My unexpected bypass heart surgery on May 22 came on me almost as suddenly as your reading about it right now. It was the last thing I expected and my doctors seemed as surprised as I was. My wife was in shock, but I wasn’t. I didn’t have time. For me, it was more like being blindsided in a car crash. Let me explain.
For the past few months I have been trying to determine the cause of some increasingly regular chest and arm pains. Because I had consulted a pulmonary specialist in the past who sent me for a stress test on my heart and the results came back negative, there was not a feeling that I was having heart trouble. We were looking at similar symptoms to asthma, perhaps anxiety disorder or something else.
Breathing tests revealed I suffered from asthma. But this was not asthma. This was a feeling I remember as a child when I ran too fast for too long. It was a feeling I recalled when I played one basketball game too many and had to lay flat until the ache in my chest and arms subsided. I had known this feeling all of my life. Only now, it was coming upon me when I walked upstairs at home. It was coming every single day for the last eight weeks and I had to know why.
My pulmonary doctor was convinced enough to send me to a heart specialist who noted that my description of this pain also sounded like acid reflux — something in the stomach, not the heart. I was advised to take Prilosec, eat earlier in the day and drink more water. In the meantime I was scheduled for another stress test just to be sure.
When covering a story at Dollywood, Linda and I had to do quite a bit of walking to reach our destinations. People older and heavier were passing me with ease. My chest and arms were killing me! My new emergency inhaler was of no use. This is what convinced me that whatever this was, it was not a simple case of asthma!
My stress test the following week revealed an abnormality, but not exactly what it was. When I started having those chest pains again, a nurse rushed and gave me a nitroglycerin pill under my tongue and the pain quickly subsided. Hello?
An unexpected blessing was that my heart doctor was there and acted with a sense of urgency to get me tested the very next day before he left on a three-week vacation. I was told I may need a stint or two but this test, the arteriogram, was the gold standard in heart diagnosis and would reveal my true problem.
The results showed I had five blocked arteries to my heart, a defect from birth, and would need a multiple bypass surgery set for the next day! Another heart specialist would come in, crack open my chest, take vein grafts from both legs and do the bypass surgery. Linda said she suddenly felt the floor get soft under her and she admits to being in shock. For some reason I felt the need to find my sense of humor and a positive outlook regardless of how this thing played out.
My mind immediately drifted to the summer of 2009, when my own father was confronted with the need for stints in his arteries, but refused to follow through with it out of fear. A week after he cancelled his last appointment he dropped dead going into a service station in Atlanta. As a child I did not always listen to my father’s advice. This time he had left me an object lesson to heed. Thanks, Dad.
All of my life I thought because I had double pneumonia as an infant that my lungs were weak and I had very little stamina, when it turns out I had inherited damaged heart valves that finally caught up with me. Up until now I had never had a broken bone and only one bruise to show as my “scars of life.”
After 3 1/2 hours of surgery, I woke up with a series of new scars and a chest cracked open but sown up, to correct a problem that nearly killed me. All of a sudden it is a new day and a new way. Rest, recuperation, eight new meds, avoid infection, avoid pneumonia, rest, rest, rest. Do things right the first time and avoid a setback.
Looking back on the events of two weeks ago, I must admit it all seems surreal. It feels like this near-death experience happened to someone else, not to me. I chose to have a positive attitude, a sense of humor and put my faith in God to bring me through. His will be done.
The God who did not hold back from sending His only-begotten Son to die for our sins and open the way for perfect health and everlasting life also provided the right specialists to be in the right place at the right time to provide me with the best care I could get at the best heart hospital I could have asked for.
I was never afraid. For that I’m grateful for the prayers of those who knew and the teachings that disciplined me to trust in God in my times of distress, as Psalms 86:7, 120:1 and Isaiah 41:10 say. I will be out of commission for a while, but I will be thinking about you. I’ll be looking for new stories and people who can come in for an interview, so please, be thinking about me in return.
I feel so blessed to be able to share your stories with the world and hopefully add a scriptural perspective as food for thought in these distressing times. I’m thankful for my job, an understanding boss and for the skilled staff of people at the paper — all of whom I love and respect.
As I recover from surgery, I would like to thank you in advance for your well wishes and prayers. Thank you for being a faithful reader of the Banner and for understanding that it took me days to write this letter from home. I still have a long ways to go but I know I do not walk alone. I cannot promise I will not break down and cry because I am an emotional person and I feel the loving presence of the One who promised me at Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you or desert you” (The New English Bible).
Every true servant of God knows this. But when we experience the lovingkindness of God — in circumstances and through the love of others — it is different, isn't it? There is head knowledge and there is heart knowledge. I feel, in a sense, I am experiencing both ... another life lesson to cherish from our lifegiving heavenly Father.