MYRTLE BEACH—Tuesday, June 7, was supposed to be just another work day for Mark Allison, taking care of business at Surf City Surf Shop on North Kings Highway.
Instead, Allison heard about big waves churned up by a passing tropical system. A lifelong surfer, he grabbed his paddleboard and headed for the beach.
What happened next changed his life.
He and his wife Laura, who both attend St. Andrew Church in Myrtle Beach, say it has also changed their attitude toward their faith.
Allison entered the water on the beach near 65th Avenue North, surrounded by locals who recognized him instantly. Since he opened his store in 1978, Allison has become a mentor, teacher and friend to generations of Grand Strand area surfers.
“I got my board, I paddled out, and the waves were good,” Allison said. “I don’t remember much that happened after that.”
He learned the story from others who were on the beach that day.
Two young men surfing near Allison looked around after a while and realized his board was empty, then saw him floating face down in the water.
They and other surfers immediately took action, putting Allison on his board and pulling him up on the beach.
“They told me I was gray, that I wasn’t breathing,” Allison said. “My lips were blue and I had foam and water coming out of my mouth. Somebody started CPR and someone called 911.”
A couple from Chicago hurried up to the group surrounding Allison as he lay on the beach. The woman was a nurse specializing in cardiac care, and she immediately took over working on him until an ambulance arrived. On the way to the hospital, Allison said EMTs had to shock him seven times with a defibrillator to get a pulse.
At the emergency room, doctors discovered Allison had suffered a heart attack because of a blocked artery. He was placed on a ventilator and spent time in the intensive care unit, then was moved to a regular room. Eventually, doctors placed a defibrillator in his chest.
While he was in the hospital, Allison and his wife also learned how much they meant to people in the Myrtle Beach area. Calls and messages from friends and customers flooded the hospital switchboard within hours of his admission. Dozens of well-wishers showed up at the hospital and the surf shop. Hundreds of people signed a special commemorative surfboard set up for Allison at his store. Their pastor, Father James Leblanc, who anointed him, and other priests who are family friends visited the couple.
Nearly two weeks after his harrowing experience in the ocean, Allison sat with his family at his Myrtle Beach home and marveled both at his good fortune and the goodness of the people he knows.
“I believe God puts people where they are supposed to be, and I think He was part of what made me randomly decide to go surfing that day,” Allison said. “I could have been somewhere else where people weren’t around — in the office, in the yard. Instead I was in the water and I was where people who knew me could get to me.”
He is especially amazed that the cardiac nurse was on the beach at that moment, calling her “an angel God sent down.” The Chicago couple were on vacation and staying at a hotel about 30 blocks south of where Allison was surfing that day, he said. They just randomly decided to drive north and check out the beach in a different part of town.
Mrs. Allison said she had “only a second of doubt and worry” after she first heard about her husband’s heart attack.
“I got in the car and I thought of the Divine Mercy and I just started saying ‘Jesus, I trust you,’ “ Mrs. Allison said. “I didn’t let any other thoughts come into my mind and from then on I was never afraid. I knew God was in control.”
There were other little signs that things were going to be all right, she said. In the hospital waiting room, she discovered someone had left prayer cards dedicated to St. Anthony and Our Lady of Guadalupe, two devotions that are especially precious to her.
Mark Allison, meanwhile, is already working at his store again, making plans to attend cardiac rehab exercise sessions and prepare for a paddleboard race he hopes to enter in October. He is also spending important time with Laura and their two grown daughters, who are visiting for the summer.
“This was a game changer, a redirection for me,” he said. “I’m learning to close some doors in my life, to finish some things and focus on what’s important. Life for me here has been such a good one. Now that I’ve come through this, I want to be able to help other people out. I want to show them there is always hope.”
Top photo: Miscellany/Keith Jacobs: Mark Allison walks the private dock of a friend’s cabana near his Myrtle Beach home.