When the Butt family of Bishop’s Falls headed to Miami on March 28, their last trip as a family of four before their eldest son finishes post-secondary, they left with all the expectations of a picture-perfect vacation. What they experienced, however, was anything by picture-perfect. Roberta, Arch, and their children, Justin and Jessica, sat down with the Advertiser to tell their story, and to prove that the strength of family, and love, can conquer anything. This is the final installment of a three-part series to introduce you to the family, tell you of their journey, and why they never want to see the inside of a Miami hospital, ever again.
Roberta Butt is taking it one day at a time.
Today, she has her health, her kids, and a husband that would go to the moon and back to bring her home safely.
Sipping tea in her living room with her family, smiling through tears of joy, she has a newfound love for life – not taking anything for granted.
But there isn’t a day that goes by that she doesn’t receive a phone call from a friend, asking her how she is; she relives her ordeal constantly, thankful to be home in Bishop’s Falls.
And her husband Arch, though tough in his appearance, isn’t over it either.
“No he’s not, because he’ll still wake up nighttime and give me a kiss, and tell me he loves me,” Roberta said.
But getting back to her couch seemed like a long time coming.
Tense moments and miracles
During one of his visits to the North Shore Medical Center in Miami to see his wife, Arch was sitting next to Roberta in her hospital bed.
It was here she was sent when she took sick during their family vacation in March.
Her aorta had torn, she was heavily medicated, and Arch spent days waiting for answers: what would happen to his wife?
When a doctor frantically asked Arch to leave the room, he lost his composure.
“I’m there, and they ask me to go out in the hallway…they say, ‘Mr. Butt, you need to go out into the hallway.’ I asked them why…they said ‘it doesn’t look good, and if (her aorta) bursts, she’s going to bleed to death in about three minutes, and it’s not going to be a pretty sight,’” Arch remembers.
Waiting in the corridor, visibly shaken and praying for a miracle, a lady with white pants, a coloured jacket and her hair wound up in a neatly placed bun, came to Arch’s side.
“She looked Jamaican,” Arch said.
“She came up to me and said, ‘what’s the matter my love?’”
It’s a part of the story that makes the hair on Arch’s neck stand at attention.
“I don’t know what you believe in,” he cautions.
Arch said the women asked if he believed in God, and if it would be OK for her to sit and pray with his wife.
He said yes.
Together, the woman and his wife prayed for 20-minutes.
“All of a sudden she stood up and said ‘OK, stop your worries, stop your foolishness…she’s going to be OK,’” Arch said.
Coincidence or not, those prayers worked.
That day, Roberta had a turnaround.
Her heart surgeon switched her medication, she regained her colour, and after a hellish ordeal – Arch wanted out.
He spend nine-hours on the phone – between insurance providers, the Children’s Wish Foundation who had initially sent them, their family members back home, and doctors for second opinions.
On the last day of their trip to Miami, Arch, Justin and Jessica were scheduled to fly home in the afternoon.
That morning when Arch called the hospital, he was advised his wife was gone – an air ambulance out of Montreal had agreed to transport her home.
The morning she left, Roberta said three nurses came to pick her up, two men and a women.
The youngest man, concerned for her wellbeing, wasn’t sure flying was the best option.
“He said ‘I am not putting her on that airplane and having her death on my hands…I could not live with myself,’” Roberta said, but she was desperate.
“I looked at the girl and I said ‘please, please, please take me home. You don’t know what I’m going through here, please take me home.’”
With a little convincing, one of the nurses wrapped their arms around Roberta, and told her if she stopped crying, he would take her home. And he did.
Roberta, Arch, Justin and Jessica reunited in St. John’s, NL, exactly where they wanted to be.
And after meeting with local doctors, Roberta knew her story was nothing short of a miracle.
“Usually with an aorta, it will tear so far, and then it will rupture. Mine just kept tearing, and that’s what saved me,” she said.
It’s still healing today.
Roberta has to meet with her doctor in July for a check up. She will find out then if she needs surgery.
The Butt family isn’t sure they’ll get another opportunity for their “perfect family vacation,” but they still want others to know of their story.
“(People) go on these trips, and sometimes they don’t bother the health insurance, and they don’t realize what a culture shock it is,” Arch said. “We come from 4,000 people, and you go down there, it’s just like you see on television, it’s just like it.”
If your not happy with the health care during your next hospital visit in the province, Roberta suggests you might want to think twice.
“You need to be grateful,” she said.
“When (you) have a nurse looking after (you), appreciate (them). Give them that thank-you.”
Even when the air ambulance was sent to retrieve his wife, Arch said, the doctors in Miami tried to keep her for five addition days to run tests.
“$50,000,” he said.
Strength in numbers
Arch will tell you, with a smile, he’s ready to trade in his wife of 21-years.
“You’re sick and old now at 42, I’m going to trade you in for two 21-year-olds,” he tells Roberta with a chuckle – a contagious laugh that runs through the entire family.
“I think we’ve always been a nice family, but I think a lot of times, a lot of things were taken for granted,” Roberta said. “And now we don’t.”
Jessica will tell you her parents always joked with each other, keeping that spirit of love alive in their home – but today, they bring that to a whole new level.
“Since this happened, (Arch) works what he has to work, and he is in tune with everybody,” Roberta said. “When he comes home and asks Jessica what she (did that) day, it’s not just words now, he really means it.”
And if she tries to thank her husband for his determination to bring her home, he’ll deflect the compliments back to Roberta.
“She does everything for the kids,” he said.
As a family, the Butts are looking to the positives that come from a nightmare like theirs.
“The wrestling wasn’t what I thought it would be, and the trip wasn’t what I thought it would be, but at least I had something,” Justin said, seeing the glass half full. “Even though it wasn’t what I thought it would be, (the wrestling) was a good distraction…I think it helped.”
Once he returned home, Justin didn’t use the ordeal as an excuse to miss important tests he had to write for school.
“That’s what Mom would have wanted me to do,” he said.
They pull strength from each other, and from those who have rallied around them over the last two-months.
“Amanda and Lori in St. John’s,” Arch said. “We stayed at their home while we were there.”
Roberta’s aunt in Grand Falls-Windsor, Karen Butler, kept the family up-to-date on what was happening while Arch tended to his sick wife. Arch’s sister Debbie, Roberta’s sister Kim, and her husband Dennis were there, every step of the way, and three of her aunts, Eileen in St. John’s and Judy and Linda in Norris Arm, pulled together to do everything they could for the family.
And of course, Arch’s and Roberta’s parents have been there throughout it all.
“Edie Newton and Mae Ivany with the Children’s Wish Foundation,” Roberta said. “They were excellent.”
“They tried their very best for us,” Arch said. He added Andrew and the staff at Easyhome in Grand Falls-Windsor, where he works, have been a huge help to the whole family.
Arch, Roberta, Justin and Jessica might never fly off for another family vacation again, and they’re OK with that.
“I think if we go for a vacation together as a group again, we’re going to be going out around Bonavista and stuff like that, locally,” Arch said.
And until then, they’ll savour every moment they have together, joking, laughing, smiling and creating new memories.
“The doctor said ‘if you were a cat, you’d be down to eight lives now,’” Arch said of his wife. “Four doctors told her they don’t know how she made it through it.”
The Butt Family might never want to see the streets of Miami, ever again, but somehow, Miami brought them closer than they had ever imagined.