When six-week-old Scarlett Johnson was released from a hospital in Shreveport, La in March 2014, her parents Jake and Whitley Johnson were grateful for the doctors and nurses who saved their daughter's life from a near-fatal case of whooping cough. But the Johnsons were more than grateful for their daughter's roommate at Louisiana State University Hospital, 14-year-old Tristan Wiggins, whose actions ignited worldwide prayer on behalf of their fragile Scarlett.
Inside the hospital's pediatric intensive care unit, heavily sedated and breathing with help from a ventilator, Wiggins was unaware of his new roommate until Scarlett began to cough in the night. Nurses arrived within seconds of Wiggins pushing the remote call button next to his catheter tube, thinking the worst for their young patient recovering from an advanced case of pneumonia and fluid build-up in his lungs.
“Don't worry about me; take care of her,” the 14-year-old wrote after reaching for paper and pencil near his hospital bed.
Then, a groggy and drugged Wiggins began to write another note.
“Hey, everything is okay...I just wake up every time your child coughs...I want to pray for your family...So please let us pray for you if she's in bad shape,” Wiggins wrote in awkward penmanship before handing off his two-page letter destined for Scarlett’s parents.
In bad shape is exactly how medical teams described both Tristan and his roommate inside LSU's pediatrics wing. “I've worked with people as sick as Tristan, but none who lived,” says Randall Wiggins, the 14-year-old's father and a registered nurse for 18 years.
Only days before he wrote to the Johnsons, Tristan Wiggins was himself the subject of worldwide intercessory prayer that spread by email alerts and Facebook posts. Buoyed by that knowledge and his progressive improvement, Tristan believed prayer would work for Scarlett as it had for himself.
Bed-fast and connected to life support, Tristan looked at a bouquet of balloons he'd received as a get-well gift, and asked Jake Johnson to give them to Scarlett.
“I read Tristan's letter and it really touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes,” says 29-year-old Jake Johnson, who remembers a nurse telling him and Whitley that Scarlett was within a day or two of her life.
“There were times when we thought we'd lost her,” Jake Johnson says of the two-plus week ordeal that began March 5 at Minden Medical Center in Minden, La. Perplexed by Scarlett's rapidly deteriorating condition, doctors recommended her transfer to LSU Hospital 45 minutes away for more specialized acute care.
Given the dire prognosis, the Johnsons said they would be honored to have Tristan pray for their daughter, but they knew only remotely what that meant because his letter was in rough form due to his very serious condition. It mentioned Israel, Jesus, angels and a church in Colorado with 3,000 members.
The Johnsons soon learned that a Jerusalem-based prayer team and intercessors around the world were praying for Scarlett and Tristan because the 14-year-old's uncle, a pastor, had appealed to missionaries in Africa, Asia, Europe, India and South America.
“For the first time in our history, we sent a prayer request to every missionary we support,” says Pastor Jonathan Wiggins, Tristan's uncle and Randall Wiggins' brother. Typically, intercessors at Resurrection Fellowship, the church Jonathan Wiggins leads, prays for missionaries rather than asking them to intercede for the people who support them with finances and prayer.
A pastor of one of Israel's largest congregations, King of Kings Community in Jerusalem, was speaking at Jonathan Wiggins' church the weekend the pastor received news of his nephew's dire condition. Pastor Wayne Hilsden immediately sent a prayer alert to an intercessory prayer team in the Holy Land.
Jonathan Wiggins then told his nephew that intercessors around the world were praying for his recovery, the same message he told Jake Johnson days later by phone after Scarlett’s name was added to the Internet prayer rolls and Facebook posts and a church-wide plea to God for healing of both Tristan and Scarlett.
“It's prayer that kept us going,” says Jake Johnson. Tristan's kindness and concern for their daughter is something the Johnsons will never forget. “We intend to frame that letter, and my grandmother tells me that we need to get to know the Wiggins, their church and the people who prayed for our family, better,” he says.
Whitley Johnson is grateful for Scarlett's recovery, and she sees the potential in both Scarlett's and Tristan's stories to encourage others. “We want this to be an example to others and help them see just what God is capable of,” Whitley Johnson says.
Jonathan Wiggins hopes to meet the Johnsons someday, and he couldn't be prouder of Tristan because his nephew's actions engaged a set of young parents by becoming salt and light to them in a time of desperation – which included Tristan's own dire circumstance.
“He was about to die. He couldn't speak. All he had was a pad and pencil and a praying church. He connected with them and gave the family hope,” Wiggins says.
Though Tristan Wiggins hasn't visited the Colorado church that prayed him back from the brink of death, he looks forward to the day when he can personally thank his uncle's church and the missionaries it supports.
And when Tristan and Scarlett are reunited someday outside the hospital, the Wiggins and Johnsons say Resurrection Fellowship is as good a place as any to meet again.