Man who survived brush with death gives others Thanksgiving feast
(Article mentions. "The next thing I know, I'm looking down at myself and my spirit's leaving this imaginary light in the helicopter that's not supposed to be there," he recalled. "I don't know how long it was, but life flashed in front of my eyes.") ...
("I saw my mom when I was a few months old and I saw what she was wearing, and I saw what our house looked like," he said. "I'm not supposed to know these things and I don't even remember seeing pictures of them).
Ian Pizarro survived an aortic dissection in November 2014. As a way to show gratitude for his life, Pizarro provides Thanksgiving meals for families in need.
November 19, 2023 - Reported [here]. Skaysville — Every November, Ian Pizarro looks forward to Thanksgiving dinner with his family. He also remembers when tragedy struck around the same time nearly 10 years ago.
On Nov. 4, 2014, Pizarro was lifting weights at a local gym when he felt what he describes as a "release" in his chest that caused him to black out.
The longtime athlete started as a quarterback at Weber State University in the early 2000s and was used to lifting heavy weights. And, although this incident occurred several years after his time as a college athlete, he said he was at near peak condition.
Thankfully, Pizarro's sight came back enough for him to be able to call a friend to take him to the hospital, where he received word everything was OK. Even with the "all good," Pizarro said that he knew his body enough to know something wasn't right.
"I told the doctor that there was something wrong with me," he recalled. "My hands and feet were going numb, and I just didn't feel right. I asked the doctor if there were any other tests he could do, and he said that he could run a CT scan to see if I was losing any blood."
The doctor ran the scan, and it came back with devastating news — he was bleeding internally.
Not only was he bleeding internally, but the blood was coming from a tear in his aorta, which is the main blood supplier to the whole body. The medical term for this is aortic dissection, and when the doctor delivered the news, Pizarro had two questions: How bad is it, and how do we fix it?
"The doctor answered my questions in terms that I could understand and, he said, 'You're at an 11 out of 10 and we have the emergency Life Flight helicopter coming your way to perform open heart surgery at the University of Utah,'" Pizarro said. "Going from super fit, weight-lifting and doing the things that I thought were making my life better, to, 'Oh, I might die in a matter of an instant,' was a lot to take in."
Drawing on faith
While the prospect of losing his life should have been unbearable, Pizarro said he felt a sense of peace.
"I'm a spiritual person, and I knew where I needed to keep my focus," he said. "My buddy who was there with me prayed with me and, during his prayer, I started to think about the others around me. I just asked God to let me know if I would live through this so that I could let my friends and family know that things will be alright, or to let me know if He was going to take me so that I could let my friends and family know that life is gonna be alright and to please celebrate my death."
It was right after the prayer when Pizarro said he experienced another blackout, but this time he was fully aware of his surroundings, as well as his life leading up to this point.
"The next thing I know, I'm looking down at myself and my spirit's leaving this imaginary light in the helicopter that's not supposed to be there," he recalled. "I don't know how long it was, but life flashed in front of my eyes."
As a nondenominational Christian, Pizarro said during this experience he began to see things from the time he was an infant to that present moment.
"I saw my mom when I was a few months old and I saw what she was wearing, and I saw what our house looked like," he said. "I'm not supposed to know these things and I don't even remember seeing pictures of them. I saw all the way up to that present moment — I'm talking about sporting events, life and family events. I played a lot of sports growing up, and I saw myself playing football in college, and I saw every relationship I've ever had. We're big on family, and so I saw a lot of holiday scenes just literally flashing before me."
Pizarro said he didn't have any concept of time during this experience but, suddenly, he was back in his body hearing the Life Flight nurse telling him that it was time to land and asking him if he could hear her.
"When I woke up, I knew that experience was an answer to my prayer because I was still there," he said. "I could've died, but I was here and I needed to fight, so that's what I told myself. I needed to fight so that I could pass the message to my friends and family that I was going to fight to be here."
Before going into surgery, Pizarro said he was all smiles and did all he could to let his family know that he was going to be OK.
He spent so much energy on his effort to do this (including flirting with the nurses), that the doctor told him he needed to stop and reserve his energy for the 14-hour surgery ahead.
"The anesthesiologist was like, 'Hey Mr. Pizarro, you need to shut up right now because you're wasting energy and you just need to focus on living. If you're gonna live, you need to focus on living,'" Pizarro recalled. "He literally told me to shut up, and I said OK. That's one of the last things I remember is him telling me to shut up before putting me under anesthesia."
Pizarro made good on his word to stay alive, even after enduring not only an extensive surgery but also life-threatening pneumonia that came after. Then, after 15 days in the intensive care unit, and a total loss of 95 pounds, he was able to go home — just in time for Thanksgiving.
"When I got home, it was almost Thanksgiving and I knew that I had just been given a second chance at life, and I needed to make good on it," he said. "It's not like I felt like I was a selfish or unkind person before, but I just knew that now I needed to give a little bit more than I had before."
Pizarro wasted no time to make good on that promise, and that Thanksgiving, he provided dinner for a neighbor, including cooking the turkey and side dishes he made alongside his parents.
The following year, he was able to provide for two families; and then, three. Then four.
"I just provided an extra meal each year, and then I met Brittany, my wife, three years ago and she wanted to be a part of it and add an extra meal," he said. "We were up to 12 meals by that point and we were making big trips to Costco."
At this point, it was growing so much that the Pizarro's thought about making this a community event to bring people together, with a platform for others who also want to give back.
"Everyone has their adversity, and this is about taking that and harnessing that energy into something positive where we can serve each other in the community while showing gratitude," he said.
By 2021, Pizarro said they had a goal of 30 dinners but were actually able to provide 60 meals to families in need. Many of those families were referred to them through the Utah Division of Child and Family Services — they lack the ability to heat food in a conventional oven. Due to this, Pizarro and his wife teamed up with a local catering company, called Moonstruck Catering, and were able to secure some other local donors.
In 2022, they fed 90 families.
"We had enough funds to do 90 families, but then we had some extra funds and hoped for 10 more to round out 100 families," Pizarro recalled. "On Thanksgiving day, we noticed that there were construction workers working on homes in our neighborhood, and we were like, 'What? Why are they working on Thanksgiving? Let's make them something.' There were about eight workers building a house down the street from us, and so we fixed up and brought a meal to them in a big box. That was the 100th meal we provided that year."
This year, the Pizarro's have already secured enough funds to feed 100 families in an event they now call the "Call to Give," but they would love to serve more.
"We're also giving to families that are not necessarily in need, financially, but who may be experiencing other challenges," Pizarro said. "Last year, there were a couple of families that went through divorce, one family lost a loved one and another had a baby born during that time. It's like just comfort, you know? Thanksgiving is all about bringing people together, and I was lucky to be able to be with my family in 2014."
"This time of year always reminds me of life and giving back, and I want to share that message with other people in the community, and allow them an opportunity to give back if they are able."