‘God isn’t done:’ 8-year-old continues to recover from kayaking
Posted Jun 19, 2020 at 3:53 PM
By Barbara High
Mineral County, WV Daily Tribune
MOOREFIELD - May 17, 2020 started out as any other day for
the Shirks; the sun was shining and their family was together. But before it
was over it would be the day that would forever change their lives due to an
event that would also touch and bring together a community.
Gary Shirk Jr. and his wife Monica went to church with
their two children, 8- year-old Joshua and 6-year-old Abigail. After church the
family went out to eat. Taking advantage of restaurants reopening for dining,
they took their family and met up with others and dined outside at their local
It was then that some family members asked them if they would
like to join them on a kayaking trip. Monica said normally she would have
declined, but the day was beautiful and the Shirks accepted.
Monica said kayaking is something they have done a hundred
times, enjoying the popular outdoor sport over the years. They had recently
even purchased their own kayaks.Their son Joshua loved to kayak, and proudly
could stand up and paddle his uncle’s kayak.
The family set out to gather their stuff for their trip,
and went shopping to buy a needed paddle for one of the kayaks. While shopping,
they came across a smaller kids kayak and the Shirks discussed buying it for
Joshua. They ultimately decided to make the purchase, knowing that when he
outgrew it, his sister would then get a chance to have it. After their
purchases the family set out.
“We were kayaking with family,” said Monica. She, her
husband, their two children, her bother-in-law Benjamin Shirk, and their aunt
were in the group. There was a total of five kayaks on the trip. “We made sure
that Joshua was in his life jacket and our daughter was in hers,” said Monica.
“We were particular with the life jackets we used; making sure they had the two
chest straps and the strap between their leg as well.” The Shirks even tethered
Joshua off to his father’s kayak for safety, the way they were instructed to
do. Then the family set off for what should have been a wonderful family trip,
but instead one that ended in tragedy. One that would put a chain reaction of
events into place that would touch the hearts of people around the world/
Within 15 minutes of pushing the kayaks out into the river,
the unexpected happened. According to Monica, they came upon an area that had a
huge tree with a rather large root system in the water. It was down and in an
area that has a strong current and an obvious undertow.
“It just sucked us into the tree and the roots,” she said.
The current took Joshua and his father right into the massive roots, and their
boats went in opposite directions toward the tree roots. The tether strap
connecting them caught in the middle, upsetting both kayaks.
Out of the five kayaks that embarked on the family trip,
all but one went down. Everyone resurfaced, except fort little Joshua. His life
jacket had caught him in the root system and was holding him under water. The
tether strap is believed to have been around his face, where they later found
The strong current took the rest of the family down the
river. A string of events took place at that time, and the family says God put
everyone in place for a reason - to show the world his might. Just up the
river, the family had just passed two people fishing. The two moved out of the
way across the river and waved. Those two just happened to be first responders,
with one being a paramedic. They were supposed to be on the river the day
before, but circumstances changed their plans and they were on the river at
that exact moment. The kayak that didn’t go down was Benjamin, which had the
Shirks’ little daughter Abigail on it. Benjamin was able to paddle to shore and
bring the girl to safety. Nearby campers, hearing the family’s screams, dialed
911 and ran down to help. The camper’s wife stayed with the little girl and her
husband rand out to help.
The call to 911 alerted the first responders up river, and
they immediately set out to help as well. Then Benjamin had to run back up
river and jump in to try to get to Joshua. The water was too swift in the area
to walk out in it or even stand. Five times he jumped in the river and swam to
Joshua, only to grab a limb and have it break on him and get swept back down.
Each time he would run back up and jump back in to try again. When he was
finally able to reach Joshua, he could not free him because he was tangled in
the roots so badly. Benjamin would work to free him as he clung to the roots
himself, only to have another root break and the water send him down river
The fifth time he realized he was weak and struggling
himself. He said he knew he couldn’t keep doing it or there would be two bodies
to rescue, not just one. So he gathered every ounce of strength he had to run
up that river bank again. He jumped in and was swept right to Joshua again.
This time as he struggled to free Joshua, something just gave. He would later
describe it as being just like it released Joshua. It did not just release
Joshua, however, but the river seem to calm enough for him to stand up and lift
Joshua’s lifeless body up into the arms of the awaiting paramedics who had run
down river to help.
At this time Joshua had been under the water for five to
ten minutes. There was no pulse, and Joshua was lifeless. Paramedics began to
do chest compressions on the very tree that had held Joshua under. As CPR was
administered, the paramedic moved Joshua to the bank and continued to try and
revive the 8-year-old. Still no pulse. A rescue boat had already been deployed
by this time, but could not reach the child due to the current and the giant
root system in the water. Paramedics had to continue chest compressions and put
Joshua back into the water to get him down to the awaiting rescue boat.
Upon arrival at the boat, Joshua was whisked away to an
awaiting ambulance - all while chest compressions continued. Still no pulse
returned. The family, still stuck on the other side of the river, watched not
knowing as he was taken away.
Joshua was rushed to Grant Memorial Hospital with chest
compressions continuing while in route. Once he arrived at the hospital, the
team there took over life resuscitating efforts. The family called an aunt in
to be with Joshua at the hospital. Joshua’s mother, who had hit her head on the
tree rather hard and was bleeding at her ear, was being taken to the hospital
as well by ambulance.
As the doctors and nurses continued to work on the little
boy, hope began to diminish. They had now worked on the child for 40 minutes
after coming out of the water, and still Joshua had no pulse. The doctor left
the room to tell the awaiting family of Joshua’s circumstances.
In the room he found the aunt waiting and began to deliver
the news that they were still not able to get a pulse. At hearing the news,
Joshua’s aunt’s only response was that they served a mighty God, the ultimate
healer... and that is when things changed. It was at that time that a voice
could be heard yelling, “Doctor stat! He has a pulse!” After almost ten minutes
in the water, and 40 minutes without a pulse, Joshua was back. To what degree
was unknown, but he did in fact have a pulse and was alive!
Immediately a medevac was on its way to get Joshua, but due
to storms it could not make it the entire way. An ambulance therefore took
Joshua to meet the medevac in Mount Storm. On the way Joshua was trying to
breathe on his own, and his pupils were responding. He was then airlifted to
Ruby Memorial in Morgantown.
Joshua arrived at Ruby in a very critical state. Lack of
oxygen to the brain has devastating results; patients like this usually have a
swelling period of 72 hours before peaking. Sadly, Joshua swelled for six days.
The doctors said that the swelling was so bad that they feared the brain
swelling into the brain stem and damaging it. Joshua’s brain stem was not
damaged in the accident, but now concerns of damage to that area was what they
Unfortunately, he was not a candidate for surgery to
relieve the swelling, and as the brain continued to swell and as it began to
push down into the brain stem, all they could do was watch and literally know
he was in God’s hands. Six days they waited and then the swelling peaked.
Nobody knew what damage had been done, and the doctors weren’t optimistic. His
mother, however, held on to hope and faith.
“I did not allow negative talk in front of Joshua,” said
Monica. “I asked them to tell me straight up what they thought and away from
him.“I didn’t like what they were predicting, but I also knew that my God was
more powerful,” she said.
The doctors hooked Joshua up to an EEG and all they saw
were seizure-like jolts. At this time the doctors told the family that Joshua
was looking to be severely brain damaged and was facing living life in a
vegetative state. Yet the family knew it was not over, that God had the final
The following day the EEG showed some normal brain
activity, the next day it showed more, and everyday continued to improve for
Joshua.In no time Joshua was breathing on his own, he was weaned off the
fentanyl that he was on, and he no longer required oxygen of any kind.
The child that started on on 11 IV Pumps now was only on
two medications - for his blood pressure and his neurostorming, which is
commonly seen in patients with brain trauma. His pic line had been removed and
Joshua only ever had two surgeries. One to install a feeding tube and one oral
surgery to repair his tongue that he bit during a procedure.
“The doctors said they had never seen anyone bounce back so
quickly,” said Monica. “He truly is a miracle and proof that we serve a mighty
God.” Joshua went from constant care and two private nurses to sharing a nurse
and only getting vitals twice a day.
“They don’t do constant Ct Scans and MRIs anymore; they go
by him and how he seems,” Monica says, adding that the doctors say he is
unpredictable at this point. “One doctor said himself that they use their
knowledge to give him the best shot they can, but ultimately it is always up to
At this point Joshua is following commands with his eyes
and legs, and some with his hands. He is able to sit up in his chair during the
days, and they have even had him standing once with aid.
His mom says his personality is starting to show again. He
has one nurse that he absolutely loves and is willing to do anything for her,
as well as for mom - most of the time. Monica says, “If I can’t get him to try
to do something, I know she can.”
Joshua is able to communicate by blinking - once for no and
twice for yes. His mother recalls that he had had enough of one doctor at one
time, so the doctor told him, “If you want me to leave you alone, then tell me
yes. Joshua blinked twice and the doctor left with a smile.
Joshua began to kick his legs at that in excitement. Joshua
has came so far from the lifeless boy pulled from the river. The boy who spent
40 minutes without life is now able to leave the hospital - 30 days after
entering. He is now headed to an inpatient rehab in Morgantown, where he will
receive intensive rehab. “The hospital offered speech, occupational, and music
therapy, they are more for stabilization,” said Monica. “Here they will work on
making new connections in the brain.”
Joshua is experiencing really weak muscles in his neck;
they plan to work on that first. Monica says that right now you have to help
support his head like a baby. Once they help him to regain the muscles in his
neck, the rest will follow. They will work on sitting up on his own and
eventually walking. They will also be working on swallowing so he can learn to
eat again, so he won’t need the feeding tube.
There is also a plan to give him a communication device so
he can communicate without blinking. And although he is beginning to make
sounds again in an attempt to communicate, speech will be a necessity to work
As far as the family, they are holding strong in their
faith. Monica says she is doing good with God with her. “I could not have
handled this without God. “We also had an amazing community support; it has been
overwhelming in a good way,” she said, adding that they have “been praying and
there has been such an outpouring of love.”
The family has been staying with Joshua in Morgantown since
the accident. “We were given the use of a townhouse close to the hospital, so
the family can be together and take turns staying with Joshua so he is never
Monica says the story of her son has spread wide and far.
She has received messages and letters from people all over.“Joshua’s story has
touched so many, and it’s a testament to God’s strength,” she said. Monica
asked that people not forget what happened to her son, because he still has a
long way to go and they need to keep the prayers coming for him as he continues
his journey until he is completely healed.
In a recent post on Facebook, Monica says the Bible tells
us that to be absent from the body, is to be present with the Lord. Monica says
she believes that when Joshua is fully healed he will be able to tell us amazing
things that God has said and done for him.
“My son was dead for 40 minutes, God is capable of
anything,” she said. Monica believes ” you can’t ever county anything out when
God is involved. Joshua is a miracle, he had no infections, no pneumonia in his
lungs, he was never shocked, not once. Simply, God wasn’t done,” she said. “God
has never been not good to us. He is using Joshua’s story to give him Glory.”
As far at the tree with the root system that held Joshua
under water for so long, it has now been removed. Although the DNR office put
up signs warning of the tree, there were many incidents with other kayakers. So
local E R Excavating out of Moorefield took it upon themselves to remove the
tree from the water before Memorial Day for the safety of those on the river.
“This story could have happened to anyone,” said Monica. Yet
as this story unfolded, and everyone was in the place they needed to be for the
part they played, as the call came in on the scanner and the community knelt as
one and bowed their heads to pray for this little boy and his family, one thing
was certain... You never know what’s going to happen when God shows up and
apparently all things are possible with him.
This is how quickly things can change in the outdoors.
How quickly things can change. This is my 8 year old grandson Joshua Shirk from Jordan Run, Grant County WV. He was involved in a kayak accident Sunday near Moorefield WV. He was sucked under a tree root and became attached by his life vest which made it almost impossible to free him. Once the water rescue was completed, he was transported to GMH where after continuous work they got a heart beat back. His heart was beating on its own and his lungs were working on their own. He was flown to Ruby in Morgantown.
Monica and Gary are his parents and the only ones allowed in the room. Gary’s mother, brother and Josh’s sister Abigail is staying in a local Motel for support. My wife Kimberly Riggleman Stump and I are also staying in the motel. We have seen such an outpouring of love, support and prayers. We are all fine. The prayers are the answer to this little mans full healing and recovery.
I want to personally thank each and everyone of you and ask for you to reach out to everyone on your friends list to build this prayer chain around the world. I’m being selfish by saying that I need Josh back. Please pray