News: Faith pulls family through near-death experience

August 18, 2021

Gezel family

Joe and Dorothy Gezel have always lived out their faith in many ways at their parish, St. Thomas Aquinas, in Indianola.

Joe went on parish youth mission trips for nearly 14 years, serving as a chaperone and helping the kids serve those in need. Both have been involved in a number of endeavors and committees.

They even started Heal House – a homeless shelter in Indianola. The Gezels raised money, purchased an old hotel and sought out donors to refurbish the rooms, which now houses individuals and families, providing shelter until they back on their feet.

But the Gezels’ faith was put to the ultimate test in November 2019 when Joe had a massive heart attack, following by a stroke the next day.

The outpouring of love, prayers and support from the Indianola community was quick.

 “People went to church to pray the rosary and also a lot of them came up to the hospital,” Dorothy said, estimating maybe 120 people at either church or the chapel in the hospital. “We were on the intensive care floor for a couple of weeks.”

After being moved to a rehabilitation center, Joe’s condition worsened, and he was moved back to the hospital for surgery.

“The doctor said, ‘Joe has a severe vascular disease…’,” Dorothy said. “They told us that he’s got an artery that is closed off that goes to his colon, and his colon is dying. We need to do surgery, and he’s probably not going to make it. But if we don’t do surgery he definitely [won’t survive]’.”

In fact, it was just before Christmas when the family thought they might lose him. Daughter Amanda Merema remembers leaving Mass early that day after getting the call.

Clergy, including their pastor, Father Chris Fontanini, Deacon Dave O’Brien and Father George Komo walked with the family, offering prayers of healing more times than they can count, Merema said.

“Joe is a fighter and he is an inspiration to many of us because throughout this ordeal, all of the different surgeries and with all of the doctors, he was bound and determined he was going to be coming out of this,” said Father Fontanini.

At one point, doctors had suggested perhaps taking him off the ventilator. Dorothy rejected that idea though, putting Joe’s life in God’s hands.

“Everybody at the hospital kept asking if I was ok,” Dorothy said. “And I can’t explain why I felt at peace like I did.”

 Dorothy credits the Holy Spirit for inspiring her to ask family, friends and the parish community to pray and fast for Joe one Friday just before Christmas. And then things started looking up.

“The week of Christmas Eve and Christmas – it all shifted,” Merema said.

Father Fontanini agreed, noting “tremendous results.”

Joe’s steady improvements came as a relief to friends and family, and a surprise to some doctors, who even commented that he was a miracle.

The family is grateful to God for their answered prayers that Joe survived.

 “They’ve always been huge role models for us. But on top of that, to witness how strong my Mom was through everything was beyond amazing,” said Merema, who spent months taking care of Joe at home after he was released from the hospital.

 “And she still is amazing,” Merema said. “Today we are out in the 100-degree weather and my Mom is pushing him through the fair and we’re all dripping with sweat. But she continues to be there in every way she can for him.”

Joe was in the hospital for five months. The family lost track of the number of surgeries Joe had, but one of them included the amputation of his right leg. (Joe now helps to find a way to use his experiences as an amputee to help others living under similar circumstances.)

When he finally came home, a crowd lined the streets, blowing foghorns, waving and welcoming him back.

“To be quite honest, I wouldn’t be here it if weren’t for my wife and kids – period,” said Joe, who was unconscious for a large amount time while in the hospital. “The only one I had to talk to was God [during that time].

“People say that they were praying for me,” Joe continued. “I heard your prayers. I honestly, truly did. I know for me, the power of prayer is what brought me through.”