November 11, 2022

After being at the edge of life and death, deacon shares his thanks for God’s gift

Lily Cridge of Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis celebrates finishing first—for the second year in a row—in the Indiana girls’ high school cross-country state championship race on Oct. 29 in Terre Haute. (Submitted photo)

In a moment where joy intersects with innocence, Deacon Bill Reid smiles as he overlooks the preschool children of St. Elizabeth Seton School in Carmel, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese. This scene unfolded at the end of the 2021-22 school year after the preschoolers paraded around the parish church. As part of that event, Deacon Reid prayed for and blessed the children and their parents. (Submitted photo)

(Editor’s note: As Thanksgiving approaches, The Criterion will be featuring stories of gratitude shared by our readers. See related story)

By John Shaughnessy

In the days before his open heart surgery, Deacon Bill Reid gave his funeral plans to his wife.

He also had his parish priest give him the sacrament of the anointing of the sick during a Sunday Mass.

At the same time, the father of four carried with him a special memory from years ago—the memory of one of the defining moments from his formation as a deacon for the Catholic Church.

That moment unfolded as he was given the yearlong chaplain’s assignment of trying to bring hope and comfort to people who had been rushed to a hospital’s emergency ward, including people who had been shot, had a heart attack or been seriously injured in a car accident.

Deacon Reid recalled that moment as the time “where I learned to pray really well. I’d stop outside the room and pray to Mary. My prayer went something like this, ‘You said yes not knowing what you were getting into. I don’t know what’s on the other side of this door. Help me to be effective to help them in their time of need.’ And then I’d go in. The Virgin Mary helped me through it. That’s where I learned to face big issues where I don’t know what the outcome is going to be.”

So as Deacon Reid prepared to face the unknown outcome of his upcoming heart surgery, he turned to prayer again, this time telling God, “If this is my time, it’s my time. I’m in your hands. I trust you.”

During the surgery that took place at Ascension St. Vincent Heart Center in Carmel, Ind., Dr. Peter Walts stopped Deacon Reid’s heart, opened up his aorta and trimmed a thick muscle between the right and left ventricles of his heart before reversing the process and trying to restart his heart.

When the surgery was ended, the prayers of Deacon Reid and so many other people were answered.

“As I woke up, I thought, ‘I’m alive!’ ” Deacon Reid recalls.

It was a moment of great gratitude. A moment that has allowed Deacon Reid to continue as a husband, a father, a grandfather, a friend, a deacon—the ministry that has blessed his life for the past 14 years.

“The biggest thing for me is payback,” says Deacon Reid, who is 74. “I’ve had an absolutely blessed life. My dedicated and devoted wife of 52 years, Mary. Four wonderful children, nine grandchildren. It’s been an opportunity for me to pay back for all these blessings God has given me. To know you’re helping other people get closer to God, that’s where the payback is.”

‘That’s a gift from God’

As Deacon Reid talks on this autumn morning, he’s back at Ascension St. Vincent

Heart Center. Three years have passed since his heart surgery. He’s sitting in the heart center’s chapel, sharing his story of gratitude and giving back.

Part of that giving back includes visiting people who come to the heart center for surgery.

“I’ve been a patient of some serious medical care,” he says. “When I come in here to see somebody who has a heart condition, I feel like I can give them some inspiration and hope—to say, ‘Hey, I made it through this. I’ve been through this.’ ”

While that outreach is close to his heart, even more so is one of his ministries as a deacon at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Carmel in the Lafayette Diocese—being part of the parish’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program that prepares non-Catholics to enter into full communion with the Church.

“It’s one of my absolute favorite things to do, to help these people,” he says. “Their response to the spark of faith that God has put into them ignites my own faith.”

His own faith journey to becoming a deacon began after he retired from Eli Lilly & Co. in Indianapolis, where he spent most of his 31-year career there in information technology. Still, his determination to live his faith began much earlier than his ordination as a deacon in 2008.

“I remember a time in my early working life,” he says. “We worked in cubicles. I remember someone coming into an office next to mine and saying, ‘Tom, I didn’t realize you were Catholic?’ I heard that and thought, I don’t want anyone to ever be surprised that I’m Catholic. I want to live my life in such a way that they say, ‘Well, I figure you probably were.’ That became a driving force for me throughout all my life.

“And now I hope that even for people who don’t know me they see God working through me. You can’t buy that. That’s a gift from God. But it’s only a gift if you open it. I feel that God has given me these gifts. Having that surgery was a gift. I didn’t recognize it as a gift at the time. Then it seemed a burden. But it was a gift in terms of what I’m able to do afterward.”

A sharing of smiles and gratitude

A few minutes after sharing that thought, someone enters the chapel where Deacon Reid is sharing his story. The person is Walts, the heart surgeon who did Deacon Reid’s surgery three years ago. Learning that Deacon Reid is in the heart center, the surgeon took time to visit his former patient.

Their shared smiles reflect pure delight in seeing each other.

“I love to see patients down the road,” Walts says. “This particular case is very gratifying. It’s always worth it for me to step out to see a patient, to see an old friend.”

Deacon Reid still beams as he thanks his surgeon again and says, “To be able to say thank you to someone who has saved your life is just wonderful.”

After Walts leaves, Deacon Reid returns to sharing his gratitude toward God.

“I feel so blessed,” he says. “At times, I feel guilty because I’ve been so lucky. I worked the first half of my life for success. The second half of my life is for significance. A lot of significance for me is to make a difference in people’s lives. To help them grow closer to God.

“I have gotten so much closer to God through my life and my diaconate ministry. To be able to help other people to get an inch or a mile closer to God is so very gratifying for me. I’m now able to do what God has always wanted me to do.” †

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