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Marty Neal holds a sign up in a hospital window showing his family which room he was in.
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A minister battling COVID-19 flatlines

For 16 minutes, hospital staff tried to revive him as his family waited in the parking lot.

As Beth McCullough ran toward the hospital, she wasn’t sure what would happen next. 

A nurse was on the phone. Her father, Marty Neal, 61, preacher for the Windrow Church of Christ in Rockvale, Tenn., had flatlined. 

Beth McCullough with her dad, Marty Neal.

Beth McCullough with her dad, Marty Neal.

McCullough and her mother, Lisa Neal, had been waiting in the parking lot for news. They knew Marty’s condition was worsening. He had been in the Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital, in Murfreesboro, with COVID-19 for nearly two weeks. 

The day before, doctors invited McCullough in to sit with her dad. His prognosis was grim. For the first time since he was hospitalized on June 5, she was able to see him in person, to touch him. 

“They dressed me up, and I went into Dad’s room and just stayed up there,” McCullough said. 

She sang to him. She tried talking to him like nothing was wrong, knowing doctors had said his body was shutting down. He was on a ventilator and sedated. 

“I just wanted him to wake up,” she said. 

Eventually, McCullough had to go back outside where her mom was waiting. Lisa wasn’t allowed in the hospital because she, too, had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Marty and Lisa Neal

Marty and Lisa Neal

“I had to be as close as I could be,” Lisa said, “and so that was the parking lot at the hospital.”

She hadn’t seen her husband in more than two weeks, since she drove him to the ER back on June 5. 

“I told them he tested positive for COVID and wasn’t breathing well,” she said.

A hospital employee helped get Marty out of the car and into a wheelchair. The worker “just started wheeling him off,” his wife said, “and I said, ‘Um, do you not need any information? Do you not need anything from me?’”

The man asked if Marty had a cell phone with him. “Yes,” she said. 

He said they’d use that to call her and get any information. 


Lisa had no idea what the next weeks would hold. A roller coaster of emotions and events quickly began to unfold. Marty texted that he would need to stay a couple of hours. Then it was overnight. And then, he texted that he was being moved to the ICU. 

A page from a journal McCullough kept a detailing her father's hospital stay.

A page from a journal McCullough kept a detailing her father’s hospital stay.

By the next morning, he was on a ventilator. The family asked the doctor about Remdesivir, one of the medications some believe can help patients with COVID-19.

“We knew we needed to get it as soon as we could to get it in his system,” McCullough said. 

That night, doctors gave him the drug. Then, just hours later, at 1:30 a.m., McCullough’s phone rang. It was her father’s nurse. She said Marty was awake and wanted to talk. The ventilator kept him from talking, but he made gestures to say, “I love you.” The family has shared that video on a Facebook page where they posted updates about his condition. 

Marty is awake!! We were sent this video in the early morning hours of Sunday (6/7) by his nurse. This is the signing that Marty uses with his grandkids to say “I love you BIG!”His first round of the drug to battle COVID was started last night. This video was recorded only 6 hours after that drug was given! Initially they turned his ventilator down from 80% to 70%. Once he showed stable at that level, they have turned it down again to 60%!! He’s continuing to show improvement. We were able to FaceTime with him early this morning, and he was responsive. He answered us with thumbs up, thumbs down, and waves. God is working!! After the day we had yesterday, stable and improving are great words to share. This video was very encouraging!! He is hearing us. Keep praying!! Thank you all!

Posted by Big Daddy’s Battle on Sunday, June 7, 2020

“That was a sign for us that maybe this stuff is working,” McCullough said.

Marty’s condition kept improving over the next few days. He was taken off the ventilator and able to talk with his family via video calls. 

Then, 12 days after his admittance to the hospital, something changed. 

“I don’t even know how to describe what happened,” McCullough said. “His blood pressure just hit rock bottom; heart rate went sky high. The roller-coaster ride started all over again.”

He was put back on a ventilator.

McCullough was invited into the hospital to sit with her dad.

The family posted more updates on Facebook. Believers around the world prayed for Marty. 

Wednesday Morning (6/17) Update:I wish I had better news. Marty has had a very rough night and morning. He is back in…

Posted by Big Daddy’s Battle on Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The next day was when the call came that led Beth to run toward the hospital. 

Marty had died. 


For 16 minutes, hospital staff tried to save him. And it worked, his vital signs returned. He was alive.

“To lose somebody that long, I don’t want to say they didn’t have hope, but it was just a scary few days,” McCullough said. 

Doctors were worried about his brain function, his kidneys and whether he would actually wake up. 

Marty Neal holds a sign up in a hospital window showing his family which room he was in.

Marty Neal holds a sign up in a hospital window showing his family which room he was in.

McCullough was allowed back into the hospital. As she talked to her dad, he raised his eyebrows. She knew it may just be a reflex, but it quickly became apparent that it was something more. 

Five days after he had been revived, Marty opened his eyes. A man was standing in his room. 

“I looked at him funny, and he said, ‘We’re going to do dialysis,’” Marty said. “I told him, ‘I don’t do dialysis.’”

He ended up having two rounds of dialysis to help his kidneys resume function. He was again taken off the ventilator. A nurse moved him so he could see out the window, and so his family could see where he was. With help, he held up a sign that said, “I love you more.” His wife had made it for him for their 41st anniversary, which passed while he was hospitalized. 

It was an emotional moment for the family. 

Marty Neal walks in his hospital room just days after nearly losing his life.

Marty Neal walks in his hospital room just days after nearly losing his life.

“I’ve had some people say, ‘Well, you just got lucky; the nurses were right there with you when you coded,’” Marty said. “They can call it luck if they want to, but these people were there when I coded because God had them there. I’m here today because God wanted me here today.”

After weeks in the hospital, Marty had lost a lot of strength. 

He recalled a day the a doctor came in and said, “You’re not in the hospital anymore because you’re positive (for COVID-19). You’re in the hospital because you don’t have the strength to go home.”

“They lit a fire under him,” Beth said.

The next day, Marty was up walking. Two days later, he left the hospital. 

Big Daddy’s Exit

Happy tears flowed today!! Prayers were answered. Big Daddy’s heading home.

Posted by Big Daddy’s Battle on Saturday, July 11, 2020


Marty said he’s grateful to be home and looks forward to preaching again soon. 

He acknowledges that he didn’t always wear a mask when he went out before. That’s changed now. He hopes his story will encourage others to be more careful.

“They can call it luck if they want to, but these people were there when I coded because God had them there. I’m here today because God wanted me here today.”

“I’m not going to say it almost took my life because it did take my life for a few minutes,” Marty said. “If I can do something to keep myself from getting it or keep someone else from getting it, I’m going to do it now.”

Most of all, he wants to thank those who prayed for him. In fact, talking about the prayers and support others provided brings him to tears.  

“I know I’ve had prayers going up in Scotland, in Germany,” he said. “I’ve had prayers everywhere, and I’m never going to be able to thank everybody.” 

Filed under: Coronavirus COVID-19 covid19 died for 16 minutes Features Marty Neal News People Top Stories

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