads through AdventHealth ER and into a full life with a new heart

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Pastor Mark Berney has a new heart filled with grace and gratitude.

It’s been more than two years since his collapse in front of the church congregation, yet the memories are as fresh as ever for Mark Berney.

“Two years ago – March 15, 2020 – I had a major cardiac event while preaching at Sunday morning service,” said Berney, pastor of River of Life Assembly of God church in Merritt Island, Fla. “That led me to the AdventHealth ER and an eventual heart transplant. By God’s grace I’m here to tell you about it today.”

With a long history of heart issues, Berney nearly died on the spot that Sunday morning surrounded by members of his church congregation. A defibrillator and prayers of the faithful helped keep him alive. His wife, Becky, was there and she remains close by his side. Despite the chaos of that day, the Berneys credit prayers and divine intervention for bringing him to the place he needed to be to get healthy again – the emergency room at AdventHealth Orlando.

Berney’s story is an example of how the ER serves as a lifesaving gateway for advanced medical care at AdventHealth.

“The paramedic brought me to the nearest emergency room, not an AdventHealth facility, but the situation was serious enough for me to be sent to AdventHealth Orlando,” Berney said. “I went in on a gurney and there was a feeling of grace amid all the commotion. After determining I would need a heart transplant to survive, I left the hospital 39 days later with a new heart, praise God.”

The Berneys acknowledge the peace they experienced upon arrival at the AdventHealth Orlando ER, and the comforting care they received from team members during a very tense time. Becky Berney found comfort in the scripture passages that flashed on computer screens throughout the ER and welcomed the twice daily prayer sessions with AdventHealth team members asking God to light the way for her husband’s recovery. Pastor Berney noticed it, too.

“With the heart journey I’ve been on, I’ve had a chance to be at a few ERs other than AdventHealth,” Berney said. “I would sure say there is a difference at AdventHealth. In that atmosphere with great medical professionals there is a combination of faith, medicine and science. The care I was given and the positive attitude toward my faith was very comforting at a very disconcerting time.”

Dr. Nirav Rival, transplant cardiologist at AdventHealth Transplant Institute, recalls the exquisite timing of Berney’s arrival in the ER and subsequent selection as a heart recipient.

“Pastor Berney benefitted from medical science and divine intervention intervening on his behalf,” said Rival. “He could have, frankly, died right then and there if he did not have a defibrillator. The bad rhythms that popped up were his heart saying, ‘I’m done. I need to be replaced.’ We were able to find a transplant for him, despite this happening at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown period. His timing was good.”

Following the heart transplant, Berney had some complications, and returned several times to AdventHealth for regular cardiac checks and continued care. Each time he arrived for treatment, even during a 10-day bout with COVID-19, the pastor experienced what he calls a “gift of healing” that comes from a special place.

“Regardless of the faith of the physicians or nurses, they were operating in accordance with the character of the creator, our Living God,” Berney said. “From the ER to the transplant team, they were partnering with Him and bringing life and quality health to someone else. It’s an entire team of caregivers in the AdventHealth ER. That’s what I felt when I entered the doors, and it’s what I still feel today.”

Now more than two years after the near-death experience at his church, Berney looks forward to something he has missed dearly.

“Absolutely, I’m excited. The doctors released me to go scuba diving again,” Berney said. “I used to be a diver and that’s something I never thought I’d be able to do again. I have nothing but gratitude for the team at AdventHealth – from the ER doctors and nurses to the transplant surgeons and support staff. It’s comforting to be connected to such a life source in our community.”

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