Editor’s note: Faith on Lumpkin is a series produced by students in the fall 2023 Religion Reporting class. They were embedded with four student religious groups — UGA BCM (Baptist Collegiate Ministries), Christus Victor Lutheran Church and Student Center, the Presbyterian Student Center, the Episcopal Campus Ministry — that have physical locations on Lumpkin Street to learn about the faith, meet student and non-student leaders, identify newsworthy stories and ultimately produce a multiplatform feature story out from their ongoing coverage.
Deborah Martinez enjoys hiking in her free time and being connected to nature.
This fall, she organized Christus Victor Lutheran Church and Student Center’s involvement in Athens-Clarke County’s Rivers Alive event, which is an annual statewide initiative to clean up waterways. It was Christus Victor’s first time participating in the October event, and part of her effort as a member of the church’s outreach team to offer monthly volunteer events.
But Martinez, a graduate student affairs officer in the University of Georgia’s Department of Clinical and Administrative Pharmacy, thought she might not ever get to hike again or participate in an event like Rivers Alive, after having a stroke five years ago.
“God was the one who truly saved my life that day, and is letting me continue to be here on Earth,” Martinez said.
Martinez, then 36 years old and a graduate researcher, started the morning of March 13, 2018, with a staff meeting on campus. She went to her office in Terrell Hall after the meeting to discuss details with her colleague at the time, Angela Jewell. Suddenly, Martinez began exhibiting symptoms of a stroke, although she initially thought it was a migraine.
Jewell recognized her Martinez was in trouble when her speech began to slur and one side of her face drooped. Jewell, whose mother had also experienced a stroke, saw the symptoms quickly and immediately contacted 911.
God’s hand was in all of that timing that day,” Martinez said.
Suzanne Barbour, former dean at the University of Georgia’s Graduate School and current dean of Duke University’s Graduate School, watched as Martinez was wheeled out of the lobby via stretcher.
“I remember standing there watching that happen and thinking, my goodness gracious, this is a young person who outwardly looked like a very healthy person whose just had a stroke right here, basically in front of me,” Barbour said.
Martinez was brought to St. Mary’s Hospital in Athens, where she was the first patient at that hospital to receive a life-saving procedure called a mechanical thrombectomy. This procedure is minimally invasive and involves removing a blood clot from a vein or artery. St. Mary’s Hospital had recently obtained the technology to perform the procedure.
Martinez was admitted to St. Mary’s Center for Rehabilitative Medicine to begin her recovery.
“Our faith allowed us to see God’s hand really evident in the situation,” said Tracey Porter, a friend and physical therapist who has worked with stroke patients. ”You can’t really deny that there wasn’t some divine intervention there.”
Martinez, a Clinton, Iowa, native, said she has always been deeply connected to her faith. She met Porter 16 years ago in a Lutheran church choir in Ames, Iowa. The pair quickly bonded over a mutual connection to Porter’s grandfather, and since then, the two have maintained a sister-like relationship despite 990 miles between them.
Both Porter and Martinez said that God saved Martinez’s life that day because of where the event happened, that a colleague who could recognize the stroke was in her office that day and that St. Mary’s Hospital was chosen as her place of care. Martinez and her parents to this day refer to Jewell as “Angela the angel.”
“I think it would have been easy for her to give up, were it not for her faith,” Porter said.
‘Covered in Prayer’
Members of Christus Victor prayed over her, brought gifts, and made monetary contributions to help cover the costs of rehabilitation and medical expenses. They participated in meal trains, where members of the congregation volunteered to deliver on an assigned day to Martinez.
“We certainly want to make sure we’re caring for people as a whole,” said the Rev. Greg Michael, Christus Victor’s pastor. “God makes us for relationships. He didn’t make us to be alone.”
Martinez explained that her siblings, churches, prayer chains and Bible studies all came together to support her in prayer.
“I was covered in prayer throughout the nation,” Martinez said. “Hundreds of people were praying for me, and that’s very powerful.”
Caring for Others
Now, in her 40s, Martinez is giving back to the community, including the church, that gave so much to her. Martinez has become an advocate for stroke awareness and has shared her story with TODAY.com and Fox 5 News, and she was a spokesperson for the 2023 Survivors Stroke Week in May.
Martinez’s goal with the church’s outreach program has been to organize volunteer events for student and non-students to participate in each month. The high number of requests for events that students submitted in 2023 opened up new volunteer opportunities and made the monthly goal possible.
“She enjoys working with students,” Michael said. “I think that’s part of the reason she does what she does.”
Sara-Jane Eggers, a sophomore and student leader at Christus Victor, describes Martinez as a pillar of the church. Eggers said she has faced personal struggles throughout college and Martinez’s support continues to impact her. She said Martinez makes personal connections with each student.
“What I like about my relationship with Deborah is she never pushes any religion on you unless you want to talk about it,” Eggers said.
Eggers said Martinez is not afraid to take action, and she has personally emailed students at Christus Victor to check in and ask about their interest in church events.
“She does a great job of … talking about the good works we could do if we band together and do these things,” Eggers said.
Katie Wall and Tyler Lary are fourth-year journalism majors.
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