Story by Janet Marcel
Photo by Lawrence Chatagnier
Arthur J. dela Houssaye, M.D., FACS, medical director of SEECA in Houma, claims that he is living proof of the power of prayer and faith in God, and anyone who hears his story would find it just about impossible to refute his claim.
“Dr. D,” as he is affectionately referred to by everyone who knows him, was an avid cyclist in excellent physical shape when five years and three months ago in September 2012 his life changed forever. While training for the upcoming state cycling championships that he was favored to win, the front wheel of his bike came off without warning. He was thrown over the handlebars onto the pavement head first and suffered a broken neck that resulted in him being paralyzed from the neck down, except for some slight movement in his left hand, and he had a major stroke as a result of the accident. He spent the next three months in three different hospitals on a respirator unable to move, speak, eat or drink.
Dr. D says he experienced something he termed “soul vision” for the first month or so he was in the hospital. “I was able to look through people and instantly see their souls and know if they had my best interests at heart. It was a little bit spooky and something that once you see you can’t ‘unsee.’ I have actually spoken with other severely injured and very sick individuals who has this ability, also.”
After he was extubated, he went through six months of speech therapy before he could
speak and is still in physical therapy. It was a year and a half before he could eat, and two
and a half years before he could return to work. Because his endurance was so depleted,
he could only manage to work half days at first.
Besides the physical pain, one component of having such a severe injury is the mental
anguish you go through when all of a sudden you can’t do anything for yourself, says Dr. D.
“It was such a humbling experience and it taught me just how much we depend on others.”
Dr. D says his faith helped him immensely during the extremely difficult time in his life.
When he woke up for the first time in ICU there was a priest there administering his last
rights and even thought he was in such a dire situation, he says he felt so comfortable just
knowing that a priest was there if he needed him, and that had such a profound and lasting
effect on him and still does to this day. And even though he didn’t know just how many
people were praying for him while he was recovering, Dr. D says all of those prayers lifter
“Two things happen when you have a very serious accident … you either become very close
to your God or you blame him for your problems,” explains Dr. D. “I experienced the first. I
was already faithful and doing all the things I was supposed to do, but it’s different now.
It’s amazing how when you are very sick and times are tough, the prayers that you say have
a different meaning. I now carry prayer cards on my person all the time. I can remember
lying in bed hearing the doctors telling my mother they had done all they could for me and
there was nothing more they could do and now it was time to pray. And my mother said,
‘Well, we’ve got that part.’ At the time I thought ‘poor mom, she doesn’t understand that’s
doctor speak for your son’s in a heap of trouble.’ She thought that was a good thing.”
His mother had his name added to church parish prayer lists throughout the diocese and organized prayer groups who prayed the rosary constantly outside of his hospital room. As he listened to them pray, he says sometimes he couldn’t help but think that their prayers were a little bit in vain.
“A lot of people believe I am a walking miracle … and I am,” says Dr. D. “It is just so unbelievable to think of all the problems I had … and they all got better! I looked it up on Google and could only find one other instance of someone, a priest in Europe, that walked again after they had a broken neck and was paralyzed … it just doesn’t happen. But that’s the power of prayer; that’s why I tell people, ‘look, this is what the medical texts say is supposed to happen, but if you pray to God with an open heart and an open mind, expecting the best, and you truly believe, sometimes he gives you amazing results, and I’m walking proof of that.’ You just have to believe. And if I can inspire even one person to believe and have faith, and have a better outcome because they had that faith, then it was all worth it.”
Dr. D says his experience has made him a lot more compassionate toward others and it’s changed his focus a little bit from the business of medicine, which is still important, to taking care of people and giving them the kind of care that he knows God would approve of. “I’m so quick to do services gratis for someone who can’t afford It now and I do something like that every day. I know what I’m able to do can change people’s lives and I take that very seriously. I have a wonderful opportunity to be able to give someone the gift of vision. I don’t think I appreciated that as much as I do now.”
Dr. D expresses his gratitude for his wife, his team at SEECA, the church, the community, and all the doctors who helped keep his practice open while he was recovering. “I am so thankful that everybody pulled together and prayed for me and prayed for the best outcome, because I really do believe that what brought me across the finish line were all of those prayers and all of that support.”
Dr. dela Houssaye specializes in premium lens cataract surgery and refractive surgery including LASIK and PRK. He has a bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University, attended Harvard and graduated with honors from LSU Medical School. He completed a four year ophthalmology residency program at Ochsner in New Orleans where he served as chief resident. He is a board certified surgeon in ophthalmology and earned the Fellow of the American College of Surgeons (FACS) designation, one of the highest ethical designations a surgeon can earn. He is a member of numerous medical societies including the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons, and the Louisiana State Medical Society.
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