Father pens book about son’s near-death experience

Todd and David Gillert tell their story in "A Second Chance from Heaven." Photo by C.J. Carnacchio.
Todd and David Gillert tell their story in “A Second Chance from Heaven.” Photo by C.J. Carnacchio.

A near-death experience gave a father and son new leases on life and now, they’re hoping to inspire others with their story and message of hope.

In his recently-released book “A Second Chance from Heaven,” author Todd Gillert, a former Oxford resident, shares the otherwordly encounters his special needs son David, a 2006 Oxford High School graduate, claims he had as he was straddling the line between life and death almost eight years ago.

“We need to really think about our spiritual side because it’s real,” said Todd, who now resides in Waterford.

“There is definitely a life after death,” David said.

In February 2009, David was diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a rare, serious disorder that affects the skin and mucous membranes.

According to the Mayo Clinic website, it’s usually a reaction to a medication or infection that brings it on. It starts with flu-like symptoms, followed by a painful red or purplish rash that spreads and blisters. The top layer of the affected skin dies and sheds.

Todd said David contracted the condition as a reaction to the prescription medication he was taking to deal with the depression, anger and anxiety brought on by dealing with his Asperger syndrome, which is part of the autism spectrum.

“He always struggled with his autism,” Todd said. “He always felt different. He felt like a failure.”

When symptoms of Stevens-Johnson syndrome began to manifest themselves, Todd took David to an urgent care clinic twice trying to figure out what was wrong.

The first time, the doctors said it was strep throat.

The second time, they said it was scarlet fever.

But David kept getting worse.

“He was red all over,” Todd said. “He started forming blisters. They didn’t know what was going on.”

Finally, he was taken to Beaumont Hospital in Troy where he was properly diagnosed, then airlifted to the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor for treatment.

By then, David’s situation was grim.

He was breathing with the aid of a ventilator and completely covered in bandages.

“He was wrapped up like a mummy,” Todd said. “All his skin fell off, (from) head to toe.”

Watching a child clinging to life would be unbearable for any parent, but it was even worse for Todd because all of this was happening on the 10th anniversary of his other son’s death.

David’s older brother, Michael, committed suicide in 1999 during his freshman year at Oxford High.

Now, Todd, who was still grieving the loss of one son, was facing the very real possibility of losing another.

Just when things were at their darkest, Todd claims his son was the recipient of some divine intervention.

Six months after he was released from the hospital, David told the story of what he saw and experienced as he laid there at death’s door.

David claims he found himself in a tunnel of light, “surrounded by prayers.”

“He could hear hundreds of prayers being said,” Todd said. “He could hear pieces of them.”

Normally, this would drive David “nuts” because “he doesn’t like rooms full of noise,” Todd explained. People with autism can be very sensitive to sound.

But the noise didn’t bother him as his Asperger’s didn’t exist in this place.

“I felt no pain and my autism was gone,” David said. “My head was just clear, really clear. I was thinking differently. I was a completely different being.”

Following the tunnel, David told Todd he found himself in a beautiful garden, surrounded by four angels along with woods, rolling hills and knee-high grass.

“There were no other people where he was at, just these angels,” Todd said.

In this garden, David was still free of autism. “I think that’s a pretty powerful message to people that have children with special needs,” Todd said.

A pair of large hands placed a lamb on his son’s lap and a voice told him the animal was there to heal him.

Although David insists he was in Heaven, Todd believes because his son was “very close to death,” but didn’t actually die, his spirit became “detached” from his body and this allowed David to catch “a glimpse of what Heaven is like.”

Whether it was medical science or the touch of the divine or a combination of the two, David recovered from Stevens-Johnson syndrome.

The experience had a profound effect on both David and Todd.

“It changed me big-time,” David said. “I’ve actually accomplished some stuff because of it.”

Todd agreed.

“He’s a lot more social,” he said.

David went from “a kid that was depressed and angry at himself” to someone who loves talking to people and enjoys sharing his story.

“That’s something that was totally foreign to him,” Todd said. “(Before) he wouldn’t (say) a peep to people. He was just afraid of engaging in conversation. He wasn’t even able to say ‘hi.’”

David draws strength from the memory of his near-death experience and uses it to overcome tough situations.

“I think about it all the time,” he said.

David works as a bagger at the Kroger store in Lake Orion, but he has a certificate in bookkeeping from Baker College and he’s trying find a job in that field.

“He’s very proficient when it comes to math,” Todd said.

To gain some experience and help others, David volunteers doing bookkeeping and clerical work at the Rochester-based Dutton Farm, a non-profit organization that serves individuals with mental, physical and emotional impairments.

David’s experience changed Todd as well.

For one thing, he no longer dreads the coming of February and tries to hide from it because of Michael’s death. He now views it as the month when God “spared a son.”

Todd, who retired from General Motors after 32 years, has devoted his life to helping and comforting others in their time of need as an ordained minister and a hospice chaplain for Compassus in Flint.

“(David’s experience) refocused my efforts,” he said. “It just seemed like God was opening this door and I stepped through it.”

Writing and publishing “A Second Chance from Heaven” is another way for Todd to help others.

He wants people to know that “God is good” and “answers prayers,” that “bad things happen,” but nothing is beyond redemption.

David hopes people who read the book will “learn their loved ones are in a better place” where there’s “no pain.” That comforts him whenever he thinks about his late brother.

“Based on my experience, I know what it’s like where he’s at,” David said.

So far, the book has been very well received.

“People are buying multiple copies of it,” Todd said. “We’ve sold, personally, pretty close to 300 copies (in a little over a month).”

David said his father did an “excellent job” writing the book.

Todd gave a lot of credit to his son for the book’s accuracy.

“David meticulously went over (the details of) the near-death experience,” he said. “If I didn’t say it right, he would correct me. He (went over it with) a fine-tooth comb.”

“A Second Chance from Heaven” is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million.

Todd and David will be doing a book signing at the Kroger store (460 N. Lapeer Rd.) in Lake Orion on Saturday, Dec. 17 from 12-3 p.m. To learn more about the book, please visit toddgillert.wordpress.com.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *