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Hutchinson pastor keeps faith during illness

HUTCHINSON — For three years, Andy Addis tried to ignore the pain in his head.

As the busy senior pastor at Hutchinson's Westbrook Baptist Church, the 38-year-old appeared hearty and robust as he worked to grow his congregation.

There wasn't time for headaches, not when he was preaching five times every weekend. Not when he was busy leading youth camps and a ministry speaking team known as 180 Degrees.

These were strange headaches, however — triggered suddenly by exertion, a cough and sneeze, even a laugh. Sometimes the pain lasted for a couple of minutes, but as they progressed, they lasted longer. There were times he was forced to stay in bed and hope the pain would be gone the next day.

It got to the point it hurt to bend over to tie his shoes, so his wife, Kathy Addis, had to do it for him.

Certainly she was concerned for her husband, who worked long hours.

"Even in down time his mind wouldn't quit," she said. Still, he was a big boy; he could decide for himself when to seek medical assistance, she reasoned. At least that was how she felt until he was at a youth camp in Oklahoma and passed out from the pain.

OK, that's enough, she recalled thinking. What if the pain hit while he was driving? What if the couple's two sons, 10-year-old Noah and 8-year-old Nathan, were with him when it happened?

Fear of what really might be happening inside his head couldn't keep him from seeking help any longer.

David Starkey first diagnosed Addis with Chiari 1 malformation, an uncommon congenital deformity of the lower compartment of the cranium. It results in a crowding of the brainstem and cerebellum. While it's present at birth, many people do not develop symptoms until adulthood.

Following the diagnosis, Addis would jokingly tell people his brain was too big.

"I had fears. But I tried not to let it be known. We tried to keep the scary details from the kids," Addis said.

But as they got closer to the surgery date, Nathan was struggling, to the point that he was holding his stomach when the subject came up around him.

As they were eating dinner together, just before leaving for Aurora, Colo., and the surgery, Addis asked Nathan how he was doing.

To his surprise, his son said he was fine with the surgery. He had been to children's church and he learned a special lesson.

"They were talking about how God can do great things in you," Addis recalled his son's words. As he said "you," he put his finger on his father's chest.

"God told me," Nathan told him.

"From that moment on," Addis said, "I felt at peace."

The Addises kept in touch with their congregation throughout the surgery and recovery through social networking Web sites Facebook and Twitter.

For Kathy Addis, it became a cathartic experience as she updated three or four times a day.

"I gained 200 friends on Facebook," she said. "It felt like I wasn't alone."

Along with the Internet connection, Addis' mom, Bonni Schnabel, was by their side, as were people from church and the Central Baptist Association.

"Everybody didn't want to let Andy know how scared they were," said Rod Sims, executive pastor at Westbrook Baptist. "We love Andy. He is a big part of this family. We would have suffered a great loss if he died or was changed from the surgery."

After six weeks away from the pulpit, Addis returned Sept. 27.

"I think God used this situation to get Andy's attention, to get him to take better care of himself," Kathy Addis said. "He has never been one to chill out. This has been an eye-opener for him."

Today, not only does Addis believe in miracles, he knows they can come in strange forms.

"I have a head cold and it's awesome... first time in years I have sneezed, coughed and blown my nose without headaches." He commented, "I enjoy every Kleenex."

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