By Mark Ellis
He was underneath a Peterbilt logging truck’s engine when the jack gave way, and 10,000 pounds crushed his body to within an inch of the cement floor. In his near-fatal experience he watched two angels tend to his body as he miraculously came back from the edge of death.
“I traveled around Wisconsin doing on-site repairs on diesel engines,” says Bruce Van Natta, 42. On a mild fall day, he had fixed the coolant leak on the mammoth logging truck, put his tools away and was ready to leave, when the truck’s driver asked him to look at one more thing.
“There’s an oil seep in the front of the engine somewhere,” the man said. Bruce got on the creeper on the floor and slid under the huge chrome bumper, feet first. The truck was still running.
“Why don’t you jump inside and shut it off,” Bruce called out. With the front wheel removed and the truck jacked up, there was barely enough room for Bruce to slip under the axle that ran from wheel to wheel.
Bruce noticed the driver hadn’t positioned any safety equipment to support the jack – no blocking or jack stands. But Bruce had done the same thing many times himself to save time, so he wasn’t concerned.
But as the other man hopped up in the truck’s cab to shut off the engine, he watched the huge truck shift and rock slightly. “Out of the peripheral vision in my left eye I saw movement,” Bruce says. “I turned my head just in time to see the jack wiggle around and shoot out like a rocket.”
The leading edge under the massive engine – the truck’s axle – came down on Jack’s body like a blunt guillotine, with a crushing blow across his stomach nearly cutting him in half. It created the loudest noise Bruce had ever heard.
“Lord help me!” Bruce cried out twice. The force of the trauma on his stomach caused blood to shoot into his throat suddenly; he coughed and spit out a large blob. He bled internally from major arteries severed in five places.
Bruce looked at the left side of his body and saw he was only one inch thick. “I was thinner than the thickness of my spine,” he recalls. Because the axle went up at a slight angle, the axle crushed him to about two inches on the right side.
“Call 911!” Bruce screamed. The driver went into shock when he saw Bruce’s condition. After he placed the emergency call, he grabbed the jack to hoist the truck off Bruce’s body, but the only place he could find to attach it was one of the springs near the wheel – a precarious and unstable position.
As the engine lifted above his crushed stomach, Bruce thought it would be impossible to look this way and still be alive. It was somewhat surreal; he thought his flattened body resembled a cartoon character.
I’m probably going to die, he thought…this will probably kill me.
“Get me out from under the truck,” Bruce yelled, fearful the truck might fall again. But the other man refused to touch him. With two shattered vertebrae, it was not a good idea to move his body.
Bruce reached back and grabbed the chrome bumper himself, then used all the strength he could muster. “I pulled as hard as I could and got my head out,” he recalls, but the rest of his body was still under the truck.
Immediately after that exertion, Bruce passed out. He believes he died at that moment or had a near-death experience. “I can say I died because when the medical people got there I didn’t have a pulse.”
Then something very strange happened. “My spirit left my body and went up in the roof of the garage. My spirit was up there looking down, at perfect peace.”
The other man knelt over Bruce’s body, crying, running his fingers through Bruce’s hair, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he said repeatedly.
Then looking down from above, Bruce witnessed something even more startling. “I realized there was a huge angel on either side of my body,” he says. He estimates the angels were about eight feet tall, very muscular, dressed in white robes.
“There was a light shining off both of them,” he recalls. “They were identical in appearance, like matching bookends.” Their long hair flowed to the middle of their backs.
The angels’ robes were woven in such a way as to create a course, patterned material. “The robes were tight enough that I could see muscles bulging out of their shoulders, backs, and arms,” he notes. Their arms were positioned under the bumper, angled toward Bruce’s body.
Bruce estimates he was watching from above for about 30 to 40 minutes. Because he was in a rural area – the closest town was Adams Friendship, Wisconsin– the emergency responders were a volunteer fire department.
Immediately they grasped the severity of his injuries and called for a helicopter that would transport him toMadison’sTraumaCenter. The chopper came relatively quickly, but then turned around because there was no ambulance on the scene – no way to get his body into the helicopter.
Even though Bruce was ‘dead’ or ‘unconscious,’ he could later identify the 10 people who arrived, even the fact that two of them entered the building by the wrong door, something he could not have known unless his spirit observed from above.
One of the volunteers, Shannon Cila, kneeled down next to him and began lightly slapping his face.
“Bruce Van Natta, open your eyes. Bruce Van Natta open your eyes,” she said. She continued, as her voice rose.
From the ceiling, Bruce felt his spirit inch closer as she called out to him.
“All of a sudden I shot back into my body and I’m looking at this woman eye-to-eye.”
In his body, he suddenly felt excruciating pain. “In the ceiling I was at perfect peace, but back in my body I realized, ‘Oh crap, I’m the guy who was under the truck.’”
He glanced to the right and the left, but couldn’t see the angels anymore. Somehow, he sensed they were still there.
“I realized I was on the edge of life and death and I got scared. Every time Bruce shut his eyes, his spirit left his body and began to “rocket” down a tunnel. Then Shannon lightly slapped his face and called his name and his spirit returned.
“Do you want to live?” she asked him. “Do you have a wife and kids?”
His wife Lori and their four children jumped into his mind. I can’t die, he suddenly thought. I’ve got to be here for my family.
“No matter how bad it hurt, I decided I had to keep my eyes open,” he says.
It was more than two hours before Bruce received medical attention at UW Madison Trauma Center. The emergency room doctors on duty who examined Bruce’s initial CT scan, Dr. Scott Pinchot, Dr. Fumito Ito, and Dr. Daniel McKenna got into a vigorous disagreement because the CT scan indicated that Bruce should be dead.
With his superior mesenteric artery severed in two places, and other arteries and veins cut, he should have bled to death within minutes. What stunned the doctors is that he still registered a weak blood pressure and his heart was still beating.
Dr. McKenna, the chief resident in the trauma department told Bruce later: “We were looking at the CT scans of a dead person. You were dead; but your eyes were open and your heart was pounding like a 20-year-old man running a marathon.”
“We couldn’t make sense of it,” he said. “Was something in the CT Scan lying to us? You had bled out; we had no flow. We didn’t know what to make of it.”
Bruce believes the two angels followed him during the emergency and intervened to keep him alive. In addition to the severed arteries and veins, his pancreas and spleen were crushed, two vertebrae were broken, and most of his small intestine obliterated.
Doctors were so certain he would die within hours, they opened Bruce up and repaired the major arteries, attempting nothing more. They decided to wait four hours, believing he would die within that timeframe. They ultimately waited another 12 hours before any further intervention, they were so certain he would die. But his heart kept beating.
Next they placed Bruce into an induced coma. Eventually, he endured five surgeries over the next 12 months. After that, he had a year and a half of rehab.
Bruce credits his wife’s prayers in his miraculous survival. “When she first got the news, she got down on her knees and said, ‘Lord, I can’t deal with this. I need your help. If Bruce can’t be the man he wants to be, then take him. But if he can be who he wants to be, then please save him.’”
“She only took her Bible into the hospital and never left my side for three weeks except to go to the bathroom,” he says. “It was touch and go for a long time. There was miracle after miracle. God healed my spleen and my pancreas.”
When Bruce came out of the coma he got some bad news. “They only expected me to live one year because I didn’t have enough small intestines,” he says. While the average small intestine is 20 feet in length, Bruce only had three feet remaining – and that small portion was not functioning properly.
“They told me they could only feed me intravenously for a year and then I would die,” he notes. His weight dropped from 185 to 124 and he began to have the look of a concentration camp victim.
But a man named Bruce Carlson heard about Bruce Van Natta’s medical case from a prayer chain, then God woke Carlson up two mornings in a row with a special assignment: buy a plane ticket and fly from New York to Wisconsin to pray for Bruce’s healing.
Carlson argued with God about the $900 plane ticket. “I wasn’t looking for this,” Carlson notes.
“He showed up at the hospital and prayed for me,” Bruce recalls. Carlson placed his right hand on Bruce’s forehead, and then he prayed a bold prayer:
“Lord, I add my prayers to all the other prayers for Bruce. In the name of Jesus, I command you small intestine to grow back right now.”
Instantly, Bruce felt an “electric shock” and heard a snap. “An electricity, the power of God came right out of his hand and went into my intestines. I could feel them rolling around,” he says.
“It felt like a snake came uncoiled inside my stomach,” he continues. “I felt something cylindrical rolling around and moving inside my stomach.” Doctors confirmed the miracle later through x-rays and CT scans: his small intestine grew an additional seven feet in response to this prayer in Jesus name.
Not only did the intestine grow back, it worked perfectly. “When they tested it the small intestine worked exactly as if I had all my intestines. I was losing weight and then, all of a sudden, my weight leveled off.”
Sometime following the accident, Bruce left his business and entered full-time Christian work. Bruce authored a book about his miracle, “Saved by Angels” (Destiny Image) and is working on a new book that will come out in January.
He formed Sweet Bread Ministries, a non-denominational, evangelistic ministry dedicated to bringing people of all backgrounds into a closer, more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.
“I’m in great health now,” Bruce says. “God is real and He is still doing miracles today.”