Exactly one month ago I had a massive heart attack, so severe that by the natural law I should be dead. In fact, the admitting physician said it’s a miracle that I am alive.
Only half of my heart was working at all while the other half was paralyzed by arterial blockages. My condition required four bypasses plus a reaming of the interior valves to clear away the heavy deposits.
Even though the pain of the attack itself was enough to make this grown man cry, the agony after surgery seemed more than enough to kill me. First I was afraid I would die, and then I was afraid that I wouldn’t. I can’t think of any other way to describe the intensity. But the pain is the least important part of the story.
The most fascinating and most mysterious facts surrounding this event, the most thought-provoking and inspiring, come well before the attack itself. And some astonishing events come afterwards.
I ponder without a clear answer how long my heart was in such wretched condition without my even knowing so. I had suffered acid reflux ever since my teens, but now I wonder how many of these cases of indigestion were heart attacks in disguise. Until my surgery, I had at least one bout with a burning esophagus every single day of my life and often more than one.
Now that I know what a heart attack feels like, I recall other times when I experienced the same agonizing sensation, one episode going back about 40 years! Have I had heart disease since my mid 20’s but not finding out until age 66? If so, the obvious miracle of my survival becomes all the more spectacular.
When I dialed 911 a month ago, I had just moved to a new town that I was not familiar with at all. When the EMT’s asked me which hospital I wanted to be taken to, I had no idea. They recited a short list of nearby emergency rooms, and one of them was named “St. Joseph’s.” That was the one I chose as soon as I heard the name.
Much later in this adventure I learned that St. Joseph’s Hospital is a regional cardiac center, the home of gifted diagnosticians and cardio-vascular surgeons. Of all the hospitals in the Syracuse, New York, area, I picked the best one.
A cardiologist by the name of Dr. Wolford performed a catheterization with contrasting dye, after which he showed me the images. I was thoroughly sickened by what I saw. What a clogged, ragged mess my heart and its vessels had become. That’s when I said to him that it’s a miracle I’m alive, and he agreed.
He gave me some options for a remedy, all of which I forget except the one for bypass surgery. To say the least, he concurred with my decision. Next I was in the hands, literally, of Dr. Namez.
There is no doubt in my mind that God Himself guided the hands of Dr. Namez and his team because they were able to repair or replace all the mangled and blocked parts of my heart. I remember vividly his saying “the Lord be with you” when he left my bedside the night before surgery.
I realize now that the Lord was indeed with me, then and long before. Even the nonfunctioning half of my heart came back to life without permanent damage even though it is a mystery how long it had been still.
I know almost nothing about open-heart surgery, but I do know that the heart must be restarted when the heart-lung machine is turned off near the very end of the long and detailed procedure.
I seriously doubt if anyone can give an adequate explanation of why my heart started up again when jolted by the surgeon. I believe that God prompted the rhythmic beating, just as He did when I was in my mother’s womb.
Another part of this story involves my bishop, the Most Reverend Robert Russell, and his dear wife, Mary. At a time that I thought I was being called for service in the Philippines, Bishop Bob received a strong sense that I should come immediately to Oneida, New York, near where he lives. So I canceled my plans and made new ones to fly to Syracuse. Had I attempted a flight to the Philippines, I would surely have died en route.
I realized later that I had experienced a heart attack on the way, in the Philadelphia airport, where I had to change planes. Because ice water had made the pain go away, I thought no more of it until much later.
Bishop Bob and Mary, who have become like family over the years, had prepared their home for me to stay with them until my new home was ready. So I was in their house when the big attack occurred. When I was released from the hospital, I went back to stay with them.
In the meantime, they had done all the shopping and other work necessary to have my home ready for me when I was able to move in. They thought of every last detail, and when I first saw the apartment, it already felt like home. The point of all this is that I was taken care of by people who loved me-before, during, and after my sudden illness. In other words, I could not have planned more ideal circumstances for recovery even if I had known what was coming.
My faith-building experience can be summed up by a series of miracles that all fit together in a divine program: living a long time with a very serious heart condition, surviving the attack contrary to natural law, having my cardiac system repaired with the best experts in the region, retaining no major physical damage, and being cared for by the best friends a man could have.