Paul Bayer wasn’t supposed to live to see this day, but God had another plan
August 1, 2014 | Ashli O'Connell
When Paul Bayer walked the line during Evangel University’s May 2014 commencement service and received his diploma, his mom and dad were proud — just like all the other parents seated in the auditorium. But they were also in awe of the miracle that the moment represented, perhaps in a way that many other people present could never have imagined.
Because Audrey and Tim Bayer’s son wasn’t supposed to graduate from college. He wasn’t supposed to graduate from high school. In fact, five years ago, he wasn’t even expected to live.
On April 10, 2010, Paul was in a car accident and sustained severe traumatic brain injuries. He was life flighted to Creighton University Trauma Center in Omaha, Nebraska, where his parents, Audrey and Tim Bayer, were told to expect the worst.
Audrey says the list of concerns was overwhelming. Among the worst were bleeding and swelling of his brain, fluid around his heart, fluid in his lungs, respiratory failure, the beginning of renal failure and Steven Johnson Syndrome (a serious reaction to medication or infection). “We were told by the physician that they were doing all they could, and one of Paul’s nurses recommended that we go out into the waiting room to pray, for it was in God’s hands,” says Audrey.
That’s exactly what Paul’s family did. And an entire community joined them.
“Our small community began to pray for Paul. We had people talking to God who had not spoken to our Lord in a very long time. We had a community on their knees and in church praying for Paul. Not only did people say they were praying, but they actually came up to the hospital and got on their knees and prayed with us.”
Audrey says watching the community unite in prayer for her son was the first of many miracles she saw during this ordeal. “We would all pray in Paul’s room with nurses around us, holding hands. God was using a boy unable to speak and knocking on death’s door.”
A delicate procedure was performed to reduce the swelling in Paul’s brain. He survived the procedure, but the post-surgery update from the doctor was not good. Paul had suffered extensive brain damage.
“They told us that we now had an 18-year-old body with maybe a 3-year-old in it,” Audrey says. “Paul was unable to walk, talk, swallow, sit up by himself. He did not even know his family or friends. Our dreams for Paul were crushed. He would not be going to college as we had planned. He would not even graduate from high school, have children, drive or do everyday things.” Paul was eventually transferred to a pediatric rehabilitation facility.
After an initial assessment Audrey and Tim were told to expect a 3-month stay at that facility and then be transferred to an assisted-living home. It would be at least a year before he could come home. But God had a different plan.
‘Not our plan, not the doctor’s plan, but His plan’
Paul began a rigorous schedule of physical, occupational and speech therapy. “God was answering prayers,” Audrey says. “God began to implement His timetable for Paul. Not our plan, not the doctor’s plan, but His plan. Our God was restoring Paul back to the way he was before the accident.”
Paul came home in three weeks; not one year. He walked across the stage with his class and received his high school diploma on May 16, 2010 — barely two months after the accident.
And then, the question of college.
Paul had chosen Evangel University before the accident occurred, but his doctors strongly advised against it. “Paul underwent much testing to see how his brain was functioning at that time,” his mother says. “After the testing, the doctor’s recommendation was not to send Paul to college. It would be too stressful, and he might fail. Paul could not have a lifestyle like most college students. He could not sustain another head injury. He could not have alcohol, drugs or many late nights.”
But Paul had no interested in a college like that anyway. He was determined that God had called him to Evangel. “I really felt like the student body had a hunger to know God,” he says. “That was very appealing to me as it is great to pursue the Lord with people of like mindedness. I also noticed the great relationships that were fostered at Evangel, professors and students included. I remember the interest the professors had in my personal life. That was something I thought about and compared to other colleges. It was something Evangel had that other schools did not have.”
Audrey and Tim left the decision up to Paul. “He wanted to go to Evangel,” she says. “He had worked hard for three months and wanted to go to college. So off to college Paul went.”
Some people questioned the wisdom of that decision, but the Bayers felt confident that Paul’s life had always been in God’s hands. “I had a mother from my community ask how I could send Paul seven hours away. I just answered that I had been 10 minutes away when Paul had his accident, and that didn’t prevent it from happening.” But that didn’t mean it was easy.
More than an education
“I cried many nights after he left,” Audrey says. “My son did not go to college the way others go. He went to school so fragile. I could not stay and protect his head, prevent him from drinking alcohol, make him study and get enough sleep. I almost buried my son before college, and now I was having to let go again and trust that God would provide.”
She recounts with joy the incredible experience that her son had at Evangel. “He began to develop friendships, his professors mentored him with godly integrity, and the people of our community watched Paul grow into a godly man. We have been blessed. Paul got more than an education at Evangel. He developed friends for life, learned how to be a leader of integrity, strengthened his faith in God and prepare to go off into the secular world prepared to do what God directs his steps to do.”
Paul majored in Government and minored in Philosophy. He excelled at Evangel, and was elected president of the student senate during his senior year. He was accepted to the Robertson School of Government at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where he will pursue a master’s degree in political theory.
“I’m not sure where or what I will be doing for a job after grad school but I plan on continuing to listen to where the Lord calls me and continually answer His call,” he says.
Audrey and Paul both say they are confident that the accident and his experience at Evangel happened for a reason. “It was not by chance that we went through what we did,” Audrey says. “I am so grateful to everyone at Evangel because the work they do matters for people like my son and for others.”
For other students who may be facing a challenge as they consider college, Paul has two pieces of advice. “First, rely on God for everything, in good times and bad. He has been my rock throughout this entire time. Second, take big challenges and break them down into smaller challenges. When I first woke up from my accident I had to relearn how to do everyday activities. Eating, walking, writing, etc. If you can imagine, that is quite a challenge for an 18-year-old who has done these things his entire life and taken activities like that for granted. I remember constantly thinking, I need to take it one day at a time. One challenge at a time. One activity at a time. Everything will be done in good timing that way, and the huge challenge will be made easier.”
Paul is taking one more blessing away with him from Evangel. This summer he married fellow 2014 Evangel graduate Chelsea (Brookbank) Bayer. The couple has moved to Virginia, where Paul is a grad student at Regent University. Paul’s younger sister, Grace, is currently a student at Evangel.