Last week became the kind of week that we all think about if, sometimes for only a fleeting moment, if we are honest. Yet we all hope that we will never face a big medical challenge. But one way or the other, unless we die a sudden death, we will all face major medical issues that will challenge us to the core of our being. I faced my first such crisis at age six. I spent two weeks away from home at the Vanderbilt University Children’s Hospital. It seems like a blur sixty years later. It was during this time that the presence of God became so real in my life that I shall never forget it after six decades. Now I face a new challenge.
This Thursday, February 11, I will undergo open heart surgery at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield (IL). (CDH is a Northwestern University Hospital.) This news came as a complete surprise to me last Monday, February 1. Once again I am praying that God meets me in a new and deeply personal way. I will prepare for this surgery by beginning Lent on Wednesday, February 10. Then I will undergo the repair of all five heart arteries the next day.
Only one week earlier (January 25) I saw my personal physician for my annual physical. My blood tests and all vital signs were so good that it was a real joy to peacefully drive home that evening. I wrote a Facebook post about how encouraged I was. I also reminded myself in that same post that this could change in a moment, a flash. The same morning that I saw my doctor (January 25) I had my first angina pain. I told my him about this anomaly but my tests all suggested that my heart was fine. We thought I could be dealing with pneumonia again, a trial I have endured three or four times.
In September 2010 I had a nuclear stress test, a procedure lasting about 2 1/2 hours. The results were that I had some minor calcification in one artery but it was considered normal for my age. About two years later I dieted, losing nearly fifty pounds. I radically changed what I ate and paid closer attention to my personal health, believing that God wanted me to do this work for his kingdom. For three years I have averaged between three and four miles of active walking at least six days a week. But it was walking in a nearby mall last week where I first experienced my angina pain. I sat and rested, walked again and then the pain started all over. After three days of trying to walk pain free I quit and told my doctor and my brother Tom, who is also a physician. On Friday I brought the garbage cans up the driveway from the curb and the pain started again. I felt weak, light headed and had some pressure in my upper chest. My brother said, “Go to the ER right now and get checked out.” So on Friday (January 29) I went to the Central DuPage Hospital ER for testing. I was admitted when the enzyme evidence came back along with the EKG. I learned that I had not had a heart attack but I was at risk of one. They admitted me, to my surprise. Further tests followed.
After a long (quite slow) weekend my cardiologist came by for your first visit and we agreed to do an angiogram on Monday (February 1). This test was really painless to be truthful. Going into the test the best guess was that I would need a stent or two in one or two arteries. When they took me back to my room after only thirty-five minutes I knew the worst news was about to come. The doctor came to my room to tell Anita and me that I had all five arteries to my heart blocked from 80-90%. We were utterly stunned, being emotionally and mentally unprepared. How could you be otherwise with my medical history? There is one wildcard, however. Both my mother and father had heart disease and my late mom had open heart surgery for arterial damage at age 86. She died just short of 93. My dad did not die from his heart disease but rather from contracting Hepatitis B while working as a volunteer dentist in a federal prison in Memphis. So when my family medical story is put together I can see that I was genetically at risk. Obviously, I did not think about all this last week so I was shocked.
The severe mercy in all this is that God spared me from a major heart attack. My heart is healthy and my physical condition is very good. My sitting pulse and blood pressure are both great. But the arterial blockage must be opened and the stents cannot do it. This is why on Thursday, February 11, at 8:30 a.m. (CST), I will be under anesthesia for about five hours. Following this I will be in the ICU for three days and then, if I am able, I will go into the excellent cardio section of the hospital for four more days. Finally, if I am well enough, I will come home sometime around Thursday, February 18. Then I will need three to four weeks to rest and recover at home. I can then slowly return to my work and life but the residual pain from opening up my chest will present discomfort for some time. (Thanks to all of you who knew this news already who have some shared great stories of healing and new energy for life post-op.)
I face this trial with profound peace. I am ready to depart but I do not want to leave my family. I also believe I have a God-called ministry that has more open doors than I’ve ever known. I believe that I have been given a gift of overall health to press on in my work for unity. But God is in control. I am in his hands. Have I felt darkness in this ordeal? No, not even once. But I have had a few good cries. I cried not because I asked, “Why me?” I’ve never asked this question, not even once. But rather, I have been overwhelmed by this all coming so quickly and without any warning. I am a weak, mortal and emotional human being, not a Stoic. The thunder of this in my (emotional) heart has awakened me to God and myself in a whole new way. I see this creating great good in my body and soul in the days ahead.
Over the next few weeks I will not be writing articles or blogs. I will only read my correspondence when I am able. (I will not be able to respond to calls and/or texts for more than a month.) For the most part my wonderful son will respond to correspondence for me and write updates. My daughter will help Anita with some daily needs. Anita also has a loving family around us besides our children and grandchildren. For this reason I ask only for your prayers during these coming weeks. We do not need other physical or emotional help right now. ACT3 Network still needs your financial gifts. I cannot do anything about our financial needs for the next two months. Your investments right now will help us continue with the mission and not see it sidetracked while I am resting.
As I mentioned above, future posts about my medical situation will be written by my son until I am able to be back to work. I thank God for everyone who loves me and prays for me. I am especially grateful to our donors. We need you more than ever. ACT3 will still have a wonderful future if God is pleased to provide and bless us.