The Rev. John Abbey’s perspective changed after he shared a room with a man in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

“I’ve been to nursing homes for years as a guest or as a pastor, but this time I got to be in the bed and see it from the other side,” said Abbey, 67. “They’re in the last stages of their lives; many of them will never see home again, but they’re people.”

Abbey, pastor of Bethel Church in Killeen, was hospitalized and then admitted to Indian Oaks Living Center in Harker Heights for rehab after he collapsed Feb. 6 at his home.

During his stay, Abbey said he listened to God and turned a bad situation into something good. He purposely asked his family not to bring him a TV, and instead spent his days getting to know his roommate, 89-year-old James Zapp.

“I had a job to do while I was there. My healing, the miracle was in the process,” said Abbey, who returned to the pulpit and conducted his first full Sunday service March 9. “I was there to learn, not just to heal, and hopefully to be a more compassionate pastor.”

Abbey had suffered from a syncope, which occurs when blood and oxygen are blocked from the brain. It resulted in

fractured ribs, lacerations, a hematoma — or a collection of blood outside the blood vessels — on the back of his right eye and he was knocked unconscious.

Earlier that day, Abbey didn’t realize he was in the process of passing out.

When his wife of 45 years, Linda, heard him knock over a floor fan and television tray, she asked him if he was OK.

“The last thing I remember saying or experiencing was when I told her, ‘No. I am not,’” Abbey said.

When he fell, Abbey said, he didn’t try to block his fall. He legs locked and he fell face first on the hallway tile.

“My wife said my head bounced off the floor and she thought I was dead,” Abbey said.

“There was no sign of life. She couldn’t get a pulse, so she called 911.”

When the operator asked Linda if she knew CPR, she said she learned when her children were young but didn’t know it anymore. Before the operator could give her instructions, Linda set down the phone and prayed.

“The third time Linda prayed and asked God to breathe the breath of life back into me, she said I jerked and inhaled the longest breath she has ever heard,” Abbey said in a letter to his congregation.

“I was breathing again, on my own, without CPR.”

Some people have asked Abbey if he had an out-of-body experience and he told them, “No.”

Instead, Abbey spent three weeks having an in-body experience and revelations at the nursing home. “I felt God speak to me and he said, ‘You are in my permissive will,’” Abbey said. “When that sank into my mind, lying at Indian Oaks, I realized I’m on assignment. I’m not just here to get well. I’m here to accomplish something and so from that point until the day I walked out, I made it my duty or challenge each day to try to touch somebody’s life in that nursing home.”

To the nonbeliever, Abbey said people can’t wait until the last minute to pray to God, asking to be saved.

“I had no warning,” Abbey said. “Death can come so quickly that you don’t have a moment to think about it — not even a moment.”

When Abbey’s physical wounds healed, his roommate didn’t want him to leave.

“He said, ‘I don’t want you to leave.” He said ‘Who am I going to get? Who else is going to come?’” Abbey said. “I learned a few lessons.”

Contact Sarah Rafique at or (254) 501-7553. Follow her on Twitter at SarahRafique.

I'm the education reporter at the Killeen Daily Herald. Follow me on Twitter at

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