Alabama cancer patient, an atheist for most of his life, baptized in pool days before death

An Alabama man with terminal cancer who said he was an atheist for most of his life decided he wanted to be baptized by immersion. Thanks to a Birmingham chaplain, he got his wish days before he died.

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Thomas Roberts was dying of lung cancer and was confined to a wheelchair, unable to breathe without oxygen tubes, WBRC reported. For his final wish, he asked to be baptized by being fully submerged in water.

Corey Agricola, a chaplain at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, helped Roberts fulfill that request Sept. 4, the television station reported.

Agricola received the request from Roberts' family, but met with the dying man privately to be sure it was what the patient wanted, reported.

“Everything we do is based on the patient’s needs," Agricola told the website. "I would not perform a ceremony that was not in keeping with the patient’s wishes. I would never, without knowing for certain, that’s what the patient wanted, have done this.”

Roberts spoke with Thomas' physician, Ashley Nichols, who told him Roberts would only be able to be without his oxygen tubes for a very brief period.

"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 told UAB News.

Roberts was lowered into the pool as his wife, son, two sisters, niece and nephews watched, the website reported. Agricola read Romans 6:4-11 from the Bible but addressed Roberts before reading the passage.

"I have served in the ministry over 20 years and seven of those at UAB. This is the greatest day of my career," Agricola said, according to UAB News. "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."

Agricola dunked Roberts backward to complete the baptism.

Roberts died Sept. 9, WBRC reported. He was 56.

"I don't know what could be a better gift than the feeling of peace, and that is what we have now," Brooke Carr, Roberts' niece, told UAB News.

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