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There was nothing left to do but die

Mark Dean spent much of his life working hard and kicking around, playing guitar and singing.

Then life kicked him back.

In just a couple of days in 2005, Dean went from the picture of health to death’s door. He remembers lying on a hospital bed listening to the doctor say there was nothing left to do but let him die.

If it were not for a passing cardiac physician, that is just what would have happened, Dean said.

Now, he tells his story and sings his songs with renewed faith in God and a passion for ministry.

The turning point in Dean’s life began quietly on an October day as the Doe Run construction business owner conducted business as usual.

“I had some chest pain and nausea,” he recalled. “But I was so busy, I just kept going.”

Later, he noticed swelling in his ankles and legs and he began to have shortness of breath. He went to the emergency room, and was told he had pneumonia, even though he had no fever. They admitted him for treatment, but he grew worse.

A doctor told Dean and his wife, Jackie, that Dean’s kidneys were shutting down.

“He said, ‘You’re going to die. There’s nothing we can do.’ And then he walked out of the room,” Dean said. “I started hyperventilating. I knew I was bad, but not that bad.”

That was when a heart specialist from Missouri Baptist who was in the hospital happened to walk by. He glanced in as he passed, then backed up and came into the room.

“He looked at my ankles and said, ‘You’ve got a heart problem. You’re going to St. Louis,’” Dean said.

No helicopter was available, so Dean was transported to Missouri Baptist in an ambulance — a very, very fast ambulance.

In St. Louis, doctors told Dean he was in congestive heart failure and put him in an intensive care unit. They began draining fluid, and Dean felt the pressure in his body ease. In all, they drained a total of 47 pounds of fluid from his body, he said.

When he asked if he would live, the doctor answered, “We’ll see.”

Later, the physician said he believed Dean had only four hours to live by the time he arrived in St. Louis. The left side of Dean’s heart had stopped working. Even with medicines helping his heart to pump, Dean was too tired to do more than walk about 15 feet. Doctors said he might never improve.

“It was about a year-and-a-half before I could get around much at all,” Dean admitted. “It was a long process.”

When he reached a point where he could stand for short periods of time, Dean spent his time baking apple and cherry pies for his family and people at church. During his recovery, he also renewed his faith in God.

“I got saved and started going to church,” he said. “I went to church as a kid, but that was because it was the ‘right thing to do.’ This made me decide to turn it all over to God — 100 percent, instead of 60 percent or 40 percent.”

He also renewed his love of playing the guitar. As children living near Piedmont, Dean and his older brother took guitar lessons, but quit after a while.

“We wanted to play real music,” he explained. “They wanted us to play ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb.’” His brother bought a guitar and started learning to play from other guitarists. Dean watched closely and learned from his brother, who went on to become a professional musician and songwriter in Nashville.

Dean’s first guitar was a Harmony Sovereign acoustic, which he bought at a yard sale. In high school, he played in a band that performed music by Credence Clearwater  and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Guitar playing took a back seat while Dean was building a business and raising children. After his illness, he sometimes picked up the guitar, but it was all he could do to hold it. As he grew stronger, he slowly began to play again — half a song, a whole song, then two or three in a row.

These days, Dean is still not strong enough to put in a full day’s work, but hopes his doctor will release him to work part-time. He has built his repertoire to about 60 gospel songs. Some have a rock flavor, others reflect his love of the blues. All have a common theme — love for God.

He performs for free up to an hour at a time in nursing homes, retirement homes and church. Last summer, he performed for inmates in the Christian community at Potosi Correctional Center. Dean was moved by the experience.

“Some of them were on death row. Those guys were all so appreciative,” he said. “They were hugging us and thanking us. I felt as though I was in my own church.”

Wherever God leads him, Dean said he uses the opportunity to spread the Gospel through his music. He has been asked to sing at the Desloge Labor Day picnic.

His favorite audience is the elderly.

“’I’ll Fly Away’ is the last song of every show,” he added. “It’s upbeat and everyone can sing along.”

For more information about Dean or his music ministry, go to his Web site at http://www.myspace.com/markdeanmusic.

Paula Barr is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 172 or at pbarr@dailyjournalonline.com.

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