Heart Surgery: Dodging the Widowmaker
A number of months ago my spiritual director insisted, under obedience, that I get back into an exercise habit. In her wisdom, I suspect, she knew that I would never skip my Liturgy of the Hours routine so she asked me to do this portion of my prayer while on the elliptical machine ensuring I also made physical exercise a daily habit. I reluctantly obeyed and have been faithful to the Holy Spirit’s prayercercise edict for some time.
Several months later (this past week) as I began to increase the intensity of my workouts, I experienced severe chest pain. I didn’t believe it was my heart because my family history, eating habits, and lifestyle just don’t lend themselves to this kind of problem. That said, the pain was intense and so we went to the emergency room.
Four tests later there was no sign of abnormalities. Still, my doctor wanted me to have a stress test. I almost cancelled the appointment but decided that it would be best to eliminate my heart as the issue and focus elsewhere.
The stress test was very painful and revealed an abnormality that set off a rapid chain of events.
My general doctor, with masked intensity, immediately walked me to the person who would get me setup with the cardiologist that same day. The next morning I was in surgery. What the surgeon discovered was a big surprise to me. He introduced me to the term “Widowmaker.”
The term refers to the left main coronary artery and is so named because if the artery gets abruptly and completely occluded it will cause a massive heart attack that will likely lead to sudden death. Even a small amount of plaque in this area can cause death.
I was shocked to discover that my left main artery (the widowmaker) was 99% blocked.
The good news is that because of the Holy Spirit’s leading through my spiritual director and good medical care, I am in good condition for recovery. I still have one other lower risk blockage that will require another surgery in a few months.
Many have asked me things like “What will change about your life now?” or, “If you would have known you were likely to die, would you have done anything differently in your life?” These are questions worthy of consideration at a time like this.
The Holy Spirit had already prompted me to greater balance and this event has been like an exclamation point at the end of a sentence that was already embedded in my soul. I had already decided to reduce speaking engagements and to slow my pace and this series of events just prompted me to begin a little sooner.
I guess my responsibilities at EWTN, SpiritualDirection.com and the Avila Institute are significant and could look stressful to others but frankly, the predominant state of my soul is one of profound peace. In spite of working very long hours, my prayer, sacramental, and family life are all very
Even so, I do feel like this was a painful gift from God to reaffirm that He desires me to be more prudent about how I spend my time. My key shift in thinking is that though much of my workload has come through saying “yes” to God, I have erred in taking it too much of it on myself.
Fundamentally, I need to embrace the humility of asking for help. I have a tendency to be frugal when it comes to helping myself and generous when it comes to helping others. I also have a pride problem that always seeks to push harder and faster than God desires. These factors have resulted in an imbalance that can, and will, be remedied by His grace. However, other than the leading of the Holy Spirit in this event, my heart condition has not emerged out of stress, but genetics, and more importantly, through providence.
In the end, since this all started, I have seen all of this as a great gift from God. He is talking and I am listening. What do I hear Him saying to me? I hear a call to balance, to seeking help, to leaning more on friends, to choosing to do less, to allowing the victory and the progress to be clearly rooted in God’s work and not mine.
Another aspect of this great gift was to hear of your love and care for me. It is one thing to get a small number of well wishes in any difficult situation, it is another to get hundreds and hundreds on top of all the masses said and offered up for me and my family. Coming from a childhood where authentic and healthy love was often in short supply, I find it hard to accept it when it comes my way. You all made it very hard to ignore this time. God has allowed His love through you to penetrate the thick protective layer over my broken heart. Tears come as I write this. I am grateful for you. I can’t thank you enough.
Please continue to keep me in your prayers as the battle is not over yet. Thank you again for your personal, spiritual, and financial support. I do need you. I cannot – we cannot accomplish the incredible mission of advancing the life-changing truth of the Gospel of Jesus and the wisdom of the Church around the world without you.
Please know that I offered all of the prayer intentions you shared during my greatest discomfort. It was a uniquely transcendent and beautiful joy to do so. I really do understand what St. Catherine said when she revealed that the power of this kind of prayer does not come from us but is dramatically magnified by the grace of God to effect His will in our lives. Thank you for sharing your prayer requests with me. I consider it a profound privilege that God has allowed me to serve you in some small way.
Now with the widowmaker slain, we will continue to assault the gates of hell, and they will not prevail.
Yours in Christ,
PS: I have included a beautiful music video that reflects my recent journey and how I am feeling at the moment. I thought you might enjoy it (headphones recommended).
Art for this post on Heart Surgery – Dodging the Widowmaker: Diagram showing a heart attack (mycardial infarction), NIH: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, 26 March 2013, PD-US work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code; The Holy Family with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, Carlo Dolci, circa 1630, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less; both Wikimedia Commons. Feature Image: Detail of Angel of Death Victorious, Herman Matzen (1861-1938), 1924, photographed by Ian MacQueen, 27 October 2012, CC-SA 3.0 Unported, Wikimedia Commons. Photograph of hands and Hillsong United Oceans Video provided by Dan Burke.