Herald JournalHerald Journal, May 23, 2005

Pastor Swedberg has his third brush with death

By Lynda Jensen

For the third time, Pastor Joel Swedberg has been nearly killed under accidental circumstances.

Swedberg was undergoing routine surgery for his jaw joint recently in the Twin Cities when his trachea went into a spasm, cutting off his air supply for a dangerous length of time.

The surgical team ended up cutting a hole in the front wall of his throat to open his airway, averting brain damage and death.

“It was supposed to be routine surgery,” he said.

The surgery was intended to remove bone and scar tissue from his jaw joint on one side because he was having problems talking and eating.

From there, the extra bone was to be grafted to Swedberg’s lower jaw so that he could have a front tooth implanted properly.

The scarring of his jaw joint happened due to a near-fatal airplane crash July 2003 at the Winsted Airport.

Previously, Swedberg was involved in a near-fatal car crash in 1992, when his car hit the broad side of a semi truck.

For some reason, bone starts growing at a faster rate after it’s been subjected to trauma, Swedberg said.

Such was the case for him, since his jaw joint opened less and less during the past several months.

By the time of his surgery, Swedberg’s mouth could open only 16 millimeters, instead of the 42 millimeters that is usual for a normal jaw.

He had to take his food in the smallest of mouthfuls, with his mouth unable to open wide enough even to use a fork properly.

In fact, this complicated the surgery because it caused the surgeons to insert a breathing tube down his throat since they couldn’t get his mouth open wide enough for anything else.

They didn’t get very far because Swedberg’s trachea went into a spasm before the breathing tube could take effect.

Two minutes passed. After three minutes, brain damage begins to occur, he said.

The frantic surgeon attempted to push a needle through the front of Swedberg’s throat to open an airway, but the needle actually got bent from attempts to push through scar tissue and his locked trachea.

They finally cut through the wall of his throat to open up an airway, Swedberg said.

“I have no memory of any of this,” Swedberg said.

Prayer works – for the third time around

During his first two accidents, friends, family – and indeed a whole town – were praying for him.

It worked, he said.

This time around, others were praying for him as well.

His mother, Doris Swedberg of Buffalo, received a crystal clear message on the morning of the surgery: pray for the survival of your son. She did so.

Another pastor, Becky Worner of Hancock, was also praying for Swedberg that day.

Previously, as Swedberg was recovering from his airplane accident, he had people from across the state who were involved in a Christian program called the Alpha program praying for his healing.

In fact, Swedberg still sports a scar on his hand shaped like a red question mark, which occurred from a torn tendon from his airplane accident.

A red question mark happens to be the symbol for the Alpha program. It stands for having spiritual questions answered.

Swedberg, who is heavily involved in the program, spoke at an Alpha conference in Lakeville last year after his accident.

Swedberg has been the pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church of Howard Lake since 1991. He is married to Marylou, and they have two sons, Derek, 18, and Luke 10.

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