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Mike Gmetro
Mike Gmetro and his son enjoying some together time.

Undivided attention | Crohn’s disease fails to deter Crown College coach

A little old white-haired woman walked into Mike Gmetro’s hospital room. He had barely finished a prayer, shot up to God fueled by anger and desperation, “God, I don’t get this. I didn’t ask for this. If you are real, I need for you to show up.”

And there she was. A joyful woman, encouraging Mike with her words, “I want to tell you how good God is.” She spent several minutes with Mike, dissuading his remarks about what the doctors had been telling him and repeating, “I know, I know. But God is good.”

Mike had recently been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. He was twenty-one years old with a full baseball scholarship to New Mexico State University and a very promising professional baseball future. Two major league teams were scouting him for his athletic skills as a catcher, and he felt he had it made.

Just two years earlier Mike had given his life to Jesus Christ. But now his world was crumbling.

Shortly before he was to appear in his first sophomore game as the starting catcher, he developed an extended stomach so severe he couldn’t get his spikes on his feet. He had never been sick before, not like this. Thirty minutes before the start of the game, he passed out. He was rushed to the hospital where they removed his ruptured appendix.

No long after being released from the hospital to resume his studies and baseball schedule, he once again became desperately ill. Only this time they told him he had five hours to live. Being so close to death the surgeon removed thirty inches of his intestines.

It was at the end of this second hospital stay that he found himself alone in his room—no nurses, no doctors, no visitors—when the little old white-haired woman came into his room to bring him cheer.

Wanting to send her flowers of thanks upon his release, he asked all over the hospital, and no one knew who she was. No one had ever seen her.

***

At first Mike hid the Crohn’s disease from people.

“I wasn’t ready yet to let people know about the Crohn’s in my life,” Mike said. “I tried to push it out of my mind. I didn’t tell anyone, and I lied to people about how sick I really was. No medications for me! I was blaming God and getting sicker every day.”

He pushed himself to do all that he needed to do for sports and school. He did so well that he was soon able to play baseball again.

It was his first game back, in the first inning, when Mike was hit in the upper arm by a 90 mph pitch. His arm swelled so much that he was unable to throw the ball more than fifty feet. He was taken out of the game in the sixth inning and, once again, rushed to the hospital.

After more tests, he was sent home with his upper arm still fully swollen. The next day the swelling had not gone down, and he went back to the hospital for other tests. This time they discovered five life-threatening blood clots. Doctors removed two ribs to lessen the pressure from the massive swelling in his upper arm and to save his life.

It was then Mike had the realization that his pro baseball career aspirations were over.

“I remembered that sweet little old lady and her message for me, ‘God is good,’” Mike recalled. “I began to realize that my ball career was over. Instead of feeling bitter and resentful, a peace came over me. God finally got my attention.”

***

In 2001, Mike graduated from New Mexico State with a degree in International Business and married his college sweetheart, Liza. Both attended Moody Theological Seminary in Michigan and graduated from there in 2005. While in class, in 2003, Mike was once again rushed to the hospital where they removed eight more inches of his intestines. This still did not deter Mike’s dream of becoming a pastor.

Together, Mike and Liza worked for CMA (Christian Mission Alliance) in Detroit for six years with an inner city ministry called Acts 29 Fellowship. He still suffered bouts of terrible, intense pain from Crohn’s, but he continued to push through. Their dream was to have an overseas ministry, which was not about to happen as the CMA was extremely concerned about his health and the few health care options that could help him in a foreign country.

The disease was relentless. In 2008, Mike endured another life and death surgery. He recovered for a while only to start bleeding excessively in 2010, which required two blood transfusions to save his life.

“I was worn out and exhausted,” said Mike. “All my dreams for my life—the ones that I thought were God’s plans for me—I was beginning to realize maybe they weren’t. It seemed God wanted to show me what He wanted to do with my life. He now had my full, undivided attention.”

Surgery was planned in 2011 to remove the majority of his intestines, but Mike postponed it to attend a CMA conference in Kansas City against doctors’ recommendations.

On day two of the conference Mike started to slump down into his chair, weak from bleeding. At the same time, the prayer leader stopped the worship and called everyone to pray for the person sitting next to them. A man and a missionary couple seated on each side of Mike came over to pray for him. They noticed that he was in pain and brought him to the front of the auditorium. As people prayed for Mike, he felt a change happen in his body and felt the bleeding stop. A pastor prayed over him and said, “God is good, and He will provide manna from heaven for you every day.”

After the conference, when Mike returned to his doctor for a check-up, there was no trace of the Crohn’s disease found in his body. It had been arrested.

***

Baseball appeared to be a thing of the past, but Mike still had the desire to pastor a church, but he was getting no response to resumes he was sending out regarding pastoral opportunities.

One day he made a telephone call to a small Christian college in St. Bonifacius, Minn., on behalf of a potential student who wanted to intern there. When the conversation turned to the college baseball program, which was in shambles, he learned of their need for a coach. It appeared God was opening a new, unexpected door.

Mike arrived at Crown College in January of 2012 to take over as baseball coach and the golf program. Both programs were in dire need of attention. Recruitment and rebuilding of the programs started immediately. Not only was good athletic ability a must to be a part of this program, Coach Gmetro was determined to build good character, moral strength and inner integrity among his players.

After two years with Crown College, Mike’s outlook is not only aspiring, it is very optimistic for the future of both programs. Both teams have seen significant growth, changes and improvement with the golf team winning their first conference trophy in 2014. In October, Coach Gmetro was named UMAC Coach of the Year for Division III golf.

He still suffers bouts of Crohn’s, but his outlook on life is focused on ministry.

“I have found that my goals for my life have changed,” Mike said. “I want to have a lasting impact on player’s lives, doing it the right way. When I get ahead of God, He has an interesting way of getting my attention. I am eager to see what He has in store for me each day. God is good!”

— by Sheila Flanders

Flanders graduated from the University of Minnesota with a BA in English Literature and Writing. She is the Director of Marketing for Love Lines, a wife and mother, sells on Ebay, teaches piano and is a freelance writer in whatever spare time she may dig up for herself.

 

About Crohn’s Disease

  • Crohn’s disease belongs to a group of conditions known as Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD). Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract.
  • May affect as many up to 1.6 million Americans
  • Men and women are equally at risk
  • Young adults between 15-35 are more apt to develop the syndrome
  • Tends to run in families
  • More common in developed countries, urban areas and northern climates

Learn more at www.ccfa.org.

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