• By Theodore Lewis

When a mustard seed moved a mountain


Portland, Maine— In this unusual time of great need for physical healing, jobs, financial help, and, in many cases, food on the table more and more people are looking for help from a higher power.

In the time of America's Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, one of our country's great leaders, helped many through difficult times with his famous words: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

FDR's last written words on the last day of his life, April 12, 1945, were: "The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.”

It's always been easy for me to have faith in the little things in life, but I have struggled many times with having faith when there are seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

In 2005 my new team at Parkview Adventist Medical Center was doing an excellent job at building up the hospital. Admissions were increasing along with an improving bottom line. We had just acquired a new high-tech CT scanner and our Medical Staff Office had just recruited a new board-certified internist/gerontologist.

During my initial days at Parkview, I learned of the decades-long struggle with a competitor that had triggered many attacks on Parkview meant to either cripple or kill the hospital.

I was about to experience this real threat firsthand. The standard of care in Parkview's service area for a small general acute care hospital with an ICU, Med-Surg Unit, and Emergency Room required having a qualified pulmonologist. Parkview had a contract with a group of experienced pulmonologists who recently signed a contract to also cover our competitor.

On a quiet Sunday evening, I received a call from my nurse executive saying that a critical patient was brought to our emergency department. When the pulmonology specialist on call was called to come in, he informed the supervisor that he and his group were no longer covering our hospital. Without an available specialist, I was compelled to close our ICU.

On Monday morning, I made a phone call to the administrator of this group notifying him that our bylaws required a 45-day notice to terminate privileges and responsibilities. Service was restored and a 45-day notice of termination of our contract was hand-delivered to me.

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I had six weeks to find an experienced pulmonologist or I would have to close our ICU, which would then start a domino effect and severely cripple or kill the hospital. At that time there was a severe shortage of pulmonologists nationwide, especially in Maine. If I found an acceptable applicant from out of state, it would take four to six weeks to get a Maine license application approved.

We furiously exhausted all of our contacts, recruiters, and known sources that might lead us to an acceptable candidate. Two weeks to the deadline, we still had no viable leads and I was feeling sick to my stomach. Even if we found someone from out of state, we would still have to close our ICU for a period of time as it would take at least 30 days to get that physician licensed to practice in Maine.

A physician, who is a church member, gave me a VHS video tape, which I watched later that afternoon. It was a recording from a Loma Linda School of Medicine Alumni meeting where a surgeon from London shared his story of being called to take a mission appointment, but was confronted with seemingly insurmountable challenges. He related reading the biblical text of Matt. 17:20: "If you have faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to a mountain, move from here to there, and it would move. Nothing would be impossible."

After watching this video, I nearly leapt off the couch to tell my wife that I knew the answer to my problem: my faith. How ashamed I was of the earlier words in my prayer that day, "if it be thy will.” What a statement of timid disbelief.

Three days later, our Board Executive Committee convened a meeting at which I was asked to have prayer at the conclusion of the meeting. This time, however, my prayer showed confidence of my belief in God's promise as I prayed, "Thank you in advance God for answering my prayer."

The next day, as further demonstration of my faith, I sent a fax to the participants of the meeting again thanking God in advance for answering my prayer. Two days later, I received a phone call from a gentleman in Freeport, Maine.

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"Mr. Lewis, my name is Robert Aronson. I'm a pulmonologist, board-certified in Internal Medicine, Pulmonology and Critical Care Medicine, and I've taught at Tufts and Emory. I've heard you are looking for a hospital-based pulmonologist and I'd like to apply.”

What? I had a hard time believing him so I asked him to fax over his CV. Then we scheduled an appointment for him to meet with me that afternoon.

Turns out Dr. Aronson had just completed a contract in Portland and was about to accept a teaching appointment in Georgia. His wife, having fallen in love with Freeport, had heard of the opening at Parkview and urged her husband to answer the ad.

After we vetted Dr. Aronson, I met with him to offer him the position and he accepted. We shook hands and I shared with him my belief in God and how I had developed faith “the size of a mustard seed” that brought him to us.

Dr. Aronson, a very devout Jewish, replied to me, "Ted, the same God that gave you faith the size of a mustard seed also guided my pathway here."

Dr. Aronson was able to start prior to expiration of the other group’s notice, and truly a mustard seed had moved a mountain.

Theodore Lewis is former CEO of Guam Memorial Hospital and has a healthcare consulting business based out of Portland, Maine. He is collecting stories about lessons learned in life and can be reached at theodorelewis@yahoo.com.

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