9 Cardiac Arrests, Death and Heaven

How Paul Zucarelli’s life changed dramatically

Paul Zucarelli describes himself as an ordinary man who died nine times and encountered God. After witnessing the heavenly realm, he now lives to provide testimony and witness to the Living God and salvation in Christ. Paul’s story is not just another near-death experience story—it’s also a story of faith.

Paul’s faith, and that of his whole family, was tested; their miracle occurred on Pentecost Sunday, June 4, 2017.

“God’s plan brought Paul from near-certain death to a restored life. God is now using Paul’s story to build up His kingdom through Paul’s witness to a living Jesus Christ. I hope you are encouraged by Paul’s story as much as I have been.” – Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted

Paul, age 62, recounts a life that, in many ways, was no different from most. He was a devoted family man using his gifts and doing his best to provide for his family.

He grew up in a Christian home and recalls that his devout Christian grandmother loved to read the Bible. When Paul was 13, his mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and sought out a local Catholic Charismatic Prayer Group, asking the women to pray over her even though she was not Catholic. She felt an energy go through her, and said she was ‘healed by the Wounds of Christ.’ She lived to be 83 and did not die of cancer.

Though Paul took that healing for granted, he had seen first-hand that God works miracles.

He married his childhood sweetheart, Beth, at age 22, and they had two sons, Michael and David. Life seemed to be going very well.

At age 24, Paul was diagnosed with a heart murmur, but was told not to worry about it, that everybody has it, he’ll be fine. So, he lived his life without too much concern. By his own assessment, Paul had a very blessed life. Paul contemplated with all the responsibilities in his life why he existed. Why did God make him?

“So, at age 28, I wrote a mission statement where I tried to identify what my roles were in life:  my role as a father, as a husband, as a brother, as a son, as a community member. I asked the Lord to help me write down the roles that I was to play in my life—not what am I, but who am I?

“We had everything the world defines as success – a piece of the American dream – houses, cars, comfort, friends, wealth… but despite all the stuff, I never felt fulfilled. There was something missing—a hole that couldn’t be filled by anything of this world. In retrospect, I took a lot of things for granted. Despite my reverence for God, it was fear-based… I was poorly catechized. I believed in God and feared him; however, I never felt I was good enough, that I could live up to His expectations.”

Although Paul believed in God, looking back, he realized he took a lot of the credit for figuring out life. He realized he was very worldly. “In light of all the abundance, I was guilty of the sin of Pride and self-sufficiency.”

Paul was Being Prepared

Things went on this way until the year he turned 40. Paul’s father died from cancer, his brother suffered a crippling accident that left him a paraplegic, and his business partner died of cancer, after Paul had written a significant note to him.

In his late 40s, Paul developed bouts of atrial fibrillation (A-Fib) in his heart—doctors would treat him with either a cardioversion or a pill, and advised him not to worry about it, that a lot of people have it, and they have medicine and treatment for it.

In his early 50s, Paul was gripped with what he describes as a need to know.

“I would drag Beth to the Near-Death Experience movies: Heaven is for Real, Ninety Minutes in Heaven, etc. Beth asked me, ‘Why are you so fascinated with this stuff?’ but I couldn’t explain it. I just wanted to know.”

“I didn’t know I was being prepared.”

Meanwhile, his A-Fib was getting worse. The symptoms were occurring more frequently, and on December 8, 2016, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Paul realized he was sick—he didn’t feel well, couldn’t walk upstairs anymore, he was short of breath, and realized he was losing color in his skin. His heart didn’t feel right.

So, he went to the cardiologist, who told him that his valve was leaking. “But don’t worry about it; you’re going to die of something else. Here’s the medicine for your heart – and here’s some medicine for high blood pressure … medicine for all the symptoms you have. Don’t worry – you’ll die of something else… go home.” 

But despite his doctor’s assurances, Paul found that his soul was troubled. For one thing, the medicine’s black box warning label said that taking one pill could kill him. 

“I have to acknowledge that before I put it in my mouth. So, I got in the car and the Lord spoke to me as clear as day; it was a locution, which I didn’t understand till later. The Lord told me, ‘Get to the Mayo Clinic now – it’s the valve. Go to the Mayo now; it’s the valve.’”

“With something that real, you do as you’re told,” says Paul, who picked up the phone the minute he got home and called the Mayo Clinic. They had an appointment available in two weeks because of a cancellation.

He was diagnosed with mitral valve failure, which meant he would need open-heart surgery in the very near future. They gave him a different medication and told him not to take the black box medication the other doctor had given him.

The doctor said to “Go home, relax, and call us if you go into A-Fib again.”

In early 2017, Paul kept going in out of A-Fib, and finally had a specialized diagnostic test—a transesophageal echo—through his throat and esophagus—which returned troubling news.

“We couldn’t see it from the outside in the normal echo—you have what’s called a mitral jet,” they told him. “Let us put this in layman’s terms – you have less than half the blood being pumped through your body. The other half is squirting up into your upper heart chamber in your atrium, causing the A-Fib. You’re very close to heart failure. The earliest we can have you meet with the surgeon for a consult is in 13 days. Go home, relax, and don’t do anything strenuous.”

The Word of God

“So, I drove home, and in the car, the Lord said to me, ‘Read the scriptures—you will need this. Highlight when I move you.’”

“Now, I love reading the Bible, but I didn’t know where to start…I knew I couldn’t get through it in 13 days, so I started with the red letters, the Gospels, the words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I figured I could squeeze in the Psalms, the prayers of Jesus Christ. In fact, Jesus’ last prayer was Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” And Proverbs, the wisdom of God, and the New Testament, the letters, the guidance for Christian living.

This time, when Paul read the Word, it was different. Paul tried put himself in each scene with Jesus.

“You’re supposed to live the Gospels, not just read them, so I was in spirit trying to discern the Bible and what God was trying to prepare me for. And all I kept coming to was His suffering, His passion, the Cross: how could a human being physically go through this? And, why? Why, God, why did You have to do this to Your son? Why did He have to suffer the way He did?

“And I came to this conclusion: my death was the only way to conclude my personal salvation story. My soul was grievous—I was crying while reading the Bible, tears pouring down my face, and my wife would say, “What’s wrong with you? You’re reading the Word!”

And then the locutions started. “As I read the Bible, the Lord said to me,

‘I suffered for you, Paul; you will suffer for me, but I’ll be with you.’”

There was always that hope at the end of the locution. Without it, Paul felt he would have been sent to a counseling center.

“No one wants to suffer… it’s troubling and distressing, but I came to understand this finally:  That Jesus Christ didn’t die by an accident or a random event in world history. He died on that Cross by design – to do the Father’s will to reconcile you and me to God the Father on that Cross; God sacrificed himself for me… and you.”

On May 23, 2017, the surgeon told Paul that his valve was beyond repair, that he should be mentally prepared to come out with a metal valve in his chest. So, Paul did something that was not like himself. “I don’t know what moved me other than the Holy Spirit, and I said to the doctor, ‘May I pray for you?’  A total stranger.

He said, “What did you say to me?’ I said, ‘Doctor, may I pray for you?’ He obliged, and I said, ‘Give me your hands…’

“Dear Lord, for some reason you’ve sent me to this man, through the precious blood of your Son, Jesus Christ. I ask that you grant him the patience and the precision in his hands to repair what you gave me. In Christ’s name, Amen.”

“He was ok with it, and he said ‘I can schedule you next Friday. You have 10 days – go home, relax, and don’t do anything strenuous.”’

With his meter running, Paul finished reading the Bible. As the locutions continued, Paul kept highlighting emphatically poignant passages such as Psalm 51, about the repentance and mercy of a sinner; Psalm 91, the protection and rescue from distress, and then Psalm 139 ‘He knows me, He loves me, He knew me before I was born.’

So, on May 28, Memorial Day Weekend, the Sunday before his June 2nd surgery was scheduled, Paul asked his wife Beth to stay after church, where he walked up to the Altar to the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue.

“I put my hand right on His heart, and I prayed for His help. I said, ‘You’ve got to help me with this – I’m not feeling good about this.’”

Jesus said, “I suffered for you; you’ll suffer for Me, but I’ll be with you, Paul.”

“The message didn’t change. The Lord didn’t grant what I wanted. But He was going to grant what I needed.”

The Power of Prayer

Later that afternoon, the Lord directed Paul to Santa Catalina Church, where he was led to pray the 12 Stations of the Cross in the parish’s Garden of Gethsemane.

“I was having my own Holy Thursday,” said Paul, who kept hearing, “I suffered for you, you’ll suffer for me, but I’ll be with you.”

“I went over to the Garden of Gethsemane figurines, and I put my hand right on Jesus and I tried to say the prayer that He said, the best I could, and I said, ‘Lord, not my will be done, but Yours. But if you could take this cup from me, please, Lord, I need help.”

“I suffered for you, you’ll suffer for me, but I’ll be with you.”

Paul arranged to be anointed on Thursday, the day before his surgery on Friday.

Paul called everyone he knew to pray for him.

“I called my sister, an evangelical Christian prayer warrior. I said, ‘Donna, get to Phoenix, Arizona. I need you there.’”

Paul came to realize that there are no coincidences in life; only “Christ incidences,” which he failed to see many times.

The week leading up to surgery, Paul found that his prayer life became laser focused.

“When you feel the time in the hourglass in the body is running out, you get laser-focused.”

He prayed like never before.  

“I’m not ashamed to share my prayers with you. My first prayer was:

‘Lord I surrender. Your will be done unto me. I accept it – but whatever has to happen to me, please may this lead my family back to Christ and the Church.’”

Many of his family had fallen away from the Lord, and Paul began fervently praying for their souls and conversion.

“My second prayer was:

‘Lord, You’re the Potter, I’m just the clay. But the harvest is great, and the workers are few. Lord, I want to live. Test me. Send me into the kiln. Send me into the fire. And please don’t throw me away. Purpose me. And, if you allow me to live – it’s your decision – I will live the rest of my days to testify to your glory…’”

“You see, I made a commitment with the Lord—an Oath, a Covenant… I had surrendered.”

The rest of this article can be found in Signs and Wonders Spring 2022, 32#1/2. Become a member today to receive this issue!