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What I learned from my heart attack

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When one has a massive heart attack, it tends to “concentrate his mind wonderfully,” to misquote Samuel Johnson. The following is my text message correspondence with a good friend and minister, Randy Daw, soon after a heart attack I experienced on April 13, 2017.

I had no advance warning before the heart attack, but such a surprising turn of events can result in re-prioritizing and re-focusing on what is truly important. I offer this as one person’s attempt to grapple with mortality, faith, and focus in light of unexpected reversals in health.

The italics are Randy’s entries; the normal font face entries are my own.


Wed. April 19, 7:41 AM: Pray for my mom this morning, please. She is about to have her hip replaced.

Wed. April 19, 9:46 AM: It will be my honor.

She is being prepped. Are you feeling any better?

I have a fever of more than 101. Had a fever every day. Don’t know what’s going on. Going to see the doctor in about 40 minutes. Otherwise a little better every day. Must begin changing many things, starting with diet.

Wed. April 19, 12:54 PM: My mom is out of surgery and on her way up to the room. According to her surgeon, things went very well. Thank you for your prayers. By the way, both mom and dad have also been praying for you.

My pleasure! The reason I have been feeling lousy is because I have pneumonia. Just got back from the doctor.

Wed. April 19, 4:37 PM: Oh, no! No wonder. Take care of yourself.

I appreciate the sentiment. Right now I can’t eat or drink much of anything.

Wed. April 19, 8:35 PM: I am praying for your full healing. Heart attack plus pneumonia equals out of commission for a while, my friend. May the Lord bring some blessing out of your convalescence, even though convalescence itself is hardly ever a blessing.

Thanks. You are a true friend and a brother.


Thurs., April 20 4:46 PM: Went to see cardiologist today. Definitely pneumonia. On antibiotics. Much better today. Left anterior artery of my heart suddenly occluded, without warning. Even though I have *never* had high cholesterol, plaque can build up like a cyst on the top of the artery wall. The doctor said it can suddenly irrupt, then the blood platelets get stuck to it and the artery closes up almost immediately. You have no warning. That’s how top fitness people can suddenly die of heart attacks. The first warning you get is when you have a heart attack.

For what is your life? it is just a mist…I am thankful that things have turned around. Your experiences actually motivated me to start exercising again. There are risks in everything, but the risks of doing nothing are greater than the risks of trying to get in better health.

Thanks. These are the resolutions I sent to my daughter: “I feel like I have had a slap-down attention getter. It got my attention. I need to make many changes, beginning with diet (*every* doctor has said Mediterranean diet, yum). I am going to cardiac rehab in a couple of weeks, and also will make appointments with a wellness/nutritionist/fitness specialist for long term coaching. And third, I must find ways to refuse to allow the demands of my profession to override or supersede time with family, friends, and faith community. Faith, family, and friends: they will all be around after the work is gone. As a nurse told me this week, “Don’t ever let a disaster go by un-seized.”

Thurs., April 20, 9:32 PM: You are saying all the things that I will wish I had done if God forbid I should follow in your footsteps. Am I wise enough to learn from another’s experience?


This brief exchange was meaningful to me in the days following the heart attack and pneumonia.

A couple of months later, I have almost completed cardio rehab, went to a nutritionist, and have lost 20 pounds. The most important lesson, however, is the graphic reminder of mortality and the tenuous nature of life in the world.

In light of the reality of death, how should we live? Or better, in light of the reality of death, how should we practice our faith?


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Austin Graduate School of Theology is an Austin seminary offering B.A. and M.A. ministry degrees, and Austin Grad is accredited by the same agency that accredits Abilene Christian University, Baylor University, Southern Methodist University, Texas A&M University, Texas State University, The University of Texas, and others.  Austin Grad — one of the top Christian colleges in Texas and among the top seminaries in Texas — is affiliated with the Church of Christ and is in conversation with all who confess Jesus as Lord. Austin Grad promotes faith seeking understanding and is committed to providing a high quality education for those who desire to be equipped to expand the Kingdom of God.

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