One of the toughest decisions a person could be faced with is what to do about a family member on life support who doesn’t appear to be getting better. Ryan Finley found himself having to make that very decision after a seemingly ordinary morning rapidly took a turn for the worse. When his wife wouldn’t wake up, Ryan did everything he could to make sure she’d be okay. After two weeks of her being unresponsive in the hospital, Ryan had accepted that this was the end. Then something unexplainable happened.
Four Years Happily Married
Ryan and Jill Finley were your average happy Oklahoma couple. At the age of 31 and 32-years-old, the pair had been married for four years and still had plenty of time to look forward to together.
Ryan stayed busy with his work as a plumbing contractor, and Jill had a career as a loan underwriter. In their spare time, the couple got to enjoy their home together, with Ryan reading on the porch and Jill catching up on sleep.
Nothing Out Of The Ordinary
On one particular weekend, things started out seeming absolutely normal. The couple loved to surround themselves with family and friends, and no one had noticed anything out of the ordinary.
That Sunday morning, Ryan woke up a little after 7 AM and felt something he’d never felt before. He had no idea what it was, but something told him to see if Jill was okay. She was sleeping in bed next to him as usual, but then he noticed what was wrong.
He Couldn’t Wake Her Up
In an interview with Brad Mattes, Ryan admitted that he had no idea what came over him. He would always let Jill sleep in on the weekend, but for some reason, this time was different.
He felt like he had to make sure she was okay. Sure enough, no matter how hard he shook her or tried to shout her awake, Jill remained unresponsive. He frantically leaned in close to make sure she was at least breathing.
She Wasn’t Breathing
Ryan’s fears became a reality when he realized that Jill wasn’t breathing. Now he knew something was definitely wrong, so he sprang up to dial 911. After reporting the emergency, Ryan proceeded to perform CPR on his wife.
He had fortunately learned CPR in a class, but that was a decade ago. He placed Jill on the floor and began performing what he remembered from all those years ago. Despite not needing to use it until now, Ryan managed to perform CPR on his wife.
15 Minutes Later, The Paramedics Arrived
Despite his best efforts, Ryan couldn’t revive Jill with CPR. He had no choice but to wait for the ambulance, which he said felt like it took hours to arrive. In actuality, they were there in about 15 minutes.
When they did arrive, Ryan had to stand back as he witnessed paramedics try to revive Jill with a defibrillator. The machine sent electric shocks to Jill’s heart, causing her body to jolt and hit the floor.
The Hospital Was Their Only Hope
Ryan could hear the thump of his wife’s body hitting the ground as the paramedics did all they could to revive her. Still, their efforts were to no avail. They were going to have to head to the hospital.
The EMTs loaded Jill into the ambulance and rushed her to Oklahoma Heart Hospital. As emotional as Ryan was, he managed to drive his car behind the ambulance. Once they arrived, Jill was immediately admitted into the ER.
Doctors Were Finally Able To Stabilize Her
Once Jill was admitted into the ER, doctors immediately put her on a respirator. It took almost half an hour for them to stabilize Jill. With hard work and determination, the doctors managed to get Jill’s heart to start beating again.
She started to breathe again, but that was only half the battle. Now they had to determine what had happened so they could take the best course of action. Ryan was still grappling with what had just occurred.
Racing To Lower Her Body Temperature
The doctors were able to determine that Jill had gone into cardiac arrest while she was sleeping. The experience had depleted her body of oxygen for almost five minutes!
At this point, they knew that Jill was at risk for developing brain damage from the event. To help mitigate the risk, they put her in a chill suit that would lower her body temperature to 90 degrees. For the next 24 hours, Jill would be wrapped in cooling pads.
Hope That She Would Finally Wake Up
After successfully bringing Jill’s body temperature down, it was time to warm her up again. The doctors hoped that during this process, she would wake up, as is common for patients.
When Jill remained unconscious, the doctors ran some tests that revealed she had limited brain activity. She had officially fallen into a coma which meant that the next couple of days would tell how likely her odds for recovery would be. All the while, Ryan stayed hopeful.
Ryan Didn’t Want To Miss A Beat
Through it all, Ryan didn’t leave Jill’s side. He slept in the hospital and would even curl up in Jill’s bed. He didn’t want to be away the moment that Jill opened her eyes.
As devoted as Ryan was, his hope began dwindling as the days passed. The longer Jill remained in a coma, the lower the odds were that she would wake up, let alone that she would recover. Still, Ryan patiently waited for his wife to open her eyes.
The Odds Were Against Them
Reality started to sink in when the doctors explained what the odds for Jill’s recovery looked like. They said that after 48-72 hours, the odds of Jill recovering dropped down to just 1%.
As the days rolled on, Ryan had to find a way to accept what was happening. He turned to journaling to get his thoughts in order and try to process things as best he could. The devoted husband took whatever comfort he could get from writing and being near Jill.
Every Morning Was A Reminder
Facing this harsh reality was something Ryan did, again and again, every morning when he opened his eyes. He said, “Every morning I’d wake up and I’d realize, this isn’t a dream.”
Even worse was that the doctors were consistently becoming less hopeful as there weren’t any signs of improvement. As the days turned into weeks, it became less likely that Jill would wake up. Even if she did, it was possible she wouldn’t be able to function like before.
Talking To Jill’s Parents
Ryan wasn’t the only one emotionally impacted by Jill’s condition. Her parents had to come to terms with the fact they might outlive their daughter. After two weeks had passed with no improvements, it was time to make some tough decisions.
Ryan spoke with Jill’s parents about what the best course of action moving forward would be. They ultimately had to determine how long they would have her remain on life support, even with slim to no odds of getting better.
He Poured His Heart Into His Diary
As Ryan faced the toughest decision he’d ever had to make, he wrote about the dilemma in his diary. He wrote, “Today could be the worst day of my life. I essentially have to decide whether or not Jill will live. My soul mate. My everything.”
There are few dilemmas that could be worse than the one Ryan faced. As he thought it over, he realized he actually had the answer all along thanks to one memory.
Jill Had Already Said What She Wanted Years Before
Ryan and Jill were barely in their 30s and didn’t yet have kids, so making plans in case something like this happened wasn’t on their agenda yet. Still, they did have a discussion about it years prior.
Ryan’s aunt had been on life support at one point, and it prompted a conversation between him and Jill. Suddenly, he remembered that she told him she wouldn’t want to live like that. At last, he knew his answer.
Respecting Her Wishes
Ryan talked it over with Jill’s family and they agreed that what she would want would be to end things rather than moving forward on life support. Though the decision was heartbreaking, remembering their conversation years ago gave Ryan clarity.
He requested the necessary court order and let the doctors know of his decision. Now that they knew what direction Ryan wanted them to go down, there were a few words of caution they had.
Preparing For The End
The doctors warned Ryan that something called the “last rally” often happens when people are taken off life support. They might move or make sounds as their body adjusts and begins to shut down.
Ryan and the rest of Jill’s family prepared for what was ahead. They gathered together to tell Jill their final goodbyes, and the doctors removed the life support. Even though Ryan had stuck by her side all this time, what happened next was too much for him.
The Last Rally
Ryan recalled that Jill’s “whole upper torso would just kind of shift a little bit. And then the mumbling would start.” Seeing the life slipping out of his wife like that was too much for Ryan.
He left the room and got physically sick. Ryan had done an amazing job of holding it together and being realistic, but it all was finally getting to him. He couldn’t stand there and watch as Jill faded away.
Ryan Braced Himself To Return To Jill’s Side
Though Ryan was initially overwhelmed, that changed when hours passed and Jill was still hanging on. Five hours after Jill was taken off life support, Ryan’s mom encouraged him to come back inside.
She said that Jill was doing something that he should see. Ryan hesitated, thinking it was just going to make the end that much harder. Still, he wanted to know what was going on, so he braced himself to see Jill one last time.
Jill Wanted To Go Home
As soon as Ryan walked in the door, he realized that Jill wasn’t just mumbling nonsense as part of her last rally. The first thing he heard her say was “Get me out of here” and “I want to go home.”
Ryan was so well aware of the impossible odds of Jill’s recovery that he didn’t want to believe that she was regaining consciousness. But then she humorously said she wanted to go to their favorite restaurant, and he knew she was back.
She Could Even Answer Questions!
As Jill miraculously started coming back to life, Ryan wavered in his belief. He decided to ask her some questions to be sure this was all really happening. He asked the name of their dog and cat, to which she replied with the right answers!
He asked her their address and simple math equations like “What’s five plus five?” Again, Jill got everything correct. She was not only awake, but her brain was fully functioning, too!
An Unbelievable Recovery
As Ryan began to accept the fact his wife had beat the odds, he filled with joy too incredible to describe. He explained, “I can’t imagine a feeling better than what I felt right then.”
He said that he had spent days preparing to lose his wife, and instead the best possible scenario had happened. He described being in a dream-like state for the next 24 hours until it finally hit him that she was really back.
The Doctors Were Baffled
Ryan wasn’t the only one who was utterly baffled at what had happened. One of the doctors explained that the likelihood of Jill’s recovery was at 1% after the first couple days of her coma.
Every day thereafter, the chances dropped even lower so that she was one of very few people who this could possibly happen to. Jill even said that they told her she’s “not textbook material.” As for Jill, all she could remember of the saga was the hospital’s big shower.
Jill’s Response To Ryan’s Decision
Jill had the unique experience of finding out that her spouse had agreed to take her off life support. Often times when that happens, the person doesn’t live to find out about it.
In Jill’s case, she was able to respond to his decision, which she absolutely agreed with. She said that she “would not have wanted to live like that” and so “he did the right thing.” Jill concluded that living like a vegetable is “just not me.”
The Condition Behind It All
Now that Jill was back, attention shifting immediately toward making sure this would never happen again. The doctors discovered that she had a congenital condition that had caused her heart to stop in her sleep.
Though they couldn’t explain her incredible recovery, they could surgically implant a pacemaker that would keep her heart going in the future. Should something like this ever happen again, the device would shock her heart back to life before she lost any oxygen, preventing future comas.
Getting Her Life Back
Though Jill was doing much better than the doctors would have expected, she still needed some assistance to get back to her normal self. For months, she relearned how to do simple tasks like brushing her teeth and tying her shoes.
She went to a rehabilitation center where occupational and speech therapists helped her develop the skills she had lost while in a coma. In the end, she was able to become her normal self again.
They Appreciate Eachother Like Never Before
The light at the end of Ryan and Jill’s dark tunnel was the newfound appreciation they had for one another. Though they were a loving couple before, the experience taught them just how precious each moment they have together is.
Jill said that she and Ryan spend every possible moment they can together. Even if they’re just running errands together, there’s a sense of awe they have at the everyday moments they get to share.
Becoming Lighthearted Again
Even after going through such a heavy ordeal, Ryan and Jill have been able to keep a sense of humor. Jill said that their friends joke about being jealous of the experience because it made her and Ryan like newlyweds.
It’s easy to take people for granted, and this can be especially true for married couples. All of the necessary compromises can start to build resentments over the years. For Ryan and Jill, they have a perspective that extends far beyond normal bickering.
Nominated For An Award
While Ryan was more than fulfilled after getting his wife back, his community felt he deserved something extra. After all he had been through, it seemed only right to acknowledge the loyal husband.
The hospital where Jill was treated nominated him for the Oklahoma Heart Hero Award. It’s given to locals who used CPR or an AED (automated external defibrillator) to save a life. Since Jill’s recovery all started with Ryan’s CPR performance, he was eligible for the award.
He Checks On Her Every Night
Ryan’s concern for Jill didn’t end when she returned home. He said, “There’s not a night that goes by that I don’t wake up.” He joked, “I usually kick her and if she kicks me back, I know we’re okay.”
Jill had a funny piece of news to share, as well. She confirmed for anyone wondering that they did, in fact, go to the restaurant she mumbled about when she first woke up in the hospital.
Nine Years Later Their Favorite Gift Was Still Unopened
While Brandon and Kathy talked about wedding gifts, they remembered their personal favorite. Ironically, their best wedding gift still sat in the closet, unopened. Neither Brandon nor Kathy had peeked inside throughout their nine years of marriage.
The couple eventually decided to unwrap that gift one night and discover what lay inside. But the present’s meaning didn’t come from what was inside. The meaning came from the nine years in which the couple refused to open it.
Flashback To The Gunn’s Wedding
Brandon and Kathy Gunn of Northville, Michigan, got married on September 1st, 2007. The two exchanged vows in Jackson with 300 people in the audience. They received hundreds of wonderful wedding gifts, but one stood out.
The gift was from Kathy’s great aunt, Alison. It was a white box with minimal wrapping other than a silver bow. On top of the box, an enclosed letter read, “Do Not Open Until 1st Disagreement.” It was certainly not your typical wedding gift.
Did They Not Have A Disagreement Over Nine Years?
Did the couple not open the present because they’ve never argued?? According to Kathy, that wasn’t the case. “Now, there had obviously been plenty of disagreements, arguments, and slammed doors throughout our nine years,” she wrote on Facebook.
Kathy told ABC News that they “didn’t want to turn to the box because once you open it, you don’t have it. And then what do you do?” What if the present contained something that they needed for a massive argument?
It Was Also A Competition
There was another reason why Kathy and Brandon didn’t open the gift. According to Kathy, they are “very competitive people.” “We love a challenge,” she told ABC News. The box became a strange sort of game to them.
“I honestly think that we both avoided turning to the box because it would have symbolized our failure,” Kathy wrote on Facebook. “And we’re both too stubborn and determined for that.” Neither Kathy nor Brandon wanted to be the first person who “cracked.”
Which Disagreement Was Big Enough?
On top of that, Brandon and Kathy couldn’t agree on which disagreement was “big enough” to warrant opening the gift. “What if this isn’t our worst fight?” Kathy reasoned. “What if there’s a worse one ahead of us, and we don’t have our box?”
The couple thought that if they had opened the box after a disagreement, it would have symbolized “failure.” In fact, Kathy’s Great Uncle Bill often said, “Nothing is so bad that it couldn’t get worse.”
“Have You Opened It Yet?”
Although Kathy and Brandon refused to open their present, that didn’t stop other family members from becoming curious. Aunt Alison herself asked the couple about it two years into their marriage.
When Aunt Alison asked if they had opened it, Kathy admitted that they hadn’t. “She looked at us like we were crazy,” Kathy later said with a laugh. The box quickly became a family joke: the present that the Gunn couple would never open.
The Product Of 50 Years Of Marriage
Aunt Alison’s gift meant a lot to Kathy. She and her grand-niece were very close; Kathy called her a “surrogate grandmother.” Plus, Alison had been married to her husband, Bill, for 50 years.
Bill had passed away in 2004, three years before the Gunn wedding. The loss devastated both Alison and the rest of Kathy’s family. But as a result, Aunt Alison’s gift became more meaningful. Whatever the box contained, it was a product of 50 years of marriage.
One Person Was Not A Fan
While most of the family laughed at Aunt Alison’s unopened gift, one person was not as amused. This was Kathy’s mother, who worried about her daughter leaving the present to gather dust.
“My mom was like, ‘Kathy, what if there’s food in there or something?'” Kathy recalled. They checked with Aunt Alison, who confirmed that there was no food or perishable objects. Still, Kathy’s mom thought it was crazy that she and Brandon hadn’t opened the gift yet.
The Box Gathered Dust For Nine Years
During all of this time, Aunt Alison’s box gathered dust in the couple’s closet. Kathy and Brandon had two kids, a daughter and a son. They also moved three times, and the gift followed them from house to house.
Despite all of the arguments Kathy and Brandon had, they never opened the box. The gift had become too important to them. “We didn’t want to ruin the importance of taking that in by opening it after a silly fight,” Kathy said.
Why They Finally Opened The Gift
That leads us to May 29th, 2016. While discussing gifts for their friend’s wedding, Kathy turned to her husband and said, “We still have the box.” Brandon responded, “If we’ve made it this far, I don’t think we need the box to save us.”
When the Gunns decided that they didn’t need the box, they finally opened it. With much anticipation, the unwrapped the gift that gathered dust in their closet for nine years…and laughed at the contents inside.
So What Was In The Box?
When the Gunns finally opened Alison’s gift, they saw two wine glasses, candles, and an aromatic bath kit. Both Brandon and Kathy laughed at the sight. Had they really waited nine years for a couple of wine glasses and candles?
These objects seemed to be Aunt Alison’s solution to any relationship dispute. However, that wasn’t the most personal part of the gift. Alison also put in two notes, one to Kathy and the other to Brandon.
The More Personal Part Of The Gift
Kathy and Brandon each received a note with their name on it. Kathy’s message read, “Go get a pizza, shrimp, or something you both like. Love, Aunt Alison.” Brandon’s note said, “Brandon, Go get flowers and a bottle of wine. Love, Aunt Alison.”
Both notes encased $200 for the couple to buy their respective gifts for each other. Truly, Alison had wrapped her tried-and-true methods for the couple to make it up to each other after a disagreement.
Wait, That Was It?
In retrospect, the gift seemed pretty lackluster. The Gunns had waited nine years for a few wine glasses, a bath kit, and money. This whole time, the couple had expected it to be–well, more. But the contents of the gift weren’t what made it meaningful.
“All along, we assumed that the contents of that box held the key to saving a marriage–an age-old trick–unbeknownst to us rookies,” Kathy wrote on Facebook. Was it the key?
The Gift’s Meaning Had Evolved Since Then
It wasn’t the contents of the box that taught Kathy and Brandon about marriage; it was the fact that they avoided opening it. Brandon and Kathy learned to work through troubles themselves by not relying on the gift to solve their disagreements.
“That box went beyond what I believe my Great Aunt had intended,” Kathy wrote. “[It] high on a shelf in various closets gathering dust, yet it somehow taught us about tolerance, understanding, compromise, and patience.”
How The Box Helped Their Problems
By remaining unopened, Aunt Alison’s gift somehow helped the Gunns. In an interview with Today, Kathy described how she and Brandon’s struggles evolved. “First, you fight about picking up clothes off the floor, then later you fight about not getting sleep because of colicky babies.”
Each time they had a disagreement, Kathy and Brandon debated over whether to open the box. “We’d say, ‘We think this is a mountain, but maybe it’s a molehill,'” Kathy said.
Deciding They Don’t Need It
Every time Brandon and Kathy debated over the box, they decided that they didn’t need it. They always discovered a way to solve the arguments on their own. Whether the box contained an old secret or a solution, they didn’t know. But they never needed it.
“I realized that the tools for creating and maintaining a strong, healthy marriage were never within that box,” Kathy wrote. “They were within us.” Ironically, not needing the gift is what kept their marriage alive.
Their Story Goes Viral
Kathy didn’t keep this story to herself. After she and Brandon opened the gift, they shared their findings with Facebook. Kathy told her story on the Facebook page, “Love What Matters.”
Her story quickly went viral. The post garnered 18,000 likes, 900 comments, and 4,000 shares. People all over the world found inspiration in the Gunn’s story, commenting on how wise Kathy’s Aunt and Uncle were. Many believe that the gift worked exactly as it was intended to.
The Gift That Keeps On Giving
Kathy told People that she’s surprised at how many people became inspired by her story. “My husband and I are in awe of how much attention this story has garnered,” she said. “It seems to be the gift that keeps on giving!”
Initially, Kathy posted the story to bring attention to her great aunt. Now, Aunt Alison is even more surprised that the Gunn’s at how much her gift has spread. She had not envisioned this when she made the gift nine years ago.
Thanking Her Aunt After Nine Years
After Kathy and Brandon looked at the present, they called Aunt Alison, who lives in Ohio. Kathy told Today that her great aunt was “flabbergasted” and “tickled.” “She thinks that it’s the funniest and the cutest thing because she can’t believe we even hung onto it for that long.”
“She also thought it was a great story, but she thought we were crazy,” Kathy continued. Aunt Alison knew it was a special gift, but she didn’t realize how special it had become.
The Gunn’s Advice On Couple Disagreements
Kathy and Brandon Gunn received the gift to learn how to handle disagreements. Now that so much time has passed, they can share their advice. In an interview with People, Kathy said that all couples need a strong foundation.
“For the little things, learn how to disagree and move on,” she said. “For the bigger things, learn how to get mad and get over it. Giving up was never an option in our situation because we never had the illusion that marriage was going to be easy.”
What’s The Takeaway?
There are many lessons that come from wise Aunt Alison’s gift. But for Kathy, the most important lesson is to put things into perspective. “It really forced us, every time we had a disagreement, to think about the bigger picture and ask, ‘Is it really that big of a deal?'” she told Today.
“I hope it will inspire people to reassess their situations and think about their love—why they got married in the first place.”