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Graduate gives God the glory for restoring his health — and his family — after lifesaving tumor surgery

David Walker graduated with two degrees — pastoral leadership and business administration — at Liberty University Commencement on Friday, May 6. (Photo by KJ Jugar)

As the throbbing pain in his stomach intensified, David Walker knew something wasn’t quite right.

It was the 18-year-old’s first semester at Liberty University — only two weeks into the 2018 fall term. He looked forward to declaring a major and building friendships on his hall.

Nothing could have prepared him for the news that would grind those plans to a foreboding halt.

David assumed his cramp-like discomfort would subside, but the continual irritation prompted a visit to the campus health clinic, where he received a series of examinations: a CT scan, ultrasound, and X-ray.

“I knew something was wrong, because it took a long time for the test results to come back,” he said.

Sitting in the waiting room, David’s attention drifted to his parents, whose marriage was hanging on by a thread. The sudden family strife confused him; the emotional pain overshadowed his physical pain.

“I didn’t really think too much about the pain in my stomach because there was other stuff going on in my mind, like my parents and their situation,” David said. “Starting off college like that wasn’t the ideal plan.”

David Walker moments before he underwent surgery in 2018 (Photo by Rebecca Walker)

When the tests revealed a volleyball-sized tumor, the doctor immediately commanded David to return home, to Los Angeles, Calif., for emergency surgery.

David didn’t want to leave campus, but he accepted his situation, trusting God, and returned to his dorm to pack his belongings.

“My faith wasn’t down at all,” he said. “My friends were all surprised how calm I was. … The Bible talks about peace that passes all understanding, and you don’t really know you have that peace until a challenging situation tests your faith. I give it all to God. I couldn’t have been that calm, but it was all God.”

David was in the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital Emergency Room 24 hours later, where doctors conducted further examinations and learned the severity of David’s situation.

With the position of the tumor, wedged between vital organs, and the alarming rate of its expansion, David wasn’t given that long to live. Doctors discovered that the tumor had nearly swelled into his spine, a disastrous effect that would leave him paralyzed if not treated.

The surgery was dangerous given the precise cutting, but it was his only hope for survival. The odds were slim and, even if he came through the operation, he was told he may never walk again.

“He was only 18. This couldn’t be happening,” recalls David’s mother, Rebecca Walker. “We just held on to our faith and let God’s will be done. … It was very scary, but I had a strong faith that there was a reason for this. In my heart of hearts, I felt like this was a test.”

To David’s surprise and gratitude, this frightful experience forced his parents to reconcile and refocus on what mattered most: family. David said that this medical emergency saved his parents’ marriage. His parents are united today.

“Our family became strong because of this experience,” Rebecca said. “God walked into our family, into our kids, and into our marriage.”

Hours of intense prayer preceded David’s surgery. And as the doctors administered anesthesia, David knew that this could be his last time on earth.

“I was OK with it honestly,” he said. “I believed in God, and even if He didn’t heal me, I knew I’d be in heaven with Him.”

But God had other plans.

Following a blip of drowsy unconsciousness, David’s eyes opened. He said it felt like waking up from a long, dreary nap. He didn’t know where he was or what had happened. Then, confusion gave way to miraculous insight: he survived surgery.

David with his surgeon the day after his operation

David and his family were surprised to learn that the tumor had fallen right out of his body early on in the operation. No risky cutting, the prime danger, had been necessary. In addition, the biopsy review revealed that the tumor was benign. No sign of cancer anywhere.

“I knew it was God,” David said. “There was really no other way around it.”

David returned to Liberty the following semester, when he decided to pursue two degrees: pastoral leadership and business administration. He was quickly hired as an RA, which is rare for a freshman, but his Resident Director (RD) recognized something special.

“He has the spiritual disciplines of someone more than twice his age,” said Bryan Jones, the RD who hired David. “. …The other big one is his heart for service. He just genuinely loves God and loves people and wants to serve them in any way that he can.”

“I was really in awe of the miracle that God was doing,” Jones added. “It wasn’t just that he had survived either. The percentage of paralysis was even greater, so to see him fully back and healthy was truly just incredible.”

Now, four years later, David has earned two degrees and is ready to set out with the over 23,000 other graduates in Class of 2022 to impact the world for Christ. He has accepted a position at Goldman Sachs and will serve with its International Mission Board (IMB).

Wherever his career takes him, David wants his life to be focused on outreach, a passion that grew during his time at Liberty. He became involved with Thomas Road Baptist Church and started an official student club, Uplifting Athletes, dedicated to cancer research.

He calls Liberty the best four years of his life.

David poses with his family at Liberty’s Commencement on May 6. (Photo by KJ Jugar)

“I loved my experience so much here,” he said. “I’m sad to leave this place, but I’m excited for what’s to come.”

Rebecca Walker said that seeing David graduate is a testament to God’s faithfulness.

“I feel like crying, I’m so emotional,” she said. “I can’t tell you how grateful we are for how God has led David through all these years.”

David wields a scar on his stomach, where the doctors — and God — performed the miracle surgery.

“My scar is a reminder,” David said. “It’s a testament to how God brought me out of it and healed me.”

In April, David underwent his final quarterly MRI, which showed complete healing.

“I hope when people hear my story, that they get more encouraged to follow God,” David said. “God still is answering prayers and still working, even in ways you don’t understand. So, I hope if anything, my story gives people hope and encouragement.”