Engineer turned pastor recovers from life-threatening illness

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In 1989, Alan Coleman had an epiphany while standing on top of a defunct weapons production facility in Colorado that he and his team of engineers had designed.

His government-contractor bosses wanted him to tear down the building to make way for a new weapons production facility. Having just supervised the construction of the facility, Coleman took the order to demolish it as a divine message.

Barron Jones-News-Bulletin photo: Pastor Alan Coleman stands at the altar of Christ The King Lutheran Church in Los Lunas. Coleman said he is happy to be preaching and teaching after spending nearly a month in the hospital earlier this year, fighting a blood disorder.

“I needed to be involved with something more eternal,” Coleman decided then and there.

After 15 years in engineering, he saw the futility in it all.

“So in a very short career, you build things and then they ask you to tear them down and start over,” he begins explaining why he decided on a career change. “When you are pulling all-nighters to get it done in the first place and you know how much stuff like that costs …” he trails off.

A few months later, Coleman left the weapons facilities behind and headed to the seminary.

“I always have been interested in things pertaining to God. I thought it would be a good time to go into another area of study and ended up at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana,” he said.

He graduated in 1995 and ended up in Los Lunas for his first, and only, pastoral assignment.

This past March, Pastor Coleman returned to the pulpit of Christ The King Lutheran Church in Los Lunas after spending eight months besting a life-threatening condition called Evan’s Syndrome.

It’s a rare type of anemia that destroys the blood, causing Coleman to lose about two-thirds of his blood. He also lost a third of his hemoglobin, the protein in our blood that transports oxygen to the organs.

Coleman, who had no idea his health was declining, learned of his illness after struggling to maintain his lane while driving on an area highway.

Barron Jones-News-Bulletin photo: Pastor Alan Coleman takes a break from discussing family, life and health, at the Christ The King Lutheran Church in Los Lunas. Coleman recently returned to the pulpit after an eight-month medical leave.

“I had been down in Belen doing some traveling … visiting with people and on the way back, on N.M. 314, the car was wandering in the lane and every time I let go of the steering wheel, it straightened out,” he said.

Coleman went to see his doctor, who ran some blood tests.

A few days later, his doctor called and told him to go directly to the emergency room. Tests showed the condition had destroyed a substantial amount of his blood at a life-threatening rate.

Doctors attempted to treat Coleman with chemotherapy as an outpatient, but quickly abandoned that idea when they noticed his condition worsening.

Admitted to the hospital, Coleman would spend the next month, when he wasn’t having blood drawn or undergoing some test or another, walking the halls getting to know both the hospital’s patients and staff.

His experience gave him a deeper appreciation for the training and dedication of those who work in the medical field.

“I was able to walk the halls at all hours and see the hospital staff taking care of people who were too sick to be appreciative, and families so concerned about loved ones as to miss what was being done for them in the background,” he said.

By this time, word had spread there was a pastor in the hospital.

One of the hospital’s orderlies picked Coleman up to roll him to the a different floor of the hospital for a bone marrow biopsy appointment and asked Coleman to explain the “Jesus Christ thing.”

“We sinned and cannot stand before God on our own. God promised to send his son, to make it so that we can stand before God and live, and the one he sent is Jesus Christ.

“For those who believe in him, we have God’s authority to stand before him for eternity,” he explained to the young man.

After that, the orderly took absolute charge of Coleman’s care during the biopsy in which medical personnel hammered a hole in his pelvic bone to auger out bone marrow.

After an almost month-long hospital stay, Coleman was eager to resume caring for his congregation. But his return to work would be delayed, thanks to the medicine’s debilitating side effects.

Although the medicines caused physical side effects that included severe muscle cramps, weakness and sleep disruptions, Coleman’s biggest challenge came from the medication’s disruption of his ability to think and concentrate.

“Severe withdrawals, emotional kinds of things — panic, cold-turkey symptoms — can really hammer you,” Coleman said.

“But the ongoing concerns, as I mentioned — concentrating, creative writing, sermon preparations — these were all impossible. I just couldn’t clear my thoughts enough to be productive that way,” he said.

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod Council of Presidents placed Coleman at Christ The King Lutheran Church in Los Lunas after he graduated from the seminary in June 1995.

Congregation member Anita Holstein said Coleman and other church members made her and her husband feel like a part of the family.

“It is probably one of the friendliest churches I have ever attended,” said Holstein.

“We moved here three years ago next month and before we moved here we met him and his wife and we just felt comfortable immediately,” Holstein said. “In fact, last year we celebrated our 50th and he renewed our vows.”

Coleman, who has been at Christ Lutheran for nearly two decades, said it is somewhat unusual for a pastor to stay at the first placement for so long.

During the placement process, Coleman said he had some input on where he would he would like to be placed. He chose places like Albuquerque that would be beneficial for his wife.

“In terms of placement, I had some input as far as what parts of the country to be considered for. Most of my input had to do with my wife’s health needs. She needs a drier, warmer climate,” he said.

His wife, Beverly, is paralyzed from the waist down after being the lone survivor of a plane crash 36 years ago.

Coleman briefly met her while home from college. On a return visit, he learned of Beverly’s accident and went to see her in the hospital.

He kept on seeing her and they were married 35 years ago.

He said during his illness, their roles switched and she became the primary caregiver.

“I love her more than she could know,” he said. My daughters and son-in-law still prove to be the gift from God they have always been.”

When Coleman isn’t carrying out duties his pastoral duties, he is either learning something new or applying his engineering skills to ensure his wife remains as independent as possible.