As a firefighter, you’re never off-duty. You might not be working at the station, but it’s not as easy as just turning off your training and instincts. Fortunately for the rest of us, you might be there when we need you most. On-duty or not. Ready to help and serve people. People like Walter Holston.

On November 13, 2017, Walter was finishing his regular workout at Ultimate Fitness in Fayetteville, when something went terribly wrong. Taking a break, he sat on a bench outside. An overwhelming sense of fatigue came over him. He caught the attention of Chris Nations, who was leaving the gym, and asked him to get help. Chris, Quartermaster for the Fayette County Fire Department went back inside to grab Nic Gilmer, a workout buddy and friend of his, who happens to be a Firefighter/AEMT at Fayette County. Walter had started to seizure when Gilmer came to his side and started CPR, while Chris called 911. Walter Holston died on the sidewalk outside of Ultimate Fitness.

But that didn’t stop Nic. He kept performing CPR, kept working past the point where anyone would call it quits. When the Medic Truck arrived, they loaded Walter into the ambulance and started to the hospital. Paramedics shocked him six times with a defibrillator and brought Walter back to life after 18 minutes of no activity. This is absolutely unheard of. Studies show that brain cells begin to die about four to six minutes after the heart stops beating, and after 10 minutes, these cells are effectively dead. Incredibly, Walter was clinically dead for 18 minutes but has no damage to his heart or his brain.

It’s not unusual for a heart attack victim to die. It is highly unusual for a heart attack victim to die and then sit up in the back of the ambulance and start talking. That’s why the hospital staff and paramedics began to refer to him as “the Miracle Man”. And this is what makes Walter’s story so special – it’s not only about resuscitation – it’s about resurrection. Walter can vividly describe a trip to Heaven, where Jesus told him “you’re not supposed to be here, yet”. (You can hear Walter’s message – 18 Minutes in Heaven” – as shared at Rolling Hills Baptist Church, here).

As a result of this traumatic episode, Walter found out that he’s been living with a heart defect his entire life. Upon discovery, his cardiologist was able to surgically repair the defect. Today, our friend Walter is healthy and happy to be alive. In fact, he is experiencing a spiritual awakening and even a new sense of calling. He recently accepted a new role as a volunteer chaplain with FireChaplain.Org. Walter wants to be there for the first responder community, the way that Chris and Nic were there for him that day last November. It’s a great story with a happy ending and one of those moments where faith and science clearly intersect. I’m grateful for Walter and all that God is doing in his life.

And I’m grateful for Chris and Nic, and all of the emergency medical personnel who helped that day. Because of their training, persistence and willingness to serve – a life was saved. .

Chris and Nic are just regular guys – just trying to get a workout in at the gym. But they understand that public safety is not just a job, it is a calling. It’s not just about making a living, it’s about making a difference. And when they saw someone in trouble, they rose to the occasion.