Man baptized in UAB pool with only days left to live

A man who was dying from lung cancer and unable to leave the hospital was baptized in the pool at Spain Rehabilitation Center.

Thomas Roberts was an atheist for most of his life. But on Sept. 4, he decided he wanted to be baptized, and he wanted to be fully submerged in water according to his belief.  

The problem – Roberts was dying of lung cancer, wheelchair-bound and unable to breathe without oxygen tubes.

Corey Agricola, a chaplain at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, and the rest of the UAB palliative care team did not let the challenges of moving Roberts get in the way of granting his last wish. 

“It was a major effort by a lot of moving pieces and different teams to pull this off,” Agricola said. “If it had not been for the team, this could not have happened.”

Roberts, who was a patient on the Palliative Care and Comfort Unit at UAB at the time, had only days to live. Upon learning of his request, Agricola spoke with Roberts’ physician, Ashley Nichols, M.D., to make sure he was able to be off oxygen long enough to go under water.

Once he had her approval and knew the pool at Spain Rehabilitation Center was available, the team jumped into action. 

“Dr. Nichols made it clear he would only be able to be off oxygen for a few seconds, which meant we couldn’t roll him down the ramp in the pool wheelchair, so we had to use the chairlift to place him in the pool,” Agricola said.

Surrounded by his wife, son, two sisters, niece and nephew, and his UAB care team, Roberts was lowered into the water, where Agricola and physical therapist Marissa Smith were waiting for him.

“I have served in the ministry over 20 years and seven of those at UAB. This is the greatest day of my career,” Agricola told Roberts and his family at the start of the celebration. “Thomas, you never thought you would preach a sermon in your life; but you preached today. You made an impact on people who you do not even know.”

After a reading of Romans 6:4-11, Smith removed Thomas’ oxygen tubes, while Agricola held him in his arms.

“We thank God for the good and perfect gift of this day. This is one of the greatest days of your life, Thomas, because we are celebrating your new life,” Agricola told Roberts moments before he was baptized.

“It brings me complete comfort and peace because I know where he is going now,” said Gina Gibson, Roberts’ sister. “I don’t have to worry about it. Now there will be great joy just knowing where he is going. He is at peace. He was born again. You could see that on his face after the baptism. He was born again.”

“UAB and this team — this place was so accommodating and amazing,” said Davin Gibson, Roberts’ nephew. “You moved everything around — all of the departments worked together to make it happen. I give all the glory to God, but you guys rocked it.”

Roberts passed away six days later on Sept. 10, leaving behind one of the greatest gifts he could have given his family. 

“I don’t know what could be a better gift than the feeling of peace, and that is what we have now,” said Brooke Carr, Roberts’ niece.