By Mike Mooneyham
Feb. 4, 2007
Final in a series
Don’t try telling Cowboy Bob Kelly there’s no such thing as miracles.
He’ll quickly point to his wife of 48 years, Chris, as a walking and breathing example of one.
Before he tells her story, though, the 70-year-old Gulf Coast wrestling legend gives his take on the subject.
“Everybody looks at it different, but I believe in miracles. I believe God’s got a hand in just about everything that happens to you. You’ve got a free will to do what you want to do, and he can only open up the door for you.”“It’s not just coincidence,” he adds. “It’s the way it’s meant to be. The same way I met my wife and the way it worked out, the way I met Lee (Fields). And the things that happened in the hospital when my wife had her heart attack.”
Kelly, realizing that the account may sound far-fetched to some, is quick to preface his story.
“Some will believe you and some won’t believe you, but there were things that happened in that hospital that were unreal. It’s hard to put into words.”
Chris Kelly spent 40 days in the hospital in 2004 after suffering a massive heart attack. She was in the intensive care unit for 28 of those days and was given little chance of surviving.
“She was really bad,” says Kelly. “The doctor didn’t give much hope for her. She was all but dead a couple of times. But she pulled out of it each time.”
Kelly recalls trying to get his wife just to squeeze his hand and show the slightest sign of life. She responded to nothing. Then it happened.
One night, while a despondent Kelly sat in the waiting room, a woman came in with several young and unruly children. The kids were loud, and Kelly couldn’t handle the noise.
“Here I am praying for my wife’s life. I couldn’t stand it any more. I just got up and went back to where Chris was.”
A nurse turned Kelly back, explaining that he couldn’t stay in ICU, but gave him a blanket and pillows and escorted him to a nearby room that wasn’t occupied that late in the evening. The nurse assured him that she would notify him if there were a change in his wife’s condition.
What he saw shortly after arriving in the room startled him.
“I was lying on the floor, and all of a sudden it was daylight in there. I looked up, and there was Lee Fields in a hospital bed. The sheet was up to his chin, just like with Chris, and his arms were lying just like Chris’s were. I couldn’t believe it. He opened his eyes, and he said, ‘Bob, she’s going to be all right.’ He raised both hands over his head and laid them back down.”
There was only one problem with the scenario. Fields, Kelly’s best friend and former Gulf Coast Championship Wrestling owner, had died four years earlier at the age of 69 of a rare form of leukemia. Kelly, who to this day says he can’t be sure if it was a dream or merely a hallucination, went “absolutely nuts.”
“I jumped up, ran out the door, down the hall, to the emergency room. The nurses were there in front of her bed and were motioning me to hurry. Chris was lying in the bed just like Lee had been.”
The nurses were feverishly working with Kelly’s wife, pleading with her to open her eyes. And, miraculously, her eyes popped open, the first time since she had been hospitalized.
“Raise your arms, Mrs. Kelly,” they asked next.
“And she threw her arms up just like Lee did,” says Kelly.
“I went crazy. They had to sedate me. They thought I was going to have a heart attack. Chris shook her head when I asked if she could see me.”
Kelly takes a long pause, trying to regain his composure, trying to hold back tears.
“She closed her eyes, and it was a while before she would do it again. But it gave me hope. I know it was Lee letting me know they were doing that. He wanted me to know she was going to be all right. He wanted me to hurry and get down there so I could see her open her eyes.”
If the ring fits
The experience still shakes him to this day.
It had been Chris’s first heart attack. She was 64 and had shown no symptoms or signs of heart problems in the past.
The two had just returned to their home in Mobile from a memorial show in Mississippi for Frank Dalton. Chris awoke her husband around 11:30 p.m. and asked him to call 911.
“I thought she was having a nightmare. By 12:30 they had her on the operating table.”
Kelly initially was told the problem could be taken care of with a stint. “They were going to keep her overnight and do tests,” says Kelly. But his wife later suffered a heart attack while being examined.
“They were going to do a stint, but the doctor said they would have to do surgery instead. He told me to call my family. It scared me to death. She had been having symptoms of a heart attack at home, but she had a ferocious heart attack in the emergency room.”
Chris survived the 4 1/2-hour surgery, but doctors told Kelly that his wife was in critical condition, and that the next 48 hours would most likely tell the story whether she would pull through or not.
Kelly’s spirits sunk when he was summoned to ICU. Chris’ hands were badly swollen, and doctors wanted Kelly present when they cut off her wedding ring.
“They had failed to take it off,” says Kelly. “I walked up to her, picked her hand up and took a hold of her finger. She’s got a solitary diamond that was sticking up above the swollen part. I put my fingers on that, and I said, ‘Doc, this ring hadn’t been off for 47 years.’ I kind of turned it.”
Amazingly the ring still fit perfectly on his wife’s finger.
“Right there where that ring was didn’t swell. They couldn’t believe what they were seeing. He turned it around and around on her finger. That was the only part of her finger that wasn’t swollen. It was tight when I first got there. But I touched it, and it just loosened up in my hand.”
Chris Kelly spent 21 days on a ventilator. Despite the feeble signs of life, the prognosis still wasn’t good, doctors told her husband.
Halfway through the ordeal, Kelly recalls leaving the room to put flowers on the grave of his longtime friend, Lee Fields, to mark his birthday.
“Honey, Lee’s birthday is today, and I’m going to be gone for a few minutes,” Kelly told his wife.
It was a long drive to the cemetery, but Kelly felt it was something he had to do.
“Boss, I know you told me she was going to be all right, but partner, it don’t look good,” Kelly recalls saying at his friend’s grave site.
He placed flowers on the grave and stopped at a nearby church where he previously had lit a candle. He said a couple of prayers, and a man walked through the door.
“I guess he could see that I was in a bind,” says Kelly.
He’s not exactly sure what he said, but remembers the stranger extending his arms, shortly before Kelly broke down in tears.
“He said something about to the effect that it was going to be all right. It was as if he knew. I was kind of embarrassed. He went out the door and I didn’t see him again.”
Kelly drove down the road a couple of miles before turning around. ” I should have said more than I did. When he hugged me it felt good. I turned around and went back. I asked the guy who took care of the place if he had seen that fellow. He said he didn’t see anyone but me. I drove back to Mobile as fast as I could to get back to Chris.”
The Miracle Lady
Chris Kelly continued to recover, and was released from the hospital 40 days after arriving.
Doctors hailed her amazing comeback as a miracle. Today there are few signs that she nearly died two years ago.
“I love Chris more every day,” says Kelly. “They call her the Miracle Lady. She’s doing great. Her heart doctor can’t believe it. He thought I was going to have to bring her back in a wheelchair. She was in bad, bad shape in the beginning. And look at her now.”
“They didn’t expect for her to walk without a walker,” adds Kelly. “They were going to put her through rehab, but I told them I’d handle that. She couldn’t talk or hardly do anything, but she started coming back. It looked bad in the beginning. She couldn’t walk but about 10 feet when I got her home. But she soon started walking all around the living room.”
Her first venture outside the home was accompanying her husband to a Wal-Mart.
“She wanted to go and she couldn’t even walk. I had to carry her out of the car and put her in an electric cart. She had a ball. She tried to run over me. I can’t tell you what a thrill that was.”
Kelly took his wife back to that same ICU as soon as she got back on her feet to show them that their work was rewarded. It’s a story Kelly likes to tell in a number of area churches that had Chris on their prayer lists. Kelly has taken her to 16 or 17 already, thanked them for their prayers and showed them that their prayers worked.
“Things are going pretty good for me right now. I have good health, a good wife, a good dog, and a good daughter and son-in-law looking out for me. What else could a man want?”
And the blessings keep coming.
“I am so thrilled and excited about the event coming up in Vegas with the CAC (Cauliflower Alley Club) that I don’t know what else to say. That night will put the icing on the cake for me. To be put on a list with the caliber of people that have already been honored is something I only dreamed of.”