#34 Life After Trauma - Doug & Selah Helms | Compelled Podcast

#34 Life After Trauma – Doug & Selah Helms

In 2010, Doug and Selah saw their world turned upside down when a terrible car accident left their 17-year-old son, Peter Helms, with a traumatic brain injury and minimally conscious.

As they faced the prospect of being long-term caregivers for their son they would have to grapple with what it means to trust the sovereignty of God and rely on Him every day.

“God doesn’t always do things we think that He should do. But we can always trust Him.”

Doug and Selah Helms

Enter the drawing at the bottom of this article to win an autographed book from Selah Helms detailing their journey.

The following is a summary of the podcast interview above. Many more details are included in the original podcast episode and we encourage you to listen.

Just a Regular Day

It was a pleasant summer day in 2010 in Fort Worth, Texas, and Doug Helms was on his way to the church that he pastored. Traffic slowed, and as Doug looked out his window, he saw a horrific accident.

The scene of the wreck faded from Doug’s rearview mirror as he drove past – but not from his heart. “No one could have survived that accident,” he thought to himself. However, the Holy Spirit was nudging him to pray.

“God, please spare that person’s life and raise them up to serve you,” Doug prayed, then turned into the church parking lot, and set about his work. It was just an ordinary day in the life of a pastor. Until it wasn’t.

“Come To The Hospital!”

“You need to come to the hospital! Peter’s been in a terrible wreck!” Doug could hear his wife Selah’s desperate voice on the other end of the phone. 

The accident Doug had observed on his way to work flashed back through his mind, and suddenly he knew the person who had been in the wreck, the one he had prayed for, was someone very precious to him. His 17-year-old son, Peter.

Who Was Peter?

Peter Helms was the youngest of Doug and Selah Helms’ four children. Growing up, he had been quiet and a little shy, but it had never stopped him from reaching out to others.

God had given Peter a perceptive and loving nature, which his parents had noted from a young age. He made friends with everyone, young and old. Doug and Selah remember that, as a youth, Peter would go and sit with an elderly man in the church who had no one else to sit with.

Peter enjoyed art and could often be found lying on the floor sketching. Once, when he had been asked to draw a picture of his favorite toy, he drew a picture of a pencil and an eraser. He wrote that he hoped he could glorify God through his drawings.

Peter became a Christian at age 6, and his parents observed the fruit of salvation in their son as he grew.

“For Your Glory”

Starting at the age of 6, Peter would offer the same prayer every year on his birthday, “God, thank you for these good years you’ve given me. If you’re so good to give me another year, help me to use it for your glory.” And so the tradition continued each year after that, all the way up until his accident, just days before his 18th birthday.

Just weeks before the car wreck, Peter had started a Bible study with his friends before church. His parents saw a shepherding heart in their son and assumed he would become a pastor.

God would use Peter to glorify Himself, just as Peter had prayed each birthday. But it wouldn’t be through Peter becoming a pastor like his parents thought, but through a completely different means. One that was much more painful – but just as glorious. 

Declared Dead

When Doug arrived at the hospital, he was immediately confronted with a story that no parent wants to hear.

Peter had been on his way to mow a yard for a widow in their church. He had come to an intersection where he had met an 18-wheeler. The driver inside had stopped and motioned Peter forward. But as Peter had crossed the intersection, he had been T-boned by another vehicle which had been hidden from Peter’s view behind the 18-wheeler. 

When the first responders showed up, there was no doubt in their minds that Peter would not survive the wreck. The car was so mangled that it was horseshoe-shaped, making it difficult for first responders to even get close to Peter to remove him from the car. 

When the police arrived, they declared Peter dead. However, a nearby electrician who had witnessed the accident noticed that Peter was still breathing.

Slim Odds

When Doug walked into the hospital room, he saw his 17-year-old son lying there, with a gash in his face so deep his teeth could be seen through it. And despite being at the best trauma unit in Fort Worth, things looked bleak.

Doug and Selah were told that 50% of people in Peter’s situation die in the first week, just from the traumatic brain injury. Out of those who survive the first week, another 50% die after 3-4 weeks from infection.

As Doug and Selah looked out the window of their son’s hospital room, all they could see below them was a cemetery.

A Flood of Prayer

But then prayers started flooding in. Over 300 friends and family members showed up at the hospital the first evening, praying for Peter in the waiting room.

Soon, it wasn’t just friends and family members who made up Peter’s team of prayer warriors. People literally all around the world were praying.

Multiple people told Doug and Selah stories of times they were in a restaurant and overheard people talking about and praying for Peter.

Another example came from a college friend of Doug and Selah’s daughter, who went back to his home in Honolulu for summer break and asked his church there to pray for Peter. The congregation responded that Peter’s story had already reached them, and they had already been praying. 

God used each of these stories to comfort Doug and Selah and to reassure them of his deep love for them, even in such a painful trial.

Peter Was Minimally Conscious

God intervened through the prayers of His people, and after 3 weeks in the hospital, Peter was still alive. At this point, Peter was seen by a brain specialist.

Doug asked the question, “When will Peter come out of his coma?” 

Both he and Selah were taken aback when the specialist responded, “What makes you think he’s still in a coma?”

Doug and Selah learned that Peter’s brain was in a state called “minimally conscious,” something in between full consciousness and a coma. Scans showed that there was always some kind of activity going on in Peter’s brain, but neither was he fully aware or consistently responsive. The specialist likened his brain to that of a 95-year old.

While Doug and Selah were deeply grateful that Peter was still alive, this was a difficult reality for them to grapple with, realizing that their son might never fully recover. 

Selah prayed and asked God to choose whether Peter would live or die because she didn’t know what was best, for Peter to live a life of intense suffering or to die quickly. Later she found that Doug had been praying the same prayer. It was all they could do, to simply rest in the comfort of God’s good sovereignty and entrust their son to Him.

An Unexpected Testimony

Peter spent the next 3 months in the hospital, undergoing multiple surgeries. And God began to use Peter in powerful, unexpected ways.

Many nurses who came to care for Peter noted his patient and quiet spirit. They told Doug and Selah that many brain-injured patients in Peter’s situation were angry, but that Peter had a refreshingly gracious spirit, especially when they would make mistakes while caring for him. Doug and Selah were able to share that this was a result of God’s work in Peter’s life.

Many nurses asked Doug and Selah for Bibles after encountering Peter and his family, and Doug and Selah found many opportunities to share their faith with hospital staff.

At a later point, a nurse confided with them that he felt like a “lost sheep.” He had made a profession of faith years ago but hadn’t been to church in years and wasn’t living out his faith actively. After spending time caring for Peter, this man made the decision to return to church.

Physically Exhausting & Emotionally Depleting

After a long season in the hospital, Peter’s whole family underwent 2 weeks of intense training, learning how to care for Peter in their home.  The Helms family converted their living room into a sort of hospital for Peter, and, finally, Peter returned home.

However, the trials were far from over for Doug and Selah.

Being full-time caregivers took a toll on both of them. Peter required regular physical therapy, cleaning, feeding, shaving, bathing, suctioning, and more. All with 24/7 supervision.

It was physically taxing, and Doug and Selah often found themselves completely exhausted from long nights sitting up with Peter. It was emotionally depleting to watch their son, who was practically a grown man, unable to do anything for himself.

Uncertainty

Underneath all of this was a sense of waiting and wondering. The Helms, along with thousands of others, prayed daily that Peter would be healed. Would God heal him one day? What cognitive level would Peter reach? Would he even survive to the next year?

Well-meaning people made comments like, “I just know that Peter will walk again one day,” which left Doug and Selah wondering… would he?

Doug and Selah lived in this unsettled state for months, constantly wondering what life would look like for their family down the road.

But one day, they found a freeing moment of clarity when they came across Deuteronomy 29:29 which says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

Only God knew what the future held for Peter and his family, but there were many things God had revealed!

Doug and Selah knew with certainty that they were to care for Peter and to do it to the best of their ability, for the glory of God, because that is what God had revealed to them in this season.  But whether Peter would regain his full consciousness or not was still hidden. It was a secret thing that belonged to the Lord, and no amount of speculation on their part could change that. 

Filled with this conviction, Doug and Selah were able to move forward in their journey as full-time caretakers with peace and joy.

Willing Helpers

In God’s grace, they didn’t have to do this task alone! The support from their community was overwhelming. 

For 3 years, Selah never cooked a single meal. People were constantly in their home, helping take care of all kinds of tasks, providing meals, offering care, and more.

Doug’s parents sold their home simply so they could move into the same neighborhood as Doug and Selah and help care for Peter. Peter’s brother took an entire year off his doctoral program to help full time with his brother’s care. A Christian businessman in the area even paid Peter’s cousin a full-time wage so that he could help care for Peter as well.

Peter Helms Today

Doug and Selah have been on this journey for over 10 years now, and God’s grace and provision to them has never stopped flowing. 

Peter still requires a great deal of care, although he continues to take small steps of progress physically and cognitively. He is aware of people around him and can display emotions through smiling, laughing, or frowning. He can even lift his left hand to indicate when he wants to give a hug. He is a source of joy to his entire family. 

Peter hasn’t become a pastor, like his parents once thought he would, but the task God has given him to do is just as significant.

Today, when the Helms talks about their son, they tell people that Peter has been given the task of suffering and that he is called to suffer well.

“God doesn’t just take responsibility for our abilities. But He takes responsibility for our disabilities.”

Doug and Selah Helms

Drawing

Win an autographed copy of “That Your Faith May Not Fail” by Selah Helms, detailing their journey.

We’ll select 1 winner next Monday.

Winner must live in the United States.

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Winner must live in the United States.


Show Notes

  • Peter’s Facebook Group: Pray For Peter Helms
  • Selah’s book “That Your Faith May Not Fail” on Amazon. Sometimes the book is shown as out-of-print. If that’s the case you can buy a copy by emailing the Helm’s directly at helmsdoug[at]gmail.com.
  • Church near Ft. Worth where Doug pastors: Rock Creek Baptist Church

Selected Scripture

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” – Deuteronomy 29:29

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” – 2 Corinthians 4:17

“This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord” – Ephesians 3:11

Peter’s Original Art

Special thanks to Hope Helms for the descriptions.

Fort Worth Star Telegram Stock Show art contest. By Peter Helms. Age 11. Colored Pencil.
Fort Worth Star Telegram Stock Show art contest. By Peter Helms. Age 11. Colored Pencil.
The American Tower of Babel (Freud, Marx, Darwin, and Nietzsche). By Peter Helms. Pen and ink.
The American Tower of Babel (Freud, Marx, Darwin, and Nietzsche). By Peter Helms. Pen and ink.
Continents and countries characterized by animal figures. By Peter Helms. Pen and ink.
Continents and countries characterized by animal figures. By Peter Helms. Pen and ink.
Spoof on Howard Dean, from that year's presidential race, based on 'The Scream' by Edvard Munch. By Peter Helms. Pencil.
Spoof on Howard Dean, from that year’s presidential race, based on ‘The
Scream’ by Edvard Munch. By Peter Helms. Pencil.
Robin Hood. By Peter Helms. Colored pencil.
Robin Hood. By Peter Helms. Colored pencil.

Photos and Videos

Peter playing Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C# minor Op. 3, No. 2

Peter playing Brahms Rhapsody in G minor Op. 79, No. 2

Peter in the middle. Brothers Andrew and Caleb on the bottom. Sister Beth on top.
Helms Family. Peter is 2nd from the left.
Peter on the far right
Selah with Peter at at speech and debate tournament just months before his accident.
Recent Helms Family photo
Selah and Doug Helms

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