When Encephalitis, Brain Damage, and Epilepsy Change Everything
When Encephalitis, Brain Injury, and Epilepsy Change Everything
Encephalitis almost ended Chris Maxwell’s life. The scar tissue in his brain and life with epilepsy made him – and his family and friends – feel like the life they’d known changed suddenly and permanently.
For Maxwell and the staggering number of people facing traumatic brain injuries, epilepsy, or other painful encounters, life is experienced through a different lens. Names are tough to remember. Medication is a common acquaintance. Exhaustion, seizures, and mood swings are daily traveling companions.
Maybe you can relate. Maybe you know about encephalitis, epilepsy, or another type of brain damage. Maybe you’re a caregiver not sure how to come ashore yourself. Maybe your story is different, but the feeling is the same. Depression, disability or disease has changed everything.
Maxwell’s writing and the stories of others offer hope. Hope that you’re not alone, even when your experience underwater seems to change everything.
Praise for Chris Maxwell’s UNDERWATER
“If any neurologist looks at Chris’s MRI of the brain and then sees Chris, they can’t believe they are looking at the same person. Chris could easily have gone into a deep depression over his illness. His tenacity to stubbornly refuse to lose is what made him into the winner in life that he is today.
Don’t let epilepsy or your illness define you. You can succeed in life if you believe in what you are doing and are willing to fight for it. I hope this book will help you in your journey through life.”
I was hired on pastoral staff after Chris had returned to work. I never knew Chris before his illness but realized quickly that he had become a new man. People would recount stories of the former Chris with great pride and a sense of community. Even with the difficulties of names, recollection of facts and dates, and the visual discomfort it caused Chris, people continued to crave his investment in their lives. He was still their pastor.
Chris mourned his prior self, was frustrated at his limitations, longed to work all day without naps, and wept at the pain that his family had suffered. Yet in all of this, I witnessed a man who grew and accomplished greatness. Chris worked extremely hard to overcome and would constantly strive to improve. There were many days when Chris pushed too hard and would have to stop and regroup. These setbacks would become fuel to move forward. Chris would comment daily on his small victories in the overwhelming flood of God’s Grace.
Throughout this crippling journey of recovery, Chris became a new man. He found his purpose and voice—not as a victim, but as a survivor and overcomer. The man I know puts people before programs, forgiveness before frustration, healing before hate, and joy before mourning. Chris will be the first to recognize that he is a miracle.
I met Chris Maxwell by “pre-ordained accident.” He reached out to me as someone suffering from epilepsy while I was working to change, thinking about this dreadful disease. I didn’t know his name on my phone message list, so it languished there for several weeks. When we finally communicated, my life changed. And so did thousands of others. I had a platform with not much to put on it. Chris had a message. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Don’t doubt yourself. You can make a difference.
I watched him deliver this message in many states in the United States, in Tokyo, Japan, and in South Korea. I watched people of different cultures, experiences, and stages of life all nod in agreement when Chris talked about change and hope and progress. I watched believers and non-believers see a Christlike spirit of love, kindness, and grace encourage them. I witnessed Chris change the lives of hundreds of people across the years . . . just because he had the courage to encourage.
Chris’s only tool in this journey was words—words that put just a little piece of himself into their hearts. The piece of himself that said, “It’s okay . . . it’s all going to be okay.” His writing is an extension of Chris, and it will put a little piece of him into your heart as well. Just as I have learned to drink in every minute I get to share with Chris, I encourage you to drink in his words. Just like me, your life will be changed.
Coming from a near-death, life-threatening medical condition, Chris Maxwell knows firsthand what it is like to feel “underwater,” fighting for life. His story is a modern medical wonder and is bringing dignity and hope to people around the world. His voice is being heard at medical conventions, university campuses, and in places of worship. I heartily endorse him and encourage you to have him speak to your organization.
I had the pleasure of meeting Chris several years ago when he and I were scheduled to speak at the same program. He is an outstanding speaker! His was a hard act to follow. His talk was extremely well-delivered, inspirational with just the right touch of humor. You find yourself wanting more when the talk ends.
I am equally impressed with Chris’s writing ability. It is the kind of writing that makes you think, “I wish I could write like that.” He wrote an essay on New Year’s Day that I have forwarded to folks all over the country and a few out of the country.
I have seen how Chris relates to people in the audience, the folks who come up to talk to him afterward, and how he seems to instinctively know what they are asking that is not spoken. He is a hero and one the world badly needs. How lucky are those college students who have access to him. What a role model to have at this time in the world.
It was an early morning breakfast appointment. I arrived on time, and my friend who I was going to meet was always early. To my surprise, I beat him to the restaurant. That never happened, but that day it did. I waited on his arrival. My friend and pastor was Chris Maxwell; he never showed. I called and found out later that he was in the hospital with encephalitis. This mysterious disease almost took the life of my friend, but God was gracious. Today, my friend’s mind and memory have limitations that did not exist before that day, but his heart has been enlarged, and his sensitivity toward God and others is without measure.
Chris Maxwell is a dynamic leader with a message of inspiration. He motivates the masses to live beyond the diagnosis of encephalitis and epilepsy to find their true purpose and calling in life, not by asking “why,” but by encouraging others to find their stories of strength. His unique speaking and storytelling is in a league of its own, comprised with compassion and thoughtfulness. Chris invites you into his journey with a tranquil voice and captures your attention with optimistic words that speak to the core of your being. For my personal experience of living with epilepsy, his speaking, writing and stories are the epitome of hope.
All are addressed — not by the medical community — but by a husband, father, grandfather and friend.
Author Chris Maxwell and I had brain injuries simultaneously. Later I found out his epilepsy changed him much more dramatically than my grand mal seizure.
Chris’ route back to his new normal includes ongoing struggles. One that moved me deeply was his revelation that his wife Debbie, as they went to dinner, wondered Which Chris will I be with tonight?
Case studies, a glossary, websites and other sources make this a valuable tool for caregivers or those who want to fight back from a debilitating condition.
Chris Maxwell has a story everyone needs to hear. His once ravaging brain infection and his successful life with permanent brain insult defy simple explanation.
My perspective of Chris Maxwell has evolved from that of a casual acquaintance in our youth to a valued personal friend with whom I share a weekly morning breakfast and intimate life conversations. In Chris’s youth, long before his illness shattered life as he knew it, Chris was the epitome of a flamboyant extrovert with a dynamic personality and unbridled energy. Chris now leads a very busy life of counseling, speaking engagements, travel, teaching, and authoring numerous books. He does so in a quite measured, incremental, intentional, and methodical manner. His mastery of technology and adaptation to somewhat rigid, self-enforced personal habits and schedules contribute to his success. His management of his residual brain disorders and their daily challenges go unnoticed by most folks. If Chris didn’t share his story, I’m certain most people would be unaware of the “valley of death” which once threatened to destroy his brain and swallow his life, and they would also be in awe of the height of the mountaintops he subsequently climbed!
As a physician, I understand the medical ramifications of Chris Maxwell’s near-death brain infection and its resulting brain insult. As his friend, it is remarkable to witness Chris’s ability to turn his nightmarish medical crisis and disability into a source of inspiration, encouragement, and hope for others. He endeavors to tell his story for the benefit of humanity.
Chris Maxwell’s story brings new dimension, deeper insight, and refreshing perspective. I am pleased he has chosen to share it!
I met Chris Maxwell on the campus of Emmanuel College almost eleven years ago. In our very first conversation, we both knew we had found a friend and even joked about how awesome it would be if we were ever given the opportunity to work together. Be careful what you ask for! We just completed our tenth year working together on the same campus. I never knew the “old” Chris Maxwell, but I read his books, studied his life, and have gotten to know the current Chris extremely well. For many years, we have met weekly to talk, listen, laugh, cry, think out loud, dream, and learn together. We text each other at all hours of the day and night. He can complete my thoughts and finish my sentences. I know his routines, habits, daily rituals, what foods he likes, where he likes to eat, and, often, what he is thinking or feeling. We look out for each other and lean on each other for strength. He is a gift to my life, and I sincerely hope I am a blessing to him as well.
My Chris Maxwell uses words and images to shed light and create life. He thinks, he prays, he writes, and he speaks. His words are well-chosen because they are precious to him. He invests them into our lives strategically in hopes of bringing hope, commonality, mutuality, and trust for a brighter day and better tomorrow. But don’t just read the words. Feel the pulse of life, sense the joy in the journey, and embrace the hand of a friend who understands pain, disappointment, temporary setbacks, challenges, hard work, and the routine of daily repetition. Walk with him as he does the sacrificial work of reliving the nightmares of the past as a means of birthing new life and vision for a brighter future for your life. Savor every second and live every moment as if it were all you have. Dive in. Take the plunge. Go deep. Emerge as a better version of you. It can be done. You can learn to live again.
I remember the day in March 1996 when we received a phone call that our friend and pastor Chris Maxwell was in the hospital, and they weren’t sure exactly what was wrong. We came to learn that he was diagnosed with encephalitis which is swelling in the brain. This educated, articulate, and compassionate man had to relearn how to hold a spoon, use the bathroom, and his family’s names. All of a sudden, Chris was not the man we knew before. Little did we know the intricate plan God had before him or the people he would meet and touch along the way.
As Chris struggled to learn things all over again, he faced frustrations but also experienced miracles! His healing and accomplishments far exceeded what anyone thought possible! People he might not have ever met if it weren’t for his illness were touched by his authenticity and his raw love for God.
The struggles brought Chris further in his faith in a new and fresh way that he may not have reached had he not gone through those physical and mental difficulties.
Today, Chris is educating and inspiring others who have epilepsy. A beautiful picture of how God turns what appears to be a tragedy into blessing, growth, and inspiration for others!
When Chris suffered a debilitating attack of viral encephalitis, he had been my friend, youth pastor, and then pastor for over ten years. I’d met him shortly after moving to the Orlando area when I attended a youth service he was leading. I liked him. Chris was an intellectual and a poet (and still is), and most of all, people were drawn to him and then, through him, to Christ. He was a young, charismatic pastor who used mnemonic devices to memorize the names of every parishioner, spouse, and their children in every congregation with which he associated, and his number one message—a message that he reinforced with his own deacon board and church later on—was the message of God’s unconditional love and acceptance. Because of his commitment to that message, I witnessed many broken people over the years receive healing under his ministry, and I saw unconditional commitment extended to so many of us despite our failures and sin. It was unsurprising, then, that when his illness took away his ability to speak coherently that his congregation unconditionally rallied behind him. There wasn’t any talk about replacing our pastor even though the prognosis was bleak. And six weeks later, miraculously, he was back in the pulpit. He struggled, but his message was clear. And years later—many years later—he is still writing, speaking, and preaching. I have no doubt that he carries the burden of his illness every day, as does his wife Debbie and his children, but he is now, more than ever, like the high priest of Hebrews who is not unfamiliar with our sufferings. When he writes about faith, suffering, and perseverance, it is because of his own intimate struggle with all three. What you are reading in his words aren’t platitudes, but blood and bone and flesh and suffering and the ways that God’s love comes to us through all of these.
I have known Chris Maxwell since our high school days. It was normal everyday high school until God poured out His Spirit and radically changed our lives forever! During those early years the Lord used Chris to share his testimony of the grace of God that saves and changes lives. God gifted Chris with the ability to recall so much scripture by memory that it was hard for me not to be jealous. We would travel together with other high school friends and tell of the wonderful things Jesus had done for us. It was a time of faith.
Not everything was rosy though. I remember when Chris’s mom was diagnosed with cancer. We all prayed for God to intervene and heal her. It was so hard watching her suffer. But through it all she would smile and praise her Lord Jesus. The Lord saw fit to take her to heaven “Where there is no more pain and suffering.” It was a time of testing faith for Chris and all of us.
College came along and soon God was calling us in different directions. My wife and I went to do mission work in Central America. Chris and his wife to pastor here in the USA. Over the years we kept in touch but rarely saw one another. We were walking in faith in different places.
One day we were notified that Chris was gravely ill. We began to pray. We didn’t know all the details but knew it was serious.
When we were finally able to visit him in Florida I realized that a lot had changed. That spectacular memory he once had wasn’t there anymore. He needed notes to preach by. He couldn’t remember things I talked about in the past. As we left Orlando we continued to pray for Chris. He and his family were in another time of testing faith.
The Lord has a sense of humor! He sent Chris and his wife to live in the town we grew up in and then He did the same thing with me and my wife! It was great reconnecting with Chris and seeing how God had brought him through the trial of dealing with the memory problems and also the seizure problems that were secondary to the encephalitis he had suffered. He is writing books, preaching, and ministering to college kids at the local campus. The most impressive result was Chris’s deepened faith and love of the Lord.
As you read his story may faith awaken in you as it has in him.