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Rob A. Gentile: Lessons of Love from a Near Death Experience

Rob never expected a heart attack or near death experience, but he is thankful he learned more about God, love and connection because of these hardships.

Bio

Rob A. Gentile was born one of four boys outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Italian immigrants. His grandfather and father worked at a steel company where Rob also began his career right out of high school. For the past 25 years, he has worked as a sales engineer living in Texas, California, Tennessee and now resides in Charlotte, North Carolina. Rob has won several awards for his sales efforts including diversity supplier award for the Minority Business Development Council.

He’s been blessed to have been married for 30 years and he and his wife have also been blessed with a wonderful daughter Maria, who is 23 and has been diagnosed with Rett Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder.

Photography Career

Rob has a passion for photography that started in the seventh or eighth grade. Rob had always been very visual and his brother gave him a camera. He started to research photography and light, and even built a darkroom in his basement where he started to developing his own photographs. From that point on, he was hooked.

When the steel company that Rob had been working for went out of business, he found himself out of a job and decided to dedicate that time to pursuing his photography passion. His older brother was working as a writer for Newsweek at the time. Rob drove to Guatemala to learn Spanish and then met his brother in Nicaragua and became a freelance stringer for the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune.

Rob spent a lot of time in combat situations. Often, young soldiers would dive on top of Rob to protect him while they were under fire. They told him they did that so that he could help the truth to come out. Rob says that living through wars was like training for the challenges that were looming in his life in the not too distant future.

The Heart Attack

In 2016, Rob had surgery on his neck to remove some bone spurs he had developed from old sports injuries. It was a relatively easy procedure, so Rob was only in the hospital overnight to make sure there were no problems.

Four days later at about 11 o’clock at night, Rob had a massive heart attack. He was screaming and writhing in bed, and his wife initially thought it was their daughter having seizures, as that was a typical occurrence for her around that time. When she realized it was Rob, she called the ambulance.

Hospital & Coma

Rob was rushed to the hospital but the doctors could not revive him. He was unresponsive and without a pulse for 20 minutes. They did several injections of epinephrine and paddle shocks. They did everything they could and were on the verge of giving up when there was a small sign of a heartbeat.

At that point they rushed Rob to surgery and fished a balloon pump into his heart to remove the blockage, (which that is commonly called the widow-maker), and they also placed two stents.

But it was too late. Rob’s heart was too damaged. He slipped into a coma for four days. When he woke up, he was told that the only way he would survive was a getting a heart transplant. He was just 56 years old.

Looking for a Transplant

So Rob started on a journey to find a new heart. He went to a wide variety of regional transplant centers and was told the same thing: Hearts are in short supply. His only option was to be in the hospital for 40 days and be placed on the critical list. If a heart arrived, he would be there to get it. But if a heart didn’t come, he would have to be put on a device called an LVAD, which is commonly used for people who can’t get a heart. Rob didn’t want an LVAD because of the challenges helping with Maria and trying to keep up with his life. It wasn’t a good fit. So he was turned down by multiple transplant organizations. He was about to give up on his search.

At that point he called his boss and told him what was going on and that he would have to resign. His boss had not realized the severity of the situation and told Rob he was going to talk to the owner of the company. The owner of the company was a philanthropist who donated a lot of money to the University of Chicago. The owner called the medical department of the university and a couple of days later, they called Rob.

The Miracle Coincidence

The University told Rob that if he came to Chicago and had no pre-existing conditions, they would find him a heart within 3-4 months. Two days later, Rob and his wife were on a plane to Chicago. Four months later, Rob had a new heart.

Anyone else might call all of these events coincidences. Not Rob. He says that coincidences are God’s way of remaining anonymous.

Lesson #1: Our Identity Comes from God

Rob learned many things through his near-death experience. But he says that the number one thing was that our real identity and strength comes from God. We are spiritual beings and these bodies are just clay vessels that we are in temporarily to learn lessons and find our purpose. Our purposes are completely individual because God has given us each unique gifts that we need to learn about and use to fulfill our purpose. We have to find our own way to contribute to humanity while we are here.

Rob explained that God both expresses and experiences life through us. When we understand that, we understand that the gifts we’ve been given are God’s way of expressing Himself through us. The real richness and joy and depth of life comes from sharing the small gifts we have.

Lesson #2: We Are All Connected

When Rob first woke up from his coma, his arms were paralyzed and he couldn’t move. His older brother came into the room and Rob broke down. He told him that he couldn’t live like this. Rob wouldn’t be able to help his daughter, he wouldn’t be able to work, he just couldn’t keep going in that state. He asked his brother to take him to a state where they allowed physician assisted suicide. Rob’s brother was a bit of an agnostic after covering wars all over the world. He expected his brother to understand. But he said no. That’s when Rob realized that we are all called to rise to our challenges in a different way.

Rob looks back now and wonders what would have become of his wife and daughter if he had gone through with his plan. He definitely wouldn’t have written his book. He learned that we all have so much to offer.

Beyond that, we are all connected. Our actions affect everyone around us. Sometimes we have to step outside of ourselves to realize how valuable we are and how much meaning we have to others.

When Rob had his near-death experience, at first he found himself standing in the middle of nowhere. He describes it as looking out of an airplane window on a clear day. The more time he spent there, he started to see a web of light. It resembled a web of neurons like you’d see in a picture of a brain. Rob understood that each piece of light represented a life. He realized how interconnected we all are, both spiritually and temporally. What we do impacts those around us.

Lesson #3: Connecting With God

The Struggle With Light and Dark

In his book, Rob says, “We each experience a mini struggle of dark and light on a daily basis. We make choices every day out of free will to spread the light or hide the darkness. We were designed by the Creator with the innate ability to recognize the difference between good and evil. I believe God will wove the universal fabric of the web into us as our moral compass. Darkness creeps into our lives when we disconnect ourselves from God’s love and light.”

Prayer and Work

It’s all about choices. Rob loves a mantra from the Amish community, which is, “As you pray, move your feet.” Prayer is a foundation in Rob’s life. He starts every day with prayer so that he can connect with God and get through the day and put things in perspective. But God also expects us to show up and do the work.

Remembering Identity

Rob’s time spent talking with God in the morning really helps him to remember his identity. He says that losing sight of that and only relying on the temporal things only brings trouble. His identity is what gives him the foundation and the strength to go out into the world and work. It makes it easier to make the right choice when the darkness comes.

When he woke up from his coma, Rob thought that even if he had 10 million dollars in the bank, it wouldn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was what he had done with the time he had been given. His whole life flashed before him. He started wondering if he had done anything to make his family proud and if he made right choices.

The Power of Nature

Another way Rob likes to connect with God is out in nature. He loves to see the beautiful creations out in the world and really be awed by their magnificence.

Lesson #4: The Purpose of Adversity

Rob believes that adversity is God’s way of trying to build a closer relationship with us.

There were times when he was angry with God, when he blamed God for Maria’s condition and everything else, but God was trying to reach him through those difficult moments. God was trying to show him that He loved him through all of those circumstances.

Rob says in his book, “This is how the human race evolves. When life gives us adversity, God invites us to do something about it. Intellectual understanding is meaningless unless followed by action. We each have a choice to let adversity draw out the best part of us, pushing us toward greatness or to remain stuck.”

Sometimes when we hit a trial we want to stay stuck because we don’t want to change because change is hard. It requires less effort to stay stuck but it is also paralyzing. Change requires work and effort to learn and grow but we become better because of it the challenge. As Rob explained, we are here on earth is to fill the measure of our creation. And if we remain stuck, we’re not doing that. We can grow or we can remain stuck and angry. It is our choice.

God wants us to use adversity to help us grow and we find Him with us in our adversity.

Lesson #5: The Unspoken Language of Love

When he looks back on his experiences, Rob notices everyone who was put in his path to help him survive. God has an unspoken language that he uses to speak through all of creation, and that language is love. Love is what brought Rob back from the darkest days.

Rob’s True Conversion

For a long time, Rob didn’t have a very good relationship with God. He was playing the blame game and was very self pitying. Everything they had been through with Maria had taken a tremendous toll on their family, financially, emotionally, and spiritually.

Rob remembers clearly when his true conversion began. Maria couldn’t empty her bowels, which would have built up and created a toxicity. Every Sunday, she had to be given a coffee enema. So Rob was bathing her one Sunday after giving her the enema and he just started to break down and cry.

He cried out to God, “Where are you? Where are you now?”

At that moment, he heard God speak to his spirit in a gentle voice, “Look at me. I’m right here.” He looked at his daughter, and she had a beautiful, glowing smile on her face. And he realized that God was saying, “I’m right here in the person of your daughter. This is what you’re supposed to doing. You are supposed to care for and love me.”

Unexpected gifts

There are always unexpected gifts in the challenges we face. With special needs children, it can be difficult to understand why God won’t heal them. You know He has the power. But often what you can’t see is the years of loving and giving and serving and how that will help you to become better.

Rob says that special needs children are pure spirit. They are innocent. They are showing us what God really looks like: pure love.

Recommendations

  1. Spiritual Foundation. The first thing Rob would recommend for anyone going through a difficult time, whether that be health problems or a special needs child, would be to work on their spiritual foundation.

Building your relationship with the Creator is where your strength comes from. Rob and his wife have dealt with 15 years of seizures, sleep deprivation, living in a hospital for months on end, traveling for work, and countless other things. He says that without that spiritual foundation, it would have been physically impossible to keep going.

2. Surrender Your Ego. The second thing Rob would encourage is to surrender your ego on a daily basis. You still have to do the work and set goals, but you also have to be realistic. There’s a balance that you have to acknowledge. You have to also be dependent on God.

Rob likes the saying that EGO stands for Edges God Out. When we remove God from the picture and try to rely on our own strength, like Rob did for many years, that’s when you’ll find yourself in trouble. The ego is what wants to find a cure. Rob thinks that all the stress of trying to take on Maria’s condition on his own is what led to some of the damage in his heart. Surrendering your ego allows you to let God solve it.

Love

When Rob was in his coma and saw the web, he also could see his body with the heart pump keeping him alive. He saw the lives of the nurses who were coming in and out of his room. He saw his own life flash by and he judged himself so harshly for the mistakes he had made.

And then he saw the web, after which he saw Maria. She was perfect and whole. He asked her to say his name. He’d never heard her say his name. And he asked her what he could do for her. He didn’t know how to help her. Maria simply said, “Just love me.”

In that moment, Rob felt completely free. There was no guilt. And he never wanted to leave that place. He learned that death isn’t something to fear, and that the greatest gift we can give is just to love.

“Quarks of Light”

The title of Rob’s book is “Quarks of Light.” A quark is the smallest building block of matter, and all matter is made of light. After seeing the web, Rob started to study quarks. He realized that’s what the web was made up of.

Rob explained, “We are all part of God’s light, and love. We all come from that same singular light. So that light is within each of us. And if a quark is the smallest building block of all matter then we’re all made of light.” We all come from a singular light and that light is within all of us.

Favorite Bible Verse

Rob’s favorite Bible verse is Mark 9:23, which reads, “Jesus said unto him, if thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” It doesn’t matter what religion you are a part of, all it comes down to is believing. All you have to do is believe and love.

Connect with Rob

You can find Rob on his website, robagentile.com, and on his Facebook page.

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About the author, Tamara

Tamara K. Anderson is a speaker, author, podcaster, and is a professional in HOPE. She has four children who struggle with autism, ADHD, anxiety, visions issues, and all bring her great joy.

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