For seven months, Norma Leichner, the wife of River Church lead pastor Monte Leichner in Haysville, Kansas, has been battling for her life — nearly losing that battle before she knew it had even begun. But over time, God orchestrated events that resulted in a miracle that doctors can’t medically explain.
Norma’s struggles began with what doctors initially diagnosed as allergies in July 2020. She had a dry cough for nearly a year by then and was feeling unusually fatigued, so she was relieved that this was something that could be easily treated.
But Norma’s condition didn’t improve; it continued to deteriorate.
“I was unable to sleep, and I was more and more easily fatigued,” Norma, who is 57, recalls. “I went to a pulmonologist, who diagnosed me with asthma and treated me for that.”
. . . she didn’t have asthma.
And despite being at the height of the pandemic and having several of the symptoms, she didn’t have COVID-19, either.
However, River Church had a scheduled church trip to Branson, Missouri, to enjoy some of its many family-friendly shows in late September/early October. Despite still struggling with fatigue, sleepless nights, and just breathing, Norma decided to accompany Monte and the church group — it was a decision that saved her life.
Having arrived in Branson, Monte says that first night Norma was up all night, sitting on the edge of the bed, trying to get a breath.
“I knew it was worse than allergies or asthma,” he says. “Norma sent me on to breakfast with the group while she stayed back. She called her doctor and explained the symptoms. She was told that I needed to take her to the ER.”
While the church group traveled to nearby Eureka Springs, Arkansas, to take in The Great Passion Play, Monte delivered Norma to the local ER. As COVID was a primary health concern, Monte wasn’t allowed to stay with her and was made to leave.
Not long afterwards, Norma called him on his cell phone. Someone had finally correctly diagnosed the problem!
“Monte,” she said. “They just diagnosed me with congestive heart failure.”
THE BATTLE BEGINS
“When I first heard she had congestive heart failure, I was in total shock,” Monte says. “I started praying immediately.”
However, what the couple didn’t know at the time was Norma’s chances of survival was just 20%. Doctors, however, did tell Monte that had Norma stayed in her hotel room that day, and he had gone to the play with the group, as Norma had initially encouraged him to do, he would have returned to find her dead.
Norma’s heart was greatly weakened and damaged — it was “severely enlarged” and wasn’t pumping properly. While a normal left ejection fraction (the percent of blood pumped out of the left ventricle with each heartbeat) is 50% to 70%, Norma’s was between 20% and 25%.
She also had a leaky (wasn’t closing properly) mitral valve (the valve between the upper and lower chambers on the left side of the heart), a bundle branch block (delay or blockage of electrical impulses that make the heart beat), and was in renal (kidney) failure.
“I was dying,” Norma says. “My lungs were filled with fluid — in four days, they drained 20 pounds of fluid off of me.
After spending four days in the Branson hospital, Norma recovered enough to be transported to the Wichita, Kansas, hospital. “They put a life vest on me for the trip – it would shock me with an external defibrillator if my heart stopped,” she explains. Once in Wichita, she was put in ICU.
“Norma’s heart catherization showed that her arteries were clear,” Monte notes. “Then in December, another cardiologist implanted a three-lead pacemaker and an implantable cardiac defibrillator.”
Though standard treatment also included medication to strengthen the heart muscles, Norma couldn’t take them due to her low blood pressure.
In March, the Leichners visited a heart failure specialist in Oklahoma City. His prognosis was far from welcomed.
“He told us that at this point, he was looking for quantity of life, and not quality,” Monte says. “He was going to take Norma off of some of her medication (including her migraine medication) with the hope of possibly extending her life. The mortality rate following what she survived is five years.”
That news hit hard. At that point Norma was in a wheelchair for outings, although she rarely left the house except for church. “I was very weak,” she admits.
Five years? It seemed far too optimistic.
But Monte . . ., he had a promise in hand.
“When Norma was first diagnosed, I prayed and the Lord answered,” Monte says. “He told me, ‘She will live and she will live well; she will be healed in such a way that no man can take the credit.’”
As the weeks and months passed with Norma showing no signs of improvement, Monte clung to that promise as he, River Church, and countless people across the country continued to pray for her healing.
And then came the day when God made himself known.
“We were watching [a minister] on TV and he stopped and gave a word of knowledge,” Norma recalls. “He said, ‘There’s an enlarged heart, the ventricles are not functioning properly, the discharge is not enough, you’re fatigued all the time . . . God is reforming your heart and I believe the name is Norma.’”
Electricity ran through the room. “Baby,” Monte said in shock. “He just said your name!”
Norma says she knew God was touching her and healing her throughout that week. Every day since diagnosis she would say, “I am one day closer to my miracle.” At her doctor’s appointment the next week (April 14), an echocardiogram confirmed it!
“My ejection fraction went from 20 to between 50 and 55 – fully normal,” Norma says. “And my heart was no longer enlarged, it was also totally normal! The doctor told me he couldn’t take credit for this because I couldn’t even take the medicine designed to strengthen my heart.”
The following week, Norma met with the specialist.
“After he looked over all the tests and the echocardiogram, he says to me, ‘I take care of people with weak hearts; yours is not weak – you don’t have to come back,’” Norma says. “It was a total God miracle!”
Monte confirms that even the specialist was taken aback, shaking his head and admitting he didn’t know what happened. “I told him, ‘I do — we serve a big God!’ and he said, ‘Yes we do.’”
Of course, when the church heard the news, “They almost came unglued,” Monte says with a laugh. “There was so much rejoicing — it was just a wonderful day.”
Norma, however, sheds the perfect light on the entire experience — “Isn’t God amazing?”