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In the early morning hours of April 15, 2014 I underwent a heart transplant at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC. This would not only be a life-saving event, but a milestone on a journey that really began on September 20, 1986 when I suffered a major “heart attack.” This is my story of blessing and new life.

 

“It’s the big one …”

 

It was a beautiful September afternoon, and what better way to spend it than on the golf course. When you’re 39 years old, you feel somewhat invincible, and certainly having a heart attack is just not in your thinking. As I was putting out on the second hole of Reynolds Park Golf Course in Winston-Salem, I felt this intense pressure and pain in the upper chest. I first thought it was bad indigestion, but after a few minutes I knew it was much more serious. My training as an EMT kicked in and I determined that it was probably a heart attack. My EMT partner was playing behind me and I asked someone to get him. I remember him looking at me with that concerned look and asking “what’s wrong?” “Ronnie,” I replied, “I’ve got classic symptoms of a heart attack! Take me to Baptist (Hospital).” Little did I realize at the time, but that would be not only a life-saving decision, but would have a direct effect on my quality and quantity of life. I was given a new drug, tPA, which is a clot buster drug, designed to restore at least some blood flow to the heart muscle. This treatment most likely saved my life. I spent ten days in the hospital, and told to go home and not do much for six weeks. In a few weeks I felt good as new. I received regular follow-up visits at Baptist and tried to follow a heart healthy diet, I quit smoking and got more exercise. But as my doctor often alluded to, time would not be my friend as it related to my damaged heart. In the back of my mind I knew as I got older my heart would become an issue and that my life expectancy was diminished. It would be some twenty years before my next heart related crisis.

 

Fast forward to 2007

 

It had been busy day of ministry, I had done sermon preparation, made a couple of visits to parishioners, and finished with a pastoral visit at the local hospital. I had not felt good that afternoon, a little “fluttery” in my chest, but I passed it off as being tired. Shortly after I returned home, I felt my heart rhythm go out of whack. A trip to the hospital revealed I was in a serious heart rhythm, often called “V Tack.” I was shocked back into rhythm and referred to Baptist Medical Center for follow-up. At Baptist I was checked out and told I should receive an ICD or “Internal Cardiac Defibrillator.” It was designed to deliver a shock or pacing therapy should my heart act up again. Fortunately, I was only shocked once during my years with the device, but it was comforting to know it was there if I needed it. Again I returned home, healed from the surgery, and resumed my normal routine. All was well, so I thought, but this was the beginning of a downhill slide. I would experience several more episodes of my heart out of rhythm over the next couple of years. Another hospital stay In 2012 I ended up in the hospital again and came under the care of a Raleigh Cardiologist. Again, I was shocked back into rhythm. During follow-up appointments with my “new” cardiologist, I underwent several tests that confirmed I had an enlarged heart, and my heart was pumping only about 30 percent of normal. My medication was doubled, and I was told that I could continue to do ok for a long time.

By early January 2013 I was not feeling that good, nor did I seem to have the energy I needed at times. I was beginning to face the reality that my health was headed downhill. Needless to say, I had a lot of questions; how much longer could I work? Would I get to the point that I could not function? How long could I live? I didn’t have answers. But I did have faith and trust in the One who does have the answers. I prayed, “Lord, I belong to You, and You have blessed me in so many ways, this too is in Your hands.” It’s amazing what God can do when you trust Him.

 

The invisible hand

 

It was mid-January 2013 when I went to the mailbox and there was an appointment reminder from my Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center cardiologist. I was scheduled to see him in about a week for my six month checkup. My first thought was to cancel and continue to see my new cardiologist in Raleigh, but that “still small voice” said “keep the appointment.” During the checkup I related to my doctor how bad I felt at times with no energy, etc. and that the cardiologist in Raleigh had doubled my medications. He reviewed my meds and told me I was way over medicated and that was likely the reason I felt so bad. He said, “I’ve got this newer drug that I would like to try you on, the only thing is you’ll have to stay in the hospital two or three days to make sure you’re able to take it.” My reply, “Doc if it will make me feel better, let’s go for it.” Then he added, “While you’re in the hospital, I’d like to have you evaluated by our Advanced Heart Failure group, I think you would benefit from that long term.” Again I agreed, not really understanding what I was about to get myself into.

(see Part II in a few days)

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