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Miracle and Faith Give Member Another Chance

 

 

Over the past several months, the North Carolina Division of the Southern States PBA and the Police Benevolent Foundation have raised funds to help Rick Tullis with medical expenses.

 

Rick is a sergeant with the Asheville Police Department. He also serves as the Mountain Chapter President of the NCPBA.

 

Rick has served in law enforcement since 1991 when he became a deputy sheriff with the Buncombe County Sheriff's Office. He worked his way up, becoming an FTO and SRT commander during his time there. Rick then worked for the Lake Lure Police department as a sergeant and training coordinator for that agency. In 2003, Rick joined the N.C. Justice Academy as a training coordinator for the Tactical Training Center.  As part of his job, Rick had the opportunity to travel across the state and the country, delivering training on various use of force topics, firearms, officer safety, and responding to terrorists incidents.  Rick was offered the opportunity to serve as the chief of police for the Biltmore County Police Department.  It was here Rick honed his skills and training on leadership. Rick earned a bachelor of arts degree in criminal justice and a master of science degree in management and leadership along the way. Rick continues to serve as an adjunct instructor, particularly focusing on leadership in law enforcement.  

 

In addition, Rick holds specialized instructor certifications from the N.C. Department of Justice to include subject control, firearms, rapid deployment, and instructor certifications related to these topics. Rick has trained law enforcement and detention officers in specialized topic areas since 1996. Rick published several articles, and has presented training to public safety personnel at the local, state, national and international levels. He is a lifetime member and past board member of the International Association Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors.

 

 

His wife, Angie, is also in law enforcement and serves as a Lieutenant in CID with the  Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office. Rick met his wife, Angie, during a six month leadership academy in 2011.  He was teaching Emotional Intelligence and she thought he was the most motivational instructor that she had encountered.  His passion, knowledge and dedication was unforgettable. 

 

Rick was born with a rare heart condition called tetralogy of Fallot. TOF consists of four separate heart defects. He had open-heart surgery when he was 3, and had no further issues until 2018 when he went into atrial fibrillation.  This caused a blood clot that led to a stroke.  He was walking the very next day, and was back a work two months later.

 

Rick continued to do well until Oct. 24, 2020. While he and Angie were doing what they loved doing, traveling, Rick looked pale and thought it was just something he had eaten. Over the next few days, Rick got worse and that’s when Angie persuaded him to seek medical attention. 

 

On Oct. 27,, Rick was admitted to ICU for pneumonia. Further diagnosis found that Rick had a severe staph infection related to a heart value replacement he had the year before.

 

During his hospitalization, he was placed on a ventilator and dialysis, and was in the fight for his life, as one doctor described. After a month in the hospital, Rick was released to an acute rehabilitation facility to help in his continued recovery. Although he lost 40 pounds during his hospital stay, doctors considered his recovery “a miracle.”

 

On Dec. 22,, Rick finally got to go home after showing dramatic improvement. His tests showed that his levels were all good, including his white blood count. His CT scan showed dramatic improvement with his lungs.  

 

Since his release, Rick has continued to work with his physical therapist to improve his health and overall strength and conditioning so that he is able to return to the job he loves. He has made significant strides, progressing at a rate ahead of schedule. 

 

Angie Tullis has been overwhelmed by the support she and her husband have received. Angie says, “I  want to thank everyone with the PBF and SSPBA for your love, support, financial donations and prayers,” she said. “You have made an exceedingly difficult time in our lives much easier to manage.”

 

RICK TULLIS SHARES HIS STORY IN HIS OWN WORDS

By Rick Tullis

 

This is my story -- at least the most important part of it and what led me to where I am today. Normally, it is not in my nature to talk about myself. But it is important here as it provides context to the message I want to convey. So please bear with me as you read my story.

 

I cannot be defeated, for my strength comes from the Lord. Although one day my physical body will be laid to rest, my spirit will rejoice eternally in the company of God. That is God’s promise to us. Although I have considered myself a Christian believer since I was young, I do not believe I fully embraced the meaning of truly having faith until what I call my “awakening.”  This was my choice at the time. 

 

 

When I say young, I was about 11 when I accepted Jesus as my savior and was baptized in a small Baptist church in the countryside in Western North Carolina.  About a year later, I received confirmation into the Episcopal Church and served as an acolyte for the church.  As what happens to many of us, I fell away from attending church regularly as I grew, although I remained a believer in Christ. Again, this was a choice. 

 

However, it was not until my most recent battle, a battle for my life, that I came to realize that believing was not enough. I was not practicing faith as God instructs us to do, it is not enough to believe. Belief is based on a tangible and intellectual premise that someone or something exists. And like with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, that belief can be changed in light of other facts. Having faith, on the other hand, is actionable, it is a deeper commitment and it is belief in the absence of evidence or with little evidence. This is a choice that we must make. This is my story of my transformation from belief to having faith.

 

At the time of this writing, I serve as the training coordinator for a medium-sized police department in North Carolina. I have spent my entire adult life committing myself to the service to my community.  Growing up in Florida, I knew since fourth grade that I wanted to become a law enforcement officer. That year, many mornings, as I waited at my bus stop, a deputy would be sitting there in his patrol car. He patiently entertained my questions and curiosity as a young boy looking for excitement. He had an instant impact on my life. 

I was what you might call somewhat a rambunctious kid growing up in Florida, and later in North Carolina. I can certainly say that I tested my parents with my various antics. But I always knew I wanted to serve.

 

My story actually starts before that, when I was just 3.  It was then that a heart condition known as tetralogy of Fallot began to cause problems for me. I began having fainting spells. My condition got to the point that I had to have open heart surgery. In 1971 to 1972, there were only two hospitals in the country considered the places for pediatric cardiology. One was in Houston, Texas, and the other was Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.  What a blessing for my parents that we lived a short five to six hours away from the top hospital in the country.  The doctors did what they could for me with the technology and resources they had at the time. Luckily, it was enough. Until most recently, I have lived a completely healthy and active life with no issues.

 

I tell that part of my story, because I believe it has direct relevance to my service. I have always considered my profession a calling, but I know now that God had a plan for me. He blessed me with the best doctors in the country, that they may make my heart whole and provide me with the ability to accomplish all of the things I wished. Despite my original condition, my heart, according to my cardiologist, was healthier than 95 percent of the population. 

 

In September 1990, at the age of 20, I enrolled in Basic Law Enforcement Training and completed my training in December 1990. I turned 21 in November so I was sworn in as a deputy sheriff for the local sheriff’s department in February 1991. I had done it. I had fulfilled my lifelong ambition.  As I grew into the job, my desire to do my best and be better each day became a hallmark of my attitude and actions. 

 

My desire to attend training became insatiable. I attended as much training as my lieutenant allowed and then I attended more training on my days off. 

 

My focus became officer safety and mindset. I became convinced that proper mindset and attitude could overcome any obstacle. I attended training such as the Caliber Press seminars on multiple occasions.

 

I have met presenters such as Lt. Clebe McClary, author of the bookLiving Proof,” and Trooper Bobby Smith, a Louisiana State Trooper who was blinded by a shotgun blast to his face. I have met Lt. Col. Dave Grossman on multiple occasions. 

 

My training included an education in mindset and attitude through books by these men and Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper, Malcolm Gladwell, Gavin de Becker, Daniel Goleman, John Maxwell and Stephen Covey, to name a few. Throughout the course of my career, I developed into a voracious reader, wanting to consume every bit of knowledge about mindset and attitude and how they translate to officer safety and leadership. 

 

I first realized my greater contribution to my fellow officers when I became a field training officer in 1994. It was then that I realized that I wanted to do more. My calling to be a law enforcement officer was not enough anymore. I want to train law enforcement officers. I enjoyed the opportunity to share my experience and training with others.  Training other officers became my new passion, my additional calling. I doubled down on my own growth and training to better equip myself to become a better instructor. Throughout my early years as an instructor, my areas of expertise involved officer safety-related issues, firearms and use of force applications. In the last several years, I shifted somewhat to leadership and emotional intelligence. I thoroughly enjoy sharing those experiences with others in the training environment.  Little did I know then that God was preparing me for my greatest challenge.

 

As of February 2021, I have dedicated 30 years to this profession. I can honestly say that I still have a passion to serve and have not experienced the burnout that so many others have who reach their retirement age. I believe much of that is attributed to the type of training that I research and deliver. Proper mindset and attitude are core principles in much of what I teach and I sincerely believe that has helped me find strength of conviction in my own career.

 

All of that changed for me Oct. 26, 2020.  Two days prior, my wife, Angie, and I spent the day at Dollywood.  It is one of our favorite daytime or weekend getaways. I had eaten some brisket at the park and, as the day progressed, I became ill.  I was so ill that by the time we drove the two hours home, I was visibly shaking and had vomited all of my lunch.

 

 Angie took my temperature and it registered 102.4.  I attributed it to food poisoning and resisted her pleas to go to the doctor. All that Sunday was much of the same for me -- fever, shaking and nausea. Angie took me to the emergency room the next day, Monday, Oct. 26. The last thing I remember was sitting in a wheelchair getting ready to be wheeled back to a room in the ER. Angie will tell you that I continued to talk with medical staff as they explained to me that I had a kidney stone. 

 

While I vaguely recall bits of that conversion, I cannot remember the context of that conversation in its entirety, and moreover, I do not remember Angie being in the room. In my mind she had gone to move her car to a parking space and had not yet returned as they were taking me to the back from the admissions waiting area.

 

What happens next has had a profound impact on how I now choose to live my life. I was septic and my body completely shut down due to a staph infection that developed from a kidney infection. I was intubated for several days. At one point, doctors were only giving me a four-hour window whereby it was more likely that I was not going to survive. 

 

My wife said while she was praying over my body, she and the doctor went out of the room and he told her she needed to prepare herself, because this was not going to end how she hoped. My experience during this time was surreal. Like many of you, I have heard or read  stories about near-death experiences. What I can vividly recall is that I was watching myself from a third person perspective. I was lying on a bed or gurney of some sort and my upper body was in a plain white room. There were no doors or windows, nor were there any pictures or other decorative materials on the walls -- plain white walls, that was it. The only difference was where my lower body was supposed to be. My body appeared to be divided by a wall of glass that was opaque. I was not cut in half, my body was still whole and intact, but this wall of glass that I could not see through, passed through my body. I could make out shadows on the other side and I could tell there was something important happening as there was a lot of chatter and rushing about going on. I could not make out the conversation. I could hear the many voices but it was all unintelligible to me. I was afraid. 

 

Something urgent was happening and it appeared to be happening to me although I could not be sure. I had a sense that I was being taken somewhere but I knew I did not want to go. My reason was very simple. I was afraid, because as I said earlier, I did not recall Angie returning from parking her car. I was afraid because I did not want to go anywhere unless someone could assure me that she knew where I was and where I was going. I could see myself yelling and arguing with the people on the other side of that glass. I was becoming increasingly frustrated because nobody was hearing me or paying attention to me. That is when I quit being afraid and just became angry and determined that somebody was going to give me the satisfaction and answer that I was seeking. I would not go anywhere without my wife knowing exactly where I was. 

 

From my standpoint, this was a cycle that repeated itself multiple times. I was in a battle for someone to pay attention to me. Little did I know at the time, I was literally in a battle for my life. All of my training and experience, all of the countless hours of research and instruction were put into action. Through God’s will, I validated everything I had been teaching. That was the choice I had made at the time.

 

When I was finally brought back to consciousness, my wife shared with me what was actually happening during that time. I had been under for five days and she had been praying over my body endlessly. I spent a total of just over four weeks in the hospital and almost four more weeks in a rehab center. During my time in the hospital I could not eat anything so I had a feeding tube for much of my time there. I lost 40 pounds and was on dialysis for my kidneys. I was finally able to come home three days before Christmas and, I will tell you, the importance of the significance was not lost on me. As of this writing, I am home recovering well and making progress. I am off of dialysis and my kidneys have seemed to have recovered. I still have work to do regaining my strength. But my plan is to return to duty this spring. That is my choice.

 

The doctors and nurses, I am told, relate my recovery as nothing short of a pure miracle. As I met various doctors and nurses who saw me and the condition I was in those first days, they related to me their astonishment at my recovery. I know it was God’s work and his plan for me to remain. He gave me a choice back in that room. I could choose to go with God or I could choose to stay a little longer. I now have come to understand that my demands that my wife know where I was, was in fact me making the choice to remain a little longer. 

 

I am eternally grateful to God for allowing me that privilege. I know He has a plan for me and this is a part of that plan. I told you earlier that I have always believed in God and Jesus Christ as my Savior. The difference now is that my belief has been reinforced by conviction and faith in knowing that death will come one day for all of us and I do not fear it. My lack of fear is not based on some courageous macho way, but in a secure and peace of mind way of knowing that God has a plan for us all.

 

It is my hope that my story touches someone in an impactful way. That is my purpose, that is God’s will. If you have doubts, if your faith has been shaken, please take comfort from my story that God is watching, He has a plan for us all. He will care for you and comfort you as He has done for my wife and me. You do have a choice.

 

I know more now than ever before that I cannot be defeated, for my strength comes from the Lord. Although one day my physical body will be laid to rest, my spirit will rejoice eternally in the company of God. That is His promise to us.

 

Finally, I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to all of the police officers, sheriff deputies, troopers, and corrections and probation officers for their support and contributions during this challenging time. I was touched on an extremely emotional level to receive all the prayers from all of the members from across the state. I would also like to thank all of the folks who were responsible for setting up the PBF account for me and my family. The Police Benevolent Foundation does such great work. I have had the opportunity to work with them on several occasions and they are truly top-notch folks. To be on the receiving end was truly meaningful to my family and me. Thank you all so much for your donations, prayers and support.

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