We all have a story to tell. My life has been full of interesting adventures, but probably the most amazing story in my life was not even really my story to tell. I have no direct recollection of these events, and while what occurred had many eyewitnesses, what I share here is only a compilation of their testimonies.
In May of 1949 I was 18 months old. I was the fourth and last child born to Stan and Lois Keeling. With three older sisters, I was a prayer answered for my father who desperately wanted a son. At that time I was known for three things: 1.) Being very big for my age, 2.) Being quite verbal, and 3.) being highly precocious (I think that is being kind).
In 1949 people in America lived in fear of the dreaded disease, polio. Doctors Salk and Sabin had not yet developed their vaccines so only limited treatments were available. One night at the dinner table I began to complain of a stiff neck and a sore back. Quickly, my condition worsened. The doctor was called, and soon I was taken to Doernbechers Children’s Hospital in Portland, Oregon where polio cases were treated.
My family was frightened out of their minds. Humanly helpless, family, friends, and neighbors were soon notified. My mother, Lois, a relatively new Christian, and my aunt Dorothy began to pray. Soon our church, Portland First Free Methodist, the churches of our neighbors, family and friends began to pray. In a short time hundreds of people were on their knees asking God to heal Stan and Lois’ little boy.
At the hospital the diagnosis came in -Bulbar Polio. Probably the most lethal of all the forms of polio. It essentially attacked the brain stem, causing difficulty in breathing, swallowing, and with an increase in secretions collecting in the throat and esophagus, suffocation became a real threat. The usual treatment was to perform a tracheotomy and place the patient in an Iron Lung, a highly restrictive metal canister that has now been replaced by modern respirators.
As the story goes, when I arrived at the hospital I was so far gone that there was little hope of my surviving. For some reason the decision to perform a tracheotomy was delayed and I was left lying on the gurney awaiting what the staff felt would be a certain death.
Back at home, my family prayed. My mother later told me that my father in desperation, fell to his knees and prayed, “ God, if you heal my son, I will give you my life and start going to church”. A powerful prayer, and one that apparently God heard very clearly.
Word now came from the hospital that they would go ahead and perform the tracheotomy. When my oldest sister Donna heard this she felt God speak to her, “no they won’t do that, Ronnie has been healed”. No sooner had she heard God say this than the phone rang, it was the hospital saying, “we can’t explain this but your son is completely well. He just came out of it and is now running around the room. Normally we like to keep them for observation, but quite frankly he’s being such a nuisance, we’d like to have you come and get him now”.
That in itself is quite a compelling testimony of God’s power. A true account of God’s power to heal, but as Paul Harvey would say ”now you’re going to hear the rest of the story”.
As requested, my parents came and got me from the hospital. Word went out to all the Free Methodists, Four Squares, and all the other believers and friends who were praying. “Ronnie Keeling is well, God has healed him”.
The trip home from the hospital was uneventful, but once we walked through the front door something happened that took everyone in the house completely aback. Hanging on the wall was a small picture of Jesus. I pointed to the picture and said, “that’s Jesus he said I could come home”. Then turning to my father I said, “Daddy, thank Jesus. He said I could come home”. Not content with that I pulled on my father to get down on his knees and thank Jesus for sending me back. Apparently, I told my family that I had been to heaven, saw the Lord, and was sent back as an answer to all their prayers. The one prayer that seemed to matter the most was my father’s saying that he would give Christ his heart in exchange for my healing.
In the days following, a number of people tried to get me to recant that I had been to heaven, but I would not recant. My sister Donna, while not quite 10 at the time, clearly recalls being astounded when I pointed to the picture of Jesus, since she had never seen me pay any attention to the picture before my illness. The hospital of course, changed their diagnosis, the reason: “no one recovers from Bulbar Polio like that”.
Everyone must make up their own minds regarding the veracity of this story. If you were a skeptic before, you probably still are a skeptic. You should be able to find enough holes in my story support your unbelief. Actually, there were a number of eyewitnesses who didn’t believe it at all, but consider these facts: a little boy was deathly ill, people prayed, and the boy was instantly well. An 18 month old child recognized a man in a picture, Jesus of Nazareth, and gave him all the praise for performing a miracle.
Like I said before, I have no recollection of these events. I wish I did, I would love to recall what heaven is like, but I’m sure God has his reasons. Like I also said before, it’s not really my story. It belongs to the people whose lives were changed by those events. I do however, feel a responsibility to share it, simply because it needs to be told. I think if my Mom and Dad were alive today, they would want you to know, that however big your challenge, God is bigger still, and will bring you through the darkest of nights.