Woman says near-death experience gave her faith-affirming gift

NEIGHBORS

February 29, 2000|By Pamela Woolford | Pamela Woolford,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

OAKLAND MILLS resident Suzanne Leiba, 36, never had a strong opinion about near-death experiences -- until her own.

The former intensive care nurse, who is diabetic, survived a coma brought on by a blood sugar level of 2,016.

"That's a whopping number," said Dr. Gerald Bernstein, former president of the American Diabetes Association. The Association considers 250 too high.

High blood sugar levels can cause severe dehydration.

Leiba was unconscious in her home for 22 hours before concerned friends Wendy Shaia of Dorsey's Search and Donna Givens of Ellicott City used a spare key to open the door and found her on the bathroom floor Dec. 13.

Leiba hadn't known she was diabetic.

She was taken to Howard County General Hospital, where she remained in a coma for five days.

While she lay in her hospital bed, she says, she felt something "pushing me from underneath."

"I went to the other side," she said.

First she saw her grandmother, Athaliah Facey, who had died from diabetes 33 years ago.

"It's OK," her grandmother told her. "We're taking a trip."

Then, Leiba says, she felt drawn toward a light.

"The light, it's the most beautiful golden, I can't describe it," she said.

"It's like you just feel like you're floating, but it's carrying you along and I was just rolling over and over. It's almost like when you see kids playing in the water and they're just kicking up their feet and they're just so excited," she said. "It was that kind of excitement that was carrying me along."

She felt peaceful and welcomed. She saw Moses and Jesus. An angel guided her to Jesus' feet, she said.

"I knew it was his feet," she explained. "I just couldn't look up in his face."

Leiba, who had questioned her own faith, was comforted.

"I felt his hand rustling my hair and he said, `My daughter, you've done well. You've passed the test,' " she recalled.

She said Jesus asked her to recite Psalm 23, and when she came to "Thou anointed my head with oil; my cup runneth over," he anointed her head with oil.

After she recited the psalm, "I found myself flying back through the tunnel," Leiba said, "and I was like `I don't want to go back. I don't want to go back.' But [Jesus] told me I have work to do."

An angel reassured her, Leiba said, "`Every day is a gift, and that's why they call it the present.' "

Since then, she says, "I have a peace that I never had before."

Leiba was released from the hospital last month, and her recovery has astonished medical professionals.

"I did not expect that she would make it," said Dr. David Nyanjom, a critical care specialist at the hospital who worked on Leiba during her illness.

Two encephalograms (EEGs) -- a test for brain activity -- had yielded abnormal readings. Leiba's mother, a nurse, requested a third test.

"I had a strong feeling it wasn't time," she said.

A nurse played a tape of Patti LaBelle's "I Believe." As the music played, Leiba recalls, "My mom said, `Look at Mommy open your eyes.' And I opened my eyes and I turned my head in her direction."

LaBelle, who has spoken publicly about her own diabetes, has since phoned Leiba.

"It was wonderful," Leiba said. "I mean, I've been to so many of her concerts. It was a treat."

The PAX television show, "It's A Miracle," has contacted Leiba about airing her story.

Leiba, who is grateful to the hospital's staff, sees purpose and meaning in her experience.

"I think this was something to maybe shut the body down to start all over again," she said. I feel like I've been [through] a rebirth.

Young actors

Hammond High School graduates Josselyn Essey and Kathryn Carlsen are playing lead roles in "The Fable of MacBeth" at the University of Maryland, College Park Tawes Theater through Sunday.

Essey plays MacBeth and Carlsen is Lady MacBeth.

Performances are at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Information: 301-405-7847.

Poets, listeners wanted

The east Columbia library will hold open-mike poetry readings from 7 p.m. to 8: 30 p.m. Tuesdays March 7, April 4 and May 9.

Teens and adults are invited to read their work or favorite poems by other poets.

Information: 410-313-7700.

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