Youth pastor counts his blessings

EVERETT — He may stand 6 foot 4, but Cameron Stevens is the first to admit he’s not much of a basketball player.

“I’m the fouler,” he said. “I look like the Three Stooges rolled into one.”

That lack of skill didn’t keep him from shooting hoops at the Everett YMCA Nov. 18 with colleagues from Calvary Everett church where he is a youth pastor.

Stevens had been playing for about 10 minutes. He’d barely cracked a sweat when he went up for a lay-in.

He never got the shot off. The ball rolled off his fingers and bounced away.

Stevens walked into a wall and fell back, his head smacking hard against the gym floor.

He went into cardiac arrest and had a grand mal seizure. What’s unclear to doctors is which happened first, he said.

Stevens, a Lake Stevens High School graduate, was just 24.

He considers himself fortunate. He was surrounded by people trained in CPR and there was technology close at hand to help get his heart beating again.

He also is convinced that God was on his side that day.

“I know he allowed me into the fowler’s net and I know he let me out of it,” Stevens said, paraphrasing a line from Psalms.

Today, Stevens can tap his left side and feel the bulge of a man-made battery case inside him. It connects to metal tubing that plumbs around his heart. The technology is called a subcutaneous implantable cardiac defibrillator and it regulates his heartbeat. It will be part of him for the rest of his life.

“It’s like Iron Man, but not as cool, clearly not as cool,” he said.

He is comforted to know how many hundreds of people — friends, family and strangers — prayed for him and sent messages of goodwill while he clung to life in a hospital bed.

Stevens was kept in a medically-induced coma in the Intensive Care Unit at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. His body temperature was lowered to help his brain recover. He spent 17 days at the hospital before being moved to a rehab center for a few days.

His recovery took months. He had to relearn simple things, to walk, to write and other skills he’d always taken for granted.

For weeks, his thinking was muddled. At times, it was hard for him to tell what was real and what was a dream.

Rev. Billy Wheeler, who leads Calvary Everett, and church intern Trevor Thomas were with him when he collapsed. Both have played important roles in his life before and afterwards.

Wheeler, a former EMT who served in the Marines, began CPR. Thomas went to the front desk for help and to have someone call 911.

Three YMCA staff members came to Stevens’ side, continuing the CPR and working with Wheeler to hook up an Automated External Defibrillator to analyze the heart rhythms.

Wheeler remembers thinking his friend’s chances were slim as he watched Everett Fire Department medics take over.

“He was down on the floor for a long time without a heartbeat and when his heartbeat came back it was very faint,” he said.

Wheeler stayed at the hospital for several days, providing moral support to Stevens’ wife, Kelsy.

There is so much Stevens can’t remember, but one image he does recall is briefly opening his eyes several days later to see Kelsy at his bedside. She was smiling down on him and seemed more beautiful at that moment than ever before, including their wedding day, he said.

His brush with death has caused him to examine his life and his priorities. His role as youth pastor is a calling but doesn’t pay the bills. Instead, he has worked long hours at a series of other jobs over the years. In hindsight, he said, he spent too much time away from home.

“My wife comes before all of it now,” he said.

As a youth pastor, Stevens tries to draw from his own experiences.

In many ways, he had a challenging childhood, beginning with a difficult birth. He attended special education pre-school because of a communication disorder he has overcome.

“I remember thinking I can’t speak,” he said. “Now, you can’t get me to shut up.”

As a child, Stevens moved often from one apartment complex to another. One of eight siblings from blended families, he attended five different school districts, all in Snohomish County. He and his wife both went to Lake Stevens High School, but at different times. He’s thankful for that. For much of his early teens, he felt shy and friendless.

“If she ever would have known me before, she never would have given me a second glance,” he said.

In his junior year of high school, Stevens joined a youth group at Cavalry Chapel in Lake Stevens. He later attended Bible college in Mexico.

He became an assistant to the youth pastor at the Lake Stevens church before being asked to be the youth pastor at Calvary Everett.

That proved to be a lesson in humility.

In Lake Stevens, he’d worked with several dozen kids.

His first Sunday in Everett, only one high school student showed up. It was Thomas, the church intern who recently enlisted in the Marines.

Stevens came to a quick realization: “I wasn’t some cool guy kids would flock to.”

He was humbled by the paltry turnout, but grew close to Thomas during those early weeks.

Slowly, the circle of young people grew from one to a few to a dozen to 20.

In recent weeks, Stevens was able to return to the church in his role as youth pastor.

While it is a joy to watch him work with the kids again, Wheeler keeps an eye on him.

When the pastor sees Stevens pushing himself too hard, he pats his own chest, a signal for his youth pastor to slow down.

Wheeler wants Stevens to be able to share what he has learned for years to come.

“He definitely has a new perspective on life,” he said. “He will be able to use his story to tell people to think about what’s important in life.”

For now, Stevens is counting his blessings and savoring his second chance.

He is thankful for more than his own life.

His wife is expecting their first child in September.

“I was dead and now I am not and now I’m going to be a dad,” he said. “I think it shows God’s grace.”

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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