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Nine lives?

Loni, left, and Steve Pantzke of Randall believe in the power of prayer. Steve has been involved in several near-death experience. They credit prayer for sustaining them through hard times. Contributed photo

Randall man counts blessings after close calls

Death just can’t keep its grip on Steve Pantzke, 66, of Randall, although it has come pretty close many times.

The most recent close call occurred in February, following back surgery.

“His heart stopped for a minute and a half,” said Steve’s wife, Loni. “I was on my way back to the hospital so they couldn’t ask me (about resuscitating) – but they did CPR without the paddle for two minutes and his heart started beating normally.”

A number of scans and other tests were done, and Steve’s heart was shown to have no damage from the incident. Despite having a “do not resuscitate” order in his file, Steve was brought back to life. It was only one of several times that he has been saved from death over the years.

In March 1991, Steve had been sick for days when he finally visited a doctor in Little Falls. He was admitted to St. Gabriel’s Hospital for five days with chills and a fever.

“They did a battery of tests, but they said nothing was wrong with me, and I was discharged,” Steve remembered. That was on a Wednesday.

By Friday noon, he was even sicker. He called Loni at work, who called a different doctor at a different clinic.

“I knew that (Dr.) George (Fortier III) knew me, and he wouldn’t turn me down,” Loni said. “He would get to the bottom of it.”

When the doctor called Steve, he was told to be at the clinic in 20 minutes.

“I usually wear 32-inch waist pants, but I couldn’t get 38-inch pants on that day,” Steve said.

Once the doctor had Steve on the exam table and palpated his abdomen, he told Steve that “We have to get that out of there right now.” The doctor cancelled another surgery, and Steve was taken immediately into emergency surgery.

“The tumor they found was almost the size of a basketball,” Loni said. “His colon had burst, and the abdominal cavity was filled with infection.”

“The doctor told Loni that I wouldn’t have lived for another day like that,” said Steve. “I sincerely believe that I’m still alive only by the grace of God. There were a lot of people praying for me.”

In one of those strange “coincidences” people often notice in life, it was George Fortier’s grandfather, G.M.A. Fortier, who had delivered Steve in the very same hospital in 1950.

After 19 days in the hospital, the first several of which were spent still wondering if Steve would live, he was discharged. The Pantzkes’ four children were 17, 15, 9 and 6 at the time. The family had airplane tickets ready and waiting for an April trip to California, their last trip together before the eldest graduated from high school. With the doctor’s approval, they took the trip. Since that time, Steve has not had any further issues with his colon.

In June 2003, cancer paid Steve another visit. After a year of trying to find out what was wrong, he was diagnosed with esthesioneuroblastoma – cancer in his sinus cavity and the left frontal part of his brain. His left eye was also involved. There had been only about 200 cases of that cancer documented in the world, and two of them had been treated at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, so that’s where the Pantzkes went.

During surgery, Steve’s sinuses were removed, and a new tear duct was made for his left eye.

“The cancer had hundreds of little fingers,” said Steve. “They kind of overhauled my head.”

Without the surgery, Steve was told he would have been dead by that August.

In 2013, Steve found himself fighting cancer again, this time in his lungs. Following treatment, he was told in February 2014 that his cancer was terminal, and there was nothing more doctors could do. Steve went home to come to terms with his illness. But even while no one here on earth was actively working for his recovery, Steve and Loni saw firsthand that God never stops working.

“We are grateful,” said Loni. “We believe in the power of prayer. Many of our neighbors, friends, family, our congregation and many other churches were praying.”

Back at the clinic for a follow-up appointment that May, the doctor looked in disbelief at the newest PET scan result as compared with the PET scan from February. The polka dots and dime-sized spots of cancer all across the lower nodes of both lungs had completely disappeared.

Looking ahead to recent months, Steve had been experiencing excruciating pain in his back, something that had visited him before. A couple of years prior to his colon tumor, in 1989, Steve had had the first of nine back surgeries. By 2015, some of the fused areas of his spine had worked loose, and the pins in his vertebrae were touching nerves.

“I had so much pain – I was living on pain medication,” he said.

“During the surgery in February this year, they took the old pins out and put in new ones. They also caged his spine all the way from the S1 vertebra up to T4 or T5,” said Loni. “They took Steve’s bone marrow and mixed it with ground donor bone tissue and made a paste that was injected between his vertebrae. That cushions them and makes his spine more stable.”

The surgery didn’t remove the pain, however – it was actually much worse. After Steve was revived by CPR, he was put into a coma because of the pain.

Loni remembered having their kids and grandkids circle around Steve’s bed later that day, holding hands as they recited Steve’s favorite prayer, The Lord’s Prayer. It was several days before doctors were convinced he would make it.

Since the surgery, Steve stands noticeably straighter. “He’s taller than me now,” Loni said with a gentle smile

Being saved from the certain death of a ruptured colon and having no further colon issues in the 25 years since then; surviving a tractor rollover accident which “only” broke a couple of ribs and scraped the skin off his back. Discovering a cancer after a year of seeking a diagnosis, just in time for life-saving surgery; having death-sentence lung cancer simply disappear from his body; being resuscitated after being dead for a minute and a half. In all these things, Steve firmly believes that it is prayer that gets him through.

“I pray every day for God to give me strength,” he said.

Steve appreciates the support of many people who pray for him and encourage him on a regular basis. Among those are Pastor Nate and Kate Bjorge of Faith Lutheran in Little Falls.

“(Pastor Nate) is not only my pastor, but my friend,” Steve said. “He is such an inspiration.”

“Steve Pantzke is a remarkable man!” said Kate. “He gives total credit to having been healed by God. He is faithful in his willingness to share with anyone and everyone that he was dying and then made a decision to ‘give it all up to Jesus.’”

“I have gotten to know Steve over the past six years and there is no pretense in him; he has no problem saying what he believes. This is true in expressing his love for his family and his love for Jesus Christ,” said Pastor Nate. “Steve has gone through the valley of the shadow of death more than once and he knows that the Good Shepherd was holding his hand. That Steve is with us today is nothing short of a miracle.”

Steve reserves deepest praise for Loni, however. “She’s been by my side every step of the way,” he said. “I honestly believe God sent me an angel.”

He doesn’t believe he deserves all that God has done for him, but he is determined to pass those blessings along to the people in his life.

Steve Pantzke writes his favorite prayer on the structure of the new Faith Lutheran building in Little Falls. He says the Lord’s Prayer uplifts him every day. Contributed photo

Steve Pantzke writes his favorite prayer on the structure of the new Faith Lutheran building in Little Falls. He says the Lord’s Prayer uplifts him every day. Contributed photo

“God has blessed me – I want to pass His blessings on,” he said. “I always greet people – even total strangers – and I ask them, ‘Can I tell you something?’”

Then, he prays a blessing over each person: May the Lord bless you and keep you, make His face shine upon you, be gracious to you and give you peace. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It is a blessing that Steve prays for Loni each night before they go to sleep.

“Dad’s health issues have been an emotional ride,” said his son, Matt. “This last time we were convinced his number was up but somehow he managed to pull through again. ‘The bull’s got one more rodeo left in him,’ I thought. It’s bewildering to me how he can continue to fit, but with the power to live inside of him, he never gives up. He prays and he believes that he has work left to do on earth. It’s astonishing and amazing to see.”

Even with all of his health issues over the years and his many brushes with death, Steve and Loni do not let anything slow them down. Life is for living and living abundantly.

“God’s not done with him yet,” Loni said. “People need to know that God really does work wonders – He does miracles. The power of prayer has been so good throughout our lives.”

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