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A whole new ballgame

 

I entered Baptist Hospital early in February 2013, and on the second day of my stay, several people entered my room and introduced themselves as the Advance Heart Failure/Transplant team. I didn’t realize it then, but these people would become like family to me as the days and months passed. They told me they had reviewed my medical records and would like to proceed to qualify me for future heart transplantation. They also asked if I had heard of an LVAD, or Left Ventricular Assist Device. I had heard of it, but didn’t know anything much about it. They explained the device in great detail, as well as the heart transplant program. They asked permission to run test to see if I was a candidate; to which I agreed. For the next three days I underwent every medical test known to man (well, maybe not all, but a lot). I had scans, tubes run into most every orifice of my body, blood tests, stress tests, cardiac catheterization (both left and right heart), breathing tests, and on and on. The results: I was a candidate for heart transplant, but needed a LVAD as a bridge to transplant. I was not too thrilled about the LVAD because I would be “tied” to a power source, either batteries or a power supply, all the time. I asked about just going ahead and getting the transplant, but the doctor told me that nobody would directly transplant me now because I was still functioning and doing fairly well. I resisted the idea that I needed an LVAD immediately. I said, “Doc, I know that down the road I’ll need this treatment – maybe in a few more years.” He looked at me for a moment in silence then dropped a bomb shell. “In my professional opinion,” he said, “you have about 18 months to live without intervention.” Wow! Did I hear him right? I have only 18 months to live? It’s strange how we go into denial at news like that – I didn’t believe him! I said, “You may be right, but I am still working every day and doing what I need to do. I think it will be quite some time before I get to that point. However, the doctor began to paint an ugly picture. “In the coming months your kidneys, which are already showing signs of deterioration, will begin to fail; then your liver will fail, and finally your body will no longer be able to compensate. But, the choice is yours, you may choose to live out your days and go into the presence of God.” Again, I didn’t really believe what I was hearing. “Ok,” I said, “I understand that I will need the device down the road but I don’t want it right now.”

 

Let’s do it

 

In mid-March I was back in the hospital, my heart out of rhythm once again. Again the LVAD was brought up, and one by one each member of the medical team tried to convince me I needed it, and I needed it soon. Again I resisted the idea, hoping to at least put it off for a long time. This time my heart went back into rhythm on its own. “This is going to continue to happen with more frequency as your heart gets weaker, and you’re going to be in the hospital numerous times. I went home, having a lot of talks with the Lord and my family. Like most people I hate being sick, and I absolutely hate hospitals! I was not prepared to live a sickly life if there was anything that could be done to prevent it. When I went back for my follow-up appointment in mid-April, I had made up my mind to have the LVAD implanted. If it would improve my quality of life it would be worth the risk and inconvenience. When my doctor brought it up during the visit I responded, “Let’s do it.” I was scheduled for surgery the latter part of May. I was in God’s hand, and I would trust in Him to “work all things together for good …”

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)

July 3, 2011

 

 

 

July 4, our annual Independence Day celebration serves to remind us of the sacrifices, character, ideas, ideals, and faith that have gone into the making of our national history. Too often today we just celebrate a holiday. How often we take for granted our freedoms. Let us use this as a time to reflect.

 

  A TIME TO REMEMBER.

 

The price of what we enjoy was high. Days of hardship and grave uncertainty accompanied the efforts of those colonial leaders who led us to attain our freedom as a sovereign nation. Can you imagine a rag tag group of farmers standing up to the most powerful army in the world at that time. Can you imagine the sacrifices these families had to make to ensure our freedom? The price of freedom was paid for by the blood of many.

 

The price of our Christian liberty was also very high. The Bible tells us that we too "were bought with a price," and "if the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed."  Christ was sacrifice for our sins.

 

 

   A TIME TO RETURN.

 

 

To first principles of work, sacrifice, discipline, patriotic devotion, love of justice and freedom, honesty, high purpose, and respect for the rights of others. These were first and basic principles in the foundations of our nation.

 

Take seriously individual initiative, private industry, the freedom to choose and work for a way of life — these are fundamentals of life in a free society. All are primary factors in a government of free people, and they are diminishing factors in the way of life we know in our age.

  A TIME TO RECOGNIZE.

 

 

The evils of our materialistic, power-crazed, technological age. Millions never know what it means to go to bed at night without feeling hunger, yet our nation spends money on things of little importance, so much so that we have the highest national debt in our history. Someone has said, "We spend money we do not have to buy status symbols we do not need, to keep up with people we do not know and probably would not like if we did know them."

 

There are some dangerous trends of our times. For years the trend has been to withdraw religion from our public schools and government institutions. In the past, American tradition has kept government closely allied with religion. Our presidents have used the Bible in taking the oath of office; Congress opens its sessions with prayer; our pledge to the flag includes the phrase “One nation, under God”; our coins are inscribed with “In God We Trust”; and the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence uses the word “God,” recognizing him as our Creator, and the last sentence uses the phrase “With a firm reliance on divine providence.”

 

The Bill of Rights (Articles I – X) of the Constitution begins with the First Amendment, in which we read, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting free exercise thereof.” Serious students of history know this had to do with one specific contextual matter, a “state church.” The framers of the Constitution never dreamed that this nation would ever forget God! Now, in effect, laws are made by judges to prohibit those Christians who desire to express their faith in the public sector. A high school graduating class is prohibited from having a prayer at their graduation because one person objected.

 

 

  A TIME TO RENEW.

 

 

Our allegiance to God and country. It is significant that in many churches the American and Christian flags are displayed together; they are not in opposition one to the other, but they complement each other.

 

Our faith in God, the cause of freedom and the meaning of our text for today, “Proclaim liberty throughout the land.”

 

 

 

Let all the bells of freedom ring! Let freedom ring so the words of Abraham Lincoln may come true, “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

God's Call to Prayer

Matthew 7:1 12

Jesus lived in an attitude and atmosphere of prayer. He was in continuous communion with the loving God. This is not to imply that he always had his head bowed or that he was always on his knees. But he was always in immediate contact with God. He was open to God, and responsive to God. On many different occasions Jesus went apart into a private place for prayer (Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16; 9:18, 28).


I. WHY DO WE SO OFTEN NEGLECT TO PRAY?

 

  1. Is it because we feel self-sufficient in our own human ability? Is it that we feel no need for the wisdom, power, and grace of God?
  2. Is it because we do not have our heart in the work of God's Kingdom? Perhaps we don't have a burden of compassionate concern in our hearts for the needs of people about us?
  3. Do we neglect to pray because we are too busy with the common tasks of life in which we are seeking to feed our stomachs and clothe our backs?
  4. Maybe we neglect to pray because we do not like to face our sins? It's too painful and humiliating.
  5. Do we neglect to pray because of our blindness to our own spiritual poverty and to the needs of those about us?


II. PRAYER HAS GREAT REWARDS

 

Repeatedly Jesus encouraged his disciples to believe that the heavenly Father is a prayer-hearing and a prayer-answering God.

  1. Prayer brings salvation to all of those who call upon him in repentance and faith (Rom. 10:13).
  2. We can experience forgiveness of our sins when we respond to the call to prayer and confess those sins.
  3. We can be blessed with the guidance of God's Holy Spirit as we come to him in our times of uncertainty.
  4. We can receive the power of the Holy Spirit for victory over evil in our own lives or for a ministry to others (Luke 11:13).

 

Charles Haddon Spurgeon said that the Christian who departs for the day’s work without first talking to God is like a soldier who departs for battle without his weapons. By prayer we check in with the heavenly headquarters. It is in the experience of prayer that the heavenly Father communicates his wishes to us. It is when we pray that he gives us commissions and responsibilities.

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