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‘Prayers of perfect strangers’ uplift minister, wife in COVID-19 battle

Mitch Wilburn's wife says faith and his driven spirit are helping him fight.

In full PPE gear, Dr. Brent Dennis entered the home of Mitch and Shannon Wilburn.  

Mitch Wilburn, minister for the Park Church of Christ in Tulsa, Okla., had been diagnosed with COVID-19 just days earlier. 

Dr. Brent Dennis examines Mitch Wilburn before sending him to the hospital.

A history of cancer, a compromised lung and a combination of autoimmune diseases made him a high-risk patient. It was that history — and brotherly love — that led Dennis, who is also a member of the Park church, to make the house call.

“He listened to Mitch’s chest and said, ‘I don’t like what I’m hearing,’” Shannon Wilburn said. 

With that, he said Mitch needed to be admitted to the hospital. 

“Between when he said, ‘You’re going to the hospital,’ and two hours later when they had a bed,  he went downhill,” Shannon said. “Driving him to the hospital was scary because I thought, ‘He’s having to think about talking and not able to get a full breath.’”

That was Oct. 15. Nearly a month later, Mitch remains hospitalized.

In Tulsa, where he is being treated, hospitals are now facing record-breaking numbers of COVID-19 cases, according to The Tulsa World. Health officials report Tulsa’s main hospitals are out of ICU beds. 

It’s been a rollercoaster of a journey for Shannon. Just days after Mitch was hospitalized, she noticed she could no longer taste her coffee. Then she tested positive for COVID-19, too. 

“I haven’t had a fever in 20 years. I forgot how awful having a fever is,” she said. “It just knocks you out.”

The virus left her with fever and a cough. She also struggled to breathe. On her third trip to the emergency room, she just knew she would be admitted. But doctors gave her a steroid treatment. Her breathing stabilized, and she was sent back home. 

“I’ve had nine surgeries, and this is way worse than any surgery I’ve had.”

“I’ve had nine surgeries, and this is way worse than any surgery I’ve had,” she said. “But I know that it’s not that way for everyone.”

Shannon was able to recover at home, eventually testing negative. 


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However, Mitch’s condition worsened. He was given Remdesivir and plasma and then put on oxygen. He made improvements the first several days. 

Shannon shared the details, pictures and requests for prayer on Facebook and on a CaringBridge page. Mitch would text and FaceTime her. He even sent her flowers, while he was in the hospital.

Mitch and Shannon Wilburn talk via FaceTime during his first few days in the hospital. Wilburn was on oxygen as he struggled to breathe.

Then, he quickly began to get worse. 

“He sent me a text that said, ‘Urgent prayer request,’” Shannon said. “He was basically saying, ‘I can’t breathe. I’m on the maximum I can get, and I’m still heaving for any breath.’” 

Within hours, Mitch was intubated — put on a ventilator. 

“When you can’t be up there, it’s really scary because you can’t advocate for them,” Shannon said. 

While she has full faith in the knowledge and expertise of the doctors and nurses caring for Mitch, she acknowledges that it’s hard to watch a loved one suffer from afar. 

Mitch and Shannon Wilburn

Mitch and Shannon Wilburn

“I’ve always been able to be there to advocate for him during all of his medical issues,” she said. “It’s just a loss of control, which for someone like me, it’s like, ‘Oh, Lord, I want to be in control but I know you are in control.’” 

While doctors and nurses continued caring for Mitch, the church in Tulsa cared for Shannon. 

“We are surrounded by such a great community of just friends and Jesus followers, and a lot of people know how to love on us well,” Shannon said.

People brought groceries, ice cream, cookies and journals. They prayed in her front yard and sent texts of encouragement. 

And they shared her social media posts, leading people around the world to pray. 

“The prayers of perfect strangers” are so meaningful to Shannon. 

“Someone asking for prayers for us has influenced someone else, and that’s the reason we are getting the prayers,” Shannon said.

In fact, Shannon asked everyone to share where they were praying from. People from at least 55 countries responded. Shannon’s daughter and mom bought maps for a visual reminder of the prayers being said on Mitch’s behalf. 

Then came the best news. In the middle of an interview with The Christian Chronicle, Shannon got a call. It was Mitch’s nurse. 

Excitement filled her face as the nurse shared the news that he was off the ventilator and breathing well. 

Shannon Wilburn is filled with excitement after getting a call during an interview with The Christian Chronicle letting her know Mitch was breathing well off of the ventilator.

“I love you so much,” she said through the FaceTime call, tears filling her eyes. 

A few days later, Mitch was moved off of the COVID floor to a regular hospital room where Shannon could visit him. She hadn’t seen him in person in 26 days. 

She posted an update for friends and family saying, “I ugly cried all over his chest when I got here this morning as it was so good to touch him.” 

https://www.facebook.com/shannon.mcknight.wilburn/posts/10223515712821892

On his own Facebook page, Mitch wrote:I’m still here. Pray for me. Ask the stone in the garden if there is anything that Jesus can’t do.”

Unfortunately, the journey isn’t over for Mitch. Days after being extubated, his condition once again deteriorated. He was put back on a ventilator. 

”I don’t know how people walk through something this hard without Jesus.”

”I don’t know how people walk through something this hard without Jesus,” Shannon said.

She said Mitch has always been a driven person, mostly toward “getting people to Jesus.” But she knows it’s that driving spirit which has helped him fight this battle. And while it’s challenging to not know what the future holds, Shannon and her family hold on to hope. 

“We just don’t live in fear because we know we win either way,” Shannon said. “We get the reward, the everlasting reward, because we’re believers.”

Find updates on Mitch’s condition, including specific prayer requests on Shannon Wilburn’s Facebook page or on the family’s CaringBridge site. 

Filed under: Coronavirus covid COVID-19 Mitch Wilburn National News Shannon Wilburn Top Stories

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