“December 31st, 2018, was the day I became Mrs. Candess Myers. I finally had the day off and John and I decided it was the perfect day for a courthouse wedding. We had wanted to have a beautiful and intimate ceremony with our close family and friends, but we never had the money. He convinced me to ‘just marry him already.’ The plan was we would marry that day and renew our vows a year later. I couldn’t wait to wear a beautiful dress and walk toward my handsome groom. The man who changed my world and taught me a love I’d never known. Sadly, that day would never come.
We married in a small courthouse in Effingham County, Georgia, with our youngest little boy Lane and my daughter Eden watching. Lane was dancing around and giggling, just being the typical care-free, little 1-and-a-half-year-old he was. Eden was recording our union and groaning while expressing her disgust as we ended with a kiss, all the while while smiling as well. We laughed through it all. John could barely understand what he judge was saying so in typical John fashion, he improvised and came up with some of his own vows. Laughter was a constant in our relationship. He was truly the funniest man I’d ever known.
In 3 years, we experienced so many ups and downs. It was like we had lived a 1,000 lifespans in that short time. Through the health issues, financial strains, family problems, our own new baby, along with blending two families, we learned that love is a choice. It was easy to fall in love with one another. It was always what I imagined what finding your soulmate would be like. We loved one another almost instantly. There was so much passion, emotion, and an incredible once-in-a-lifetime connection.
We both had been heading down a destructive path when we met. Both of us had experienced pain and loss and didn’t know how to pick up the pieces again. In our complete brokenness, we came together, and our healing began together.
Less than a year before John and I met, he had nearly died of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Actually, he had two. John moved in with me pretty quickly and I became pregnant within a couple of months. Our first year together was incredibly challenging. No matter what, we chose to stick it out and love one another, no matters the obstacles.
John had been a 1st Lieutenant in the army. During his time in service, and especially his last deployment to Afghanistan, his health had began to fail. High blood pressure resulted in kidney failure. The lack of care during his deployment only made it much worse. His body was falling apart, and after a car accident in 2015, he decided to leave the army. Soon after he had his first aneurysm, and then the next. As his stepmom always said, ‘He was a miracle man.’ By the time I met him in June of 2016, his body was just so tired from all he went through.
During my pregnancy, we worked on both of our health. He began to put on healthy weight and muscle and was becoming strong again. Unfortunately, his blood pressure issues continued so I encouraged him to quit his job out of fear he would have another aneurysm. He was awaiting disability and pursuing VA disability as well.
After our baby was born, I faced many of my own health issues and we ended up being home together for over a year. Our son built an incredibly strong bond with his wonderful daddy, and John and I became even closer. We became a team. John always told me that. He also told that to anyone who tried to come between us. We were an unstoppable team. He loved me so well. Everyday he told me how sexy I was, how beautiful I am, and how he adored every bit of me. I had such severe self worth issues and was just so broken. He built me up and loved me in a way I had never known.
In February of 2019, a routine appointment at the VA hospital changed our entire world. The cardiologist told him he would need a stent for his aneurysm. I was so confused… I asked, ‘What aneurysm?’ John also sat there in confusion and disbelief as the doctor told him he had another aneurysm but that the repair likely only required a stent. Just a year before, at the same VA hospital, they told us he didn’t have an aneurysm. He had been so compliant with his medications. We were just in shock.
John told the doctor he needed to either get a letter stating he was unable to work or he needed a letter giving him medical clearance to work so he could go back to his old job. His doctor cleared him to work and provided a letter as well as told him he’s safe to work out as well. At the end of the appointment, as we were getting up to leave, he also told John he would likely be in complete kidney failure by the end of the year. My jaw dropped. Just a year before, John was told by a nephrologist at this same VA hospital that John likely had 7 years before he needed dialysis. I knew in that moment something was very wrong. My eyes were stinging and the tears began to fall. I told my husband we aren’t leaving here without all of his medical records.
After we gathered John’s medical records from the last year, we went back to the hotel and got ready to head out to dinner.
I sat there and read the records. I found his CT scan from the year before where it explained that two areas in his abdomen and chest area were dilated. I told John that. I explained that I’m pretty sure this was saying he had two aneurysms, not just one and that these were diagnosed a year ago. I was shaking. I was so scared and so confused. I went to the appointments with him and no one told us about these aneurysms. John encouraged me to put the medical records down and relax. This was supposed to be like a honeymoon for us. So he took me to Foley beach in South Carolina where we enjoyed a delicious meal and talked about our final wishes in the event that either of us died. We cried, we laughed, and we spent that night loving one another like we were running out of time.
John became very sick that night. He was up all night in agony and vomiting. He thought it was something he ate but I knew it was more. He had been experiencing abdominal issues for a while and I now believed it had something to do with the abdominal aortic aneurysm. I felt so helpless. I remember ordering devotional books for each of us. The one I ordered was called ‘100 days of Brave.’ God was calling me in that moment to be brave and courageous for what was about to come.
The next morning, John was still in so much pain. I drove home and he laid in the backseat in agony. I told him that if he wasn’t significantly better by the time we got home, he would be going straight to the hospital I worked at. As we entered Savannah, he was still so sick and reluctantly agreed to go. John was in triage and immediately brought back to a room. His EKG was abnormal and his blood pressure was high. They needed to to bring it down with IV medication and figure out what was going on with his heart. I fortunately had John’s medical records from the VA with me. I shared those and the ER doctor went through them and decided John should be admitted. The next doctor to see him was the Hospitalist, an incredibly kind man and very efficient doctor.
He was amazed at the size of the aneurysms. He showed the us X-ray and it was like his entire chest and abdomen were filled with them. They were huge and had grown bigger than they’d ever recommend to grow. Usually surgery is done before they reach 5 Centimeters and he had one abdominal aortic aneurysm over 5 centimeters and a thoracic aortic aneurysm measuring around 7 centimeters. He also had a murmur he was concerned about that he had never been made aware of before.
I stepped out of the room and asked the doctor what would happen. He told me that the next 48 hours were crucial. I now knew this was way more than just a ‘stent.’ I went home to take care of my children, so thankful that John was finally getting the care he needed.
That night was another sleepless night though. I had friends staying at the house so I could go back and forth to the hospital so I went and visited him in the middle of the night. I prayed with him and loved on him. He was nervous but also so full of hope.
The next morning, John asked to see our son Lane. He always said Lane was his peace. He needed to snuggle him for a bit and just have a bit of normalcy. Lane needed the same. I brought Lane to his daddy and he had a few minutes to climb in his bed and cuddle before they came and got John for his CT scan. I kissed him and he told me he would update me as soon as it was over. We knew surgery would happen soon but they just needed to figure out the best plan of action. I got home with my Lane and started to lay him down for a nap when I received a call from John.
‘Babe, I need you to come back. This is very serious.’ I started to panic and ask what’s going on when a surgeon entered his room telling him his case was so severe he would need to be life-flighted to Emory in Atlanta because of how complicated it was. He told him that only 5 hospitals in the entire country would really be able to help him. If he stayed at this hospital, his prognosis would not be good. My mind went into overdrive. All I knew is they were about to send him to Atlanta for life-threatening surgery and I needed to see him before he left.
I grabbed my son and drove to the hospital where the staff didn’t want me to take my son back because it was flu season. I explained I needed to see my husband who was about to be life-flighted to Atlanta. She covered him with a sheet and I ran back to his room just as they were wheeling him to the ICU. I was anything but calm. I kissed him and told him I loved him and tried to hold back the tears. The nurse and the surgeon pulled me aside and explained more in detail that John’s body was basically a mess. One of the worst cases they had seen and that if they performed the surgery there, he would possibly not make it. They explained they were sending him to one of the best cardio thoracic surgeons in the country where he had the best chance of surviving this.
I followed them up to ICU where I was told I couldn’t go back yet because they were prepping him for the flight and that I also needed to find someone to watch my son. I had never been so afraid in all my life. All I wanted to do was hold his hand.
Right then, I received a call from the the VA to schedule his follow up appointment. I started to lose it. I was screaming at the poor woman on the phone telling her that just yesterday we were at the VA where my husband was cleared to work and they told him he had one aneurysm and needed a stent to now him having two huge ones and he was fighting for his life. I yelled that they were trying to kill my husband. The poor woman was a veteran herself. She began to cry and to apologize. She told me she hears these stories so often and she was so sorry but she was praying for my husband. I stood there, holding my son, crying. I looked up and all eyes were on me. I was so embarrassed. Usually, I can keep myself together but this was all so much. My sweet friend took my son and I waited for them to let me back to be with John.
When I went back John was highly medicated but we were able to spend a little time talking about what was ahead. His nurse and the staff were amazing and really walked us through the process. I left to prepare for my drive to Atlanta.
It was February 14, 2019 when John was life-flighted to Emory in Atlanta. I arrived and spent every moment with him. We were a team. We prayed, we laughed, we ‘Netflixed and chilled,’ we cuddled, we made love. He told me if he was going to die, he wanted to die happy! We developed an incredible bond with the amazing staff at the hospital. From nurses, to surgeons, to the sweet women who came in to clean his room. John was always gracious. He was always laughing and positive and he left an impression on many hearts.
March 1st he had the first phase of his surgery. They would fix one aneurysm, replace a heart valve, and create something called an elephant trunk that would assist with the next phase of surgery. What was supposed to be 6 hours lasted all day. All I could do was pray, update our friends and family and the numerous people praying for him, and start my mission for Justice on John’s behalf. I called the office of inspector general and asked them to investigate what had happened to my husband at the VA.
Meanwhile John was once again fighting for his life. Due to his kidney failure, the bleeding was hard to control. The surgery was a lot more complex then they had anticipated. He came back to ICU around midnight but he was unstable through the night and had to go back into surgery the next morning. This time, they had to leave his chest open in the ICU for 4 days. 4 days of constant praying, constant fear, and constant agony over the suffering he endured. I learned to pray for mercy. Which was the hardest thing I’d ever done. I selfishly wanted him to make it. I wanted my husband but it hurt so bad to see him suffer. It was touch and go for a while but by the Grace of God my husband stated to heal and they were able to take him off of life support.
We were at the hospital for 5 weeks. He had lost 40 pounds and was just so incredibly weak. When we finally were able to go home he needed to go home on dialysis. Back home he was preparing for the next phase of surgery for the thoracic aortic aneurysm. He had so many complications during this short time home that he ended up being life-flighted back to the hospital at the end of April. After many tests, they determined they needed to move up his surgery that had originally been planned for June. We were nervous, but hopeful.
The night before the surgery on May 6th, the surgery team came in and went over the surgery one last time. It was a huge undertaking but all were hopeful. This was the last one. He was in the home stretch. We became uneasy when the surgeon increased the risk of death. We both cried. We talked about whether this was a good idea. But what other choice did he have? I told him I couldn’t imagine him going through all this. A total of 5 aneurysms only to die during the last procedure he’d need. He suddenly started to feel at peace. He told me he didn’t want to die but he asked me to share his story and to fight for benefits and for justice for the sake of his kids. I promised him I would. We agreed no other veteran should have to experience this.
As tears began to fall from my eyes, he grabbed my hands. He told me how much he loved my hands. How he could pick my hands out of a crowd of people. He kissed my hands and stroked my face. Kissing my tears and my lips as tears welled up in his own eyes. He told me that if he dies to remember that he went to sleep and woke up in Heaven. He told me that it’s me and the kids he worries about. Because he would be at peace but we would have to go on without him and pick up all the pieces. He thanked me for being his rock and showing him a real love he’d never known to that extent. An unconditional love. He told me he’d never known a woman to pray for her husband like I had, even before he was my husband. He thanked me for helping him heal from the hurt in his life. I told him that he did the same for me. That he loved me in a way I never knew possible. That he was always my rock as well and that it was an honor to be his wife. I thanked him for loving me well. I told him how proud I was of him.
The next morning, we woke up holding hands. He said ‘Baby, that was the most peaceful sleep I’ve had in a long time.’ He told me he is a little anxious but he’s at peace. Before they wheeled him off to his final surgery while he was singing the electric slide and trying to get people in the hallway to join in. We kissed, we laughed, we cuddled. He thanked the nurses who shaved his chest for getting his ‘beach body’ ready. He was laughing and he was joyful. He was trying to keep me calm. He loving me and continued to be my rock when he was the facing the scariest moment of his life.
John’s surgery started at 7:30 a.m. Bad news started coming in around 6 p.m. First his lungs had completely failed. They were trying to get him attached to the ECMO machine. He was bleeding out and requiring so many units of blood. His surgeon told me that even with all of that, his heart was remarkably strong. His surgeon told me that they had to close him up and if he didn’t stop bleeding, he would pass within 6 hours. I sat in there in complete desperation. Crying out to God to save my husband. Begging Him to. But then knowing that I needed to pray for mercy as well. So I did. I surrendered my own selfish wants and needs and asked God to please first pour out his mercy on my husband and second, to please hear my own cries and save him.
I saw his blood on the shoes of a surgeon. I saw the faces of the staff as they knew John was not going to make it. They tried. They didn’t give up on him but at 1:50 a.m. the nurse came to get me. He told me that John wasn’t doing well. As I walked in, he was hooked up to monitors, had several chest tubes, was intubated, and still unconscious. They told me his heart couldn’t take it any longer and he was going to pass. John’s face was nearly unrecognizable. His body was pumped full of fluids for hours without kidney function. Nonetheless, I stroked his head and his face. I held his hand and told him that I’m with him and I won’t leave him. I thanked him for letting God use him to heal the broken pieces of my heart. I thanked him for loving me so well. I thanked him for fighting so hard but told him it’s okay to go now. I told him that I would make sure our children always remember him and know the love he has for them. I told him that I would carry him with me always and see him again. I cried out to Jesus. I begged the doctor to try to do more. He told me with tears in his own eyes, there was nothing more he could do.
At 2:05 a.m. on May 8th, 2019, my sweet husband took his last breath on earth. He told me that he if he died he would go to sleep and wake up in Heaven. That’s exactly what happened. I never understood the term ‘heartbroken’ until then. It is absolutely physical. My heart hurt badly. My heart physically ached. The cries that came from my own body I didn’t recognize. The pain was raw and real and so overwhelming. The months that followed were agony. It’s been so up and down.
After my own recent hospitalization and as I’ve tried to heal after that, I’m reminded of John’s strength and perseverance. He fought so very hard. He learned to embrace each moment in the end. He didn’t complain. He accepted it. He trusted God and accepted he couldn’t change any of it. While my own grieving has been very hard, I remember his faith, his strength, and perseverance. I choose each day to live to honor him and God and keep my promise to him.
To the men and women in uniform, past and present. You are more than a number. I see you. I SEE you. You are valued, you are appreciated, you matter. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your willingness to sacrifice your life for people like myself. While you fight for us, please fight for yourself with the VA. Advocate for yourself. Don’t accept the status quo. You are worthy of so much more.
To the amazing nursing staff, doctors, and surgeons of Emory university medical center. Thank you. Thank you for coming alongside of us in the darkest moments. Thank you for caring for my husband and myself. Thank you for the laughs, the hugs, and the constant encouragement. You are truly remarkable at what you do. John and I both truly loved you all.
To the community who has come alongside of us and supported us. There are not enough words to express my gratitude. You are truly the hands and feet of Jesus.
To the VA, to Congress, to our president, to all lawmakers. I beg you to invest in our soldiers and veterans. I beg you to value the lives that so willingly offer their own up in order to protect this great land we call our home. John was a dedicated soldier and incredible leader. He was the guy who cried during the star spangled banner. He deserved better. So many others do as well. Please, I beg you, don’t let this happen to another.
To my sweet husband. Find me in my dreams and we will slow dance again, baby. You are pure joy and your joy and strength is contagious even in death. Our love didn’t end in death. It goes on now and forever. I will see you again one day. It will the sweetest reunion. Until then, know that I will keep my promises to you. I love you from now until forever. ”
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This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Candess Myers. You can follow her journey on Facebook. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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