Chris Stewart’s story is nothing short of miraculous. After two health emergencies that nearly cost the popular Crimson Tide Sports Network(CSN) broadcaster his life, Stewart testifies of the blessings he’s experienced because of God’s provision. The current host of CSN’s football broadcasts, play-by-play announcer for Alabama basketball games, and host of “The Nick Saban Show” knows that his recovery from a stroke and near-fatal infection following heart surgery fits the description of “miraculous,” but instead likes to focus on that other word–“blessings.” “It was the absolute worst thing that I’ve ever encountered and also the greatest blessing God has ever given me,” Stewart says of the upheavals that changed his life starting in 2018. 

An Unexpected Crisis. Stewart had recently finished broadcasting his 17th season of Alabama basketball and was in the throes of the baseball season (where he also serves as play-by-play announcer for the Tide) when, in the middle of the night in April 2018, his wife tried to rouse him from sleep. She noticed him in an unusual position, grunting slightly; after a second visit from local paramedics to an unresponsive Stewart, he was rushed to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Birmingham. Because of Stewart’s general health and lack of warning signs, it was hard to detect a stroke until a scan revealed a blockage in an artery to his brain. Emergency surgery was necessary. “My doctor, Jitendra Sharma, got me on the operating table as quickly as possible. I had two clots on the brain. He told me that the clot was not budging, and I wasrunning out of time,” Stewart says. “He basically made a last attempt, and the clot busted and passed, and I opened my eyes. That told him that the clot had cleared.”

Stewart and others in his life thought that, while the stroke had been scary, that he was well on his road to recovery. He managed to make it back for a baseball game in May near the end of the season.  He looked forward to another season covering Alabama sports. Then came the afternoon when Stewart realized something else felt “off” about his health; it was a moment that Stewart, looking back, knows God orchestrated to save his life again. Fifteen months after his stroke, Stewart attended the grand opening of Dr. Sharma’s new weight loss business; while there he admitted that he’d been experiencing some strange symptoms. “I told the nurse practitioner and the doctor that I had a small tingling and tightness in my arm,” he recalls. “He said, ‘Chris, that’s your heart. We gotta get you in for a stress test’.” Stewart scheduled an appointment, then went to Gulf Shores for a family vacation before his oldest daughter went to college; while there, he experienced similar symptoms. He knew that there was a problem. “My Mother died when she was 55 after a second bypass,” he says. ” She died on the elevator after surgery, when I was just 17.” The surgery on August 12 was a success and Stewart followed it with a regular schedule: visits from friends, church on Sunday, and plans to record “The Nick Saban Show” in another week. And that is when his memories stopped. “I didn’t remember anything until the following month,” he says. Stewart had developed an infection and his vital organs–liver, kidney, pancreas–shut down. He developed sepsis, was put into an induced coma for two weeks, and had to undergo dialysis. “My wife told me how I’d gone for tests and nothing was abnormal. I had grabbed her by the arm in the parking lot and said I wasn’t leaving the hospital,” he says. “She saved my life for the second time.” Stewart’s recovery was slow and, this time, even more miraculous. His organs healed, while he also dealt with muscle atrophy, wounds on his tailbone, and almost constant pain. “The word ‘blessed’ is used an awful lot and we encounter blessings every day,” he says, reflecting on the fact that he’s now pain-free, healed, and back to work. “But when I use the word blessed, it’s because I’m not intelligent enough to come up with another, better word.”

Reliance on Faith, Family, & Friends. Stewart grew up in a Christian home outside Birmingham in Fairfield, attending a small Methodist church as a youngster.  His faith has been key to making it through the challenging health crisis, and other pivotal moments in his life. “Like everyone who is a believer in Christ at any level, we tend to cling to Him in times of tragedy. You cling to God and Christ and if you’re not a believer, you cling to whatever your life preserver is,” he says, “but nothing has pushed my faith more and also proven His existence more than this.”

Stewart says that he also learned about the goodness of others during his illnesses and recovery. “I was reminded of the goodness that does exist in people from the kindness they showed me,” he remembers. “It was from friends and total strangers, and it still happens almost daily. I’ll encounter someone who will come up and say something extremely kind or tell me that they prayed for me.” Stewart knew that the Alabama family would display such kindness, but he was equally struck by the responses from Auburn fans, and coaches. “Maybe even more meaningful was going to Auburn for the first time after all of it and to have Bruce Pearl reached out to me and shake my hand right before tip-off. And then others from Auburn whom I’ve never met, came up to talk to me. The kindness shown to me has absolutely blown my mind,” he says.

Back in the Booth. Stewart found his way back in the broadcasting booth for the first time at an Alabama basketball game, then segued back into action for football season. Working Alabama games has been a “full circle” moment for Stewart, who grew up not far from Legion Field in Birmingham and watched his father work as an usher in the stadium. “The caravan of Alabama buses would go by our house, and I attended my first game as an usher when I was 12. I still remember that it was Alabama against Arkansas State,” he says.  His family had idolized former coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, and now he relishes the opportunity to work with Saban and other Alabama leaders. “I work with the best people,” he says. “Having watched Coach Bryant and Charley Thornton do his show, it’s sometimes unbelievable to know that I’m now doing the same thing with Nick Saban.” Stewart has been recognized as the Alabama Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sports Media Association on five occasions and was inducted this year into the University of Montevallo Athletics Hall of Fame. Looking at his life and career, Stewart maintains that his blessings have fallen like dominoes. “I can see how one domino fell into the other to get me to the next step,” he says. “We all have those in our lives, and I can see it many times over. The dominoes have all been directed by God and they fall where He wants them to fall.”

-Cheryl Wray

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