A 12-year-old Saskatchewan boy has had a surprising and unprecedented reversal of a potentially life-threatening brain disorder, baffling doctors and increasing the faith of family and friends.
In an interview on May 26, Joe McCrea said he had just driven his son Joel home to rural Saskatchewan from Winnipeg, where a surgery for the boy scheduled for the previous day never took place.
“The doctors double-checked, triple-checked, quadruple-checked. This is a miracle,” McCrea told The Epoch Times.
Joel had suffered from an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), a tangle of blood vessels in the brain that can disrupt blood flow and cause strokes or bleeding in the brain.
“It’s very rare, but he unfortunately was born with this,” McCrea explained. “With this disease, he has to have CT scans, MRI angiograms every six months or so just to see if there’s any arteries or entanglements of the vessels that are growing.”
When Joel was 8 years old, he collapsed at home after complaining of not feeling well. In 2018, after 25 days in a Saskatoon hospital, he had a successful surgery in Winnipeg. He continued his regular scans until 2020, when the pandemic led to a rationing of scanning services. When the Grade 7 student went to school on Oct. 1, he had no idea another AVM had developed.
“He was playing at noon hour and he completely collapsed outside of the school, and kids found him lying there unconscious,” McCrea said. The boy was rushed to the Saskatoon Children’s Hospital 200 kilometres away.
“He was unconscious for two weeks; they were draining blood off of his brain,” McCrea recalled. Joel returned home after four weeks in hospital, leaving the needed sequel to his 2018 surgery delayed indefinitely.
“Ever since last October I’ve been trying to get him down to Winnipeg to get this important surgery done, and delay, delay. I’ve been fighting with government, MLAs, you name it, and finally I went public,” McCrea said.
In February, he shared his story on the YouTube channels of Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson and Mark Friesen. The latter raised over $11,000 on GoFundMe.com as McCrea considered going to St. Louis for the surgery. However, nothing worked out.
Scans in Saskatoon in April confirmed the AVM was there. Then a surgery slated for Winnipeg later that month was delayed once more.
At the height of this frustration, Joel’s grandma, Evelyn Chretien, talked with her weekly prayer group about what was happening in her family.
“Joe was very fierce. He was so upset because nobody would listen, and nobody would get him an appointment, and appointments were being cancelled continuously. And so we got together and we prayed about it,” Chretien recalled in an interview.
“We all felt that there was a healing that had taken place in our prayer time, and the Lord said … ‘There will be no more delays.’”
Chretien texted McCrea. “I said … ‘there’ll be no more delays. It’s not going to be delayed again, it’s going to happen.’ But I didn’t tell him about the healing.”
On May 9, McCrea and Joel went to the Northeast Christian Fellowship in Melfort, a church they had attended for less than a year. Senior Pastor Paul Dubois recalled that he felt led during the service to ask a church elder to share a story with the congregation about how his sister was healed after he prayed for her.
“His sister … went to get the operation and they did a scan on her … and there was nothing wrong. … They did a few tests, and she was fully healed,” Dubois told The Epoch Times.
“I felt God was going to do this for Joel, and so we gathered around and we had some people praying for him, and we just believed for it.”
‘This Is Unbelievable’
When surgery day at the Winnipeg Children’s Hospital arrived on May 25, McCrea posted on Facebook: “Joel woke up this morning feeling good and at peace. Joel is excited to have this all done and so are we. Thank you everyone for your prayers and support. It means so much. The surgery will be all-day surgery and I will update as I know more.”
However, two hours later, a staff member came into the waiting room and told McCrea that the doctor wanted to see him. He immediately thought something had gone wrong, but in fact the opposite was the case.
“‘We have actually really good news, something that we’ve never seen before in a kid that has an AVM like this,’” he says the doctor told him.
“‘I’m really shocked that this has happened. And I want to tell you, I’ve done four angiogram scans on your son, four of them. The reason why I did four is because I did the first one … and there was nothing wrong with his brain,’” McCrea continued.
“And [the doctor] said, ‘This is crazy. Let me see another scan and on a different angle.’ And so then he looked at the second one, and he says, ‘There’s still nothing here. What’s going on?’ So he talked to the nurse and he goes, ‘Are we sure we got the right patient here? This is Joel McCrea’s file?’”
They had the right patient.
“‘OK, we’ll do a third one from a different angle.’ And he said, ‘This is unbelievable. I did one more check, and completely nothing. The whole AVM is healed.’ He said, ‘I don’t know what else to tell you, but it’s the best news you’ll ever hear from a doctor. Your son has no traces of his thing—completely healed.’ He said, ‘I would follow up with an angiogram in a year, but you don’t have to worry about anything till then.’”
Dubois remembers the phone call from McCrea that day telling him the good news. “I started to cry,” he said. “To me, it’s a profound miracle.”
The Bible defines faith as believing without seeing. But as McCrea found out, seeing is also believing.
“Sometimes you put God in a box thinking, ‘I know he can heal, but this sounds so complicated, so let’s pray for the surgeon, give him wisdom,’” he said. “Yet God wants to do something that no man thinks can be done, and that’s what happened here. … In this crazy time that we’re in, it gives [people] faith, it gives them hope. You know, ‘if God can do this for Joel, he can do this for me.’”
Dubois says God is “the ultimate setter-upper” and that Joel’s inspiring experience is the “tip of the iceberg” for lives that will be changed.
“We’ve had over a year of people being isolated, withdrawn, just really despondent. And we’ve been dealing exponentially with so many people that have really lost their way in the midst of COVID,” he said.
“They’re the brokenhearted. They’re the ones who need the miracles … so when we see something like this with Joel, to me, it’s just the cusp of what God wants to do.”