After going into cardiac arrest and being brought back four times, Darren Mathieu is picking up the pieces of his life. To say his multiple brushes with death have changed him would be an understatement.
After suffering severe pancreas damage, Mathieu went into cardiac arrest four times and fell into coma three times. Doctors were convinced he was not going to make it, but he pulled through. He is still recovering and struggling to get his life back on track.
Before everything, Mathieu was living in Prince Albert taking care of his 10-year-old daughter (who wishes not to be named) and dying mother. He was managing fine until the tragic day his mother died in 2020.
“She didn’t let on how sick she was, so when she passed it came as a massive shock. She was my world and when that stability disappeared, I just went off the rails. I don’t remember what happened between the day my mother died and the day I woke up in the hospital,” Mathieu recounted.
Unable to handle the grief of losing his mom, Mathieu started neglecting taking his diabetes medication. Everything he knows from that period was told to him by his daughter.
“I quit my meds. Everything I should have been doing, I quit. Eventually I did not have any insulin left. I was told that my daughter actually called 911 and they rushed me to the hospital.”
Mathieu got admitted to the hospital in Prince Albert around Oct. 10, 2020. He was administered because his pancreas was failing, causing his kidneys to also fail. During his two-day stay in the Prince Albert hospital, his heart would stop twice, and medical staff would bring him back every time.
It was then decided to transfer him to St Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon.
“I decided to make the helicopter transfer more entertaining by passing away during the flight. They had to save my life mid-air. That was the third time I died.”
After getting to Saskatoon Mathieu was in a coma for three weeks. Doctors gave a DNR form (Do Not Resuscitate) to his brother, because they were convinced he was not going to make it. His brother refused to sign the form.
Mathieu remembers finally waking up from the coma.
“I remember my doctor had the most beautiful blue eyes. Those were the first thing I saw when I woke up from my coma. In that moment, I can probably say that I loved the man more than my brother, because I knew I was in a lot of trouble, and I knew this person was there to help me,” he said.
Medical staff would tell Mathieu afterwards that him waking up was a miracle. However, Mathieu’s recovery did not go smoothly.
“I had this big tube down my throat, I could not eat, I could not go to the washroom, I could barely move. Doctors told me they had to cut me open and manually clean my insides. My doctor described it as ‘scrapping out pails of green gunk’.”
When everything looked to be going a little bit better, his body shut off again and Mathieu went into cardiac arrest a fourth time.
“The thing that was different about the fourth time is: I remember what happened after I died. That is when I found out it is all true what they say about dying. At some point I lost consciousness and when I woke up I was in this very large white field, where I was floating, and there were shadow figures all around me,” Mathieu said.
“When I looked towards the end there was a tunnel where everyone was floating towards. I went ‘sure why not’ and started floating along. The whole scene was tranquil and very peaceful. All of sudden someone, I don’t know who, told me to turn around. When I looked back I saw these hands coming towards me. It made me stop. I looked at the hands and said ‘I’m not done yet’ and I reached out for the hands.
“The second I grabbed them, I was back in the ICU.”
Ever since his near-death experience, Mathieu has slowly been recovering, but two-and-a-half years later he is still suffering from long-term effects. He lives with only a third of his pancreas, his memory is no longer the same and he occasionally has balance issues so severe he knocks into walls. Even now, he has trouble walking around, doing housework or digesting food.
During his ordeal Mathieu lost a ton of weight.
“I was always a big guy. I almost hit 300 pounds (136 kilograms) at one point, but I brought it down. Before going to the hospital I was about 280 pounds (127 kilograms). During my stay in the hospital, I went down to only 136 pounds (62 kilograms). It is the most harrowing weight loss plan I ever did and I don’t recommend it to anyone.”
Mathieu hopes he can get to a point where he is healthy enough to go back work, but he is very unsure if he actually can.
“I will never be able to do the hard labour I used to do. I used to work construction and I was a cleaner in the hospital. I was recently denied disability by the Saskatchewan Health Authority. I don’t know what is going on there, because if I am not disabled, I don’t know who is anymore.”
Because he was denied disability and he only receives a small amount of money from social services, Mathieu has been struggling to find stable housing. He recently turned to GoFundMe, asking people for support. He plans to use the money to provide a stable home for his, now 13-year-old, daughter while he focuses on getting healthy. He says his only goal in life right now is getting his daughter to 18.
“Once I get healthy, if that ever happens, I can actually start providing for my daughter again. I will probably be limited to a desk job, but I am fighter and I will not give up.”
Mathieu is determined to keep fighting for himself and his daughter. Even something as small as dying four times will not deter him.