Metro-East News

She thought she’d die on an icy road. Strangers at a nearby church saved her.

Mary Hale has always believed in the power of prayer.

During the Dec. 16 ice storm that paralyzed the region, Hale was among those who was out driving in the treacherous conditions. She had driven from Millstadt to Edwardsville to give her son a ride to work that afternoon. By the time she turned around to go back home, the roads started to ice over. She crept along Interstate 255.

“I finally made it to (Illinois) 163, praying to the Lord, please keep me and my daughter safe,” Hale said.

Hale, 50, was able to get all the way to the intersection of 163 and Concordia Church Road when things turned south for her. The ice became too much for her car. She wound up getting stuck in traffic. The front of her car was on Concordia Church Road and the rear was on 163. Having battled anxiety issues to go along with a bad heart, the situation became too much for Hale to handle.

One person came up to her and asked her to push her car to the side of the road so others could get through.

“I was starting to have chest pains, and I couldn’t do that,” Hale said.

She doesn’t remember much over the next five hours as she blacked out. The human spirit — and conveniently located church — helped Hale survive what could have been a life-threatening situation.

Divine intervention

David Krueger already had a few people trickling into Concordia United Church of Christ, 7600 State Route 163. Travelers were having trouble navigating the slick roads and were getting stuck near the church, which is west of Belleville.

Krueger, who has been the church’s pastor for 10 years, lives at the property. His wife had made two pots of chili in anticipation of having some extra people at the church because of the weather conditions. Krueger unlocked the church and welcomed in any weary travelers. He estimates he had about 30 people at the church at one point. Then Hale’s predicament popped up on the doorstep of the church.

“I went out to pray with her in her car as we waited for the ambulance,” Krueger said. “We waited for about an hour before we decided to bring her into the church. We were concerned about her. We had to get her into the church.”

Krueger said one of the people who had stopped took a Sunday school table out to Hale’s car and they used it as a gurney for her. They brought Hale inside and prayed over her. Krueger said about 10 people gathered around Hale as she laid on the top of the Sunday school table inside the church.

“I was praying and had faith that she would be OK,” Krueger said. “Her daughter was a little scared, but I would be too if it was my mother.”

Eventually, an ambulance was able to get near the church, but the ice wouldn’t allow the vehicle to get all the way to the building. That’s when a neighbor to the church stepped in with his Gator all-terrain vehicle. The group strapped the table that Hale was lying on to the back of the Gator and drove it up the road to where the ambulance was waiting.

“One of the people that was here said, ‘I’ve seen a miracle tonight,’” Krueger said.

Home for the holidays

Hale said her situation was touch-and-go while she was at the church. Thanks to an emergency responder, who she only knows as Willy, she was able to remain relatively stable while at the church. Willy just happened to be stuck behind her in traffic when she became stuck and stayed with Hale and her 18-year-old daughter, Shelby, until help arrived.

About five hours after she found herself stuck in front of the church, Hale was admitted to Memorial Hospital in Belleville. It was determined that she had suffered several seizures that were brought on by anxiety attacks, but no heart attack.

Hale said her heart was weakened after a 2005 heart attack. She had a defibrillator implanted last year in order to monitor her heart rate.

She was released from Memorial on Sunday, Dec. 18, and is still trying to get back up to speed after the scare. Hale, who moved to Millstadt from the Cape Girardeau, Mo., area about three months ago, is thankful that she will be able to spend the holidays with her four children.

She was moved by what a group of strangers did for her in her moment of need.

“I think it was absolutely amazing,” she said, “for people to pull together the way they did for someone they didn’t know and considering how bad a night that was. It was amazing. I wish I knew all of their names so I could personally thank them.”

The next time she’s in a bind, Hale knows exactly what she’s going to do: Look the heavens and ask for some help.

“Just because it looks like you might be at the end, all you have to do is ask and He will answer your prayers,” Hale said.

Does Krueger believe there was some divine intervention that put Hale in front of his church when she needed the help?

“Of course there was,” he said. “There always is. The right people were here at the right time.”

Don O’Brien: 618-239-2626, @DOBrienBND