Preparing To Die; Planning To Live
Copyright 2003 Bruce S. Herwig
If you knew you might die tomorrow; what would you do today?
The week before my open-heart surgery was very difficult for me. I was anxious and fearful. Is it any wonder? Think about all the things that could go wrong. I had to fight back so many negative thoughts.
I felt so healthy. Was my Mitral valve really that bad? Did I really need open-heart surgery? Could I put it off? Should I put it off? These and hundreds of more unanswered questions raced through my mind. The verse “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV), was a great comfort to me during this time! I needed to concentrate on the thanksgiving part! It is hard to be “down” when you are being thankful.
I was confident Dr. Razouk was the best doctor for my open heart surgery. I needed to thank God for being born at a time when such surgeries were routine. My surgery was a wonder of modern medicine. Can you imagine that cutting open my skin and chest sternum bone, then stopping my heart; then cutting my arteries in two: then by-passing the blood to my heart by attaching the cut arteries to a mechanical pump that oxygenates and pumps it throughout my body while my heart is stopped; then cutting open the left ventricle of my heart; then sewing in a prosthesis ring so both halves of my Mitral valve would touch; then repairing my Mitral valve that is only the size of half a dime with many tiny stitches; then reattaching my arteries so blood could flow to my newly sewed up heart; then messaging my heart so it would start beating again and then sewing me together again, is routine? Amazing! What a great time to be alive in southern California!
I attempted to get my affairs in order. I got out my Will and life insurance policies and tried to organize my investments in such a way that my wife, Carol, could understand them. Personally I tried to get everything right with my Maker. This was a very emotional time for me. I really had not yet accepted what was about to happen. I hoped for a reprieve, but none was to come.
All my thoughts and emotions came together the Saturday before my surgery. I realized that I had been preparing to die, not planning to live. That day I decided that I needed to plan to live. I went to Home Depot and purchased vegetable seedlings and seeds. I was going to plant a garden that I could harvest after my surgery. When I finished planting the garden, I looked at the freshly planted rows of vegetables and thanked God for allowing me to be around to harvest them. That was the turning point. I no longer was afraid. I was ready to be with Jesus if He wanted me, and I was ready to continue to live and serve Him if that was His will. It was His choice; I was ready either way.
I finished a mile and half walk with my dog, Shilo, at midnight on March 14, 2000. In five hours I would be leaving for surgery. When I came to bed, I still felt so good. I was certain that I was going to be the healthiest person in that hospital cardiac surgery room.
After praying with and saying goodbye to Carol, my wonderful, wise and godly wife of 32 years, I was prepped for surgery. A nurse told me that she would give me something to calm me down. I told her that I was not anxious and that I was at peace with my Lord and the world. Those were the last words that I remember hearing until eight hours later when I heard Dr. Razouk say, “Good news, Mr. Herwig. I was able to repair your valve.” I felt nothing during the surgery and remember nothing about it. It still doesn't seem possible.
Dr. Razouk informed me that my regurgitation had actually been 95%, thus assuring my record in the medical journals. I HAD BEEN LIVING A FULL ACTIVE LIFE WITH ONLY 5% OF MY BLOOD FLOWING THROUGH MY ARTERIES. AMAZING! He told me that he had cut out the area of my Mitral valve that had the broken cords and had made over 40 stitches on this half-dime size part of my valve. He had also sewn a prosthesis ring around the outside of my valve that reduced the size of the opening so now the two valve halves could touch each other and work properly.
He told me that an Echo-cardiogram was taken of my repaired valve after my heart was restarted and before I was sewn together, to make sure that the repaired Mitral valve was performing correctly. He was pleased that there was less than 10% regurgitation. I learned later that the Echo-cardiogram actually revealed that there was zero% regurgitation. Dr. Bansal the head Echo cardiologist said that this was the first time that a perfect Mitral valve repair had been performed at Loma Linda Medical Center. Later, in appreciation, I gave Dr. Razouk a report card that I made for him where he received an A+ for my Mitral valve repair.
Because I had no symptoms prior to the surgery, I recovered quickly and was released from the hospital in only two days. There was a lot of pain; but as long as I didn't sneeze, I could handle it. I was back at work part time in
One year later I finally was given that stress Echo-cardiogram that I was unable to take before my valve repair. Another strange thing happened during this test. I was asked to run on a treadmill until my heart rate reached 165 beats per minute. After walking and then running ten minutes at the steepest and fastest pace on the treadmill, my heart would not beat faster than 130 beats per minute. The doctor administering the test called in another doctor for counsel, and after talking, they had me stop and completed the stress Echo-cardiogram with my heart only at 130 beats per minute. They said that they had never tested a person who was not a long distance runner whose heart would not beat at over 130 beats per minute. I never ran or jogged. I only walked at a brisk 16 to 18 minute mile pace. The two doctors had no explanation how I could run for ten minutes and still have such a low heart rate. They said that my treadmill test qualified me to be in the top 5% of 35 year old men. This had to be another God thing! The exact same result occurred 2007 when I took another stress Echo test. My heart still would not get above 130 beats per minute. This time the doctor made me run 12 minutes before giving up.
My Mitral valve and heart continue to perform well. My blood is flowing so efficiently that my face has become so pink that my granddaughter often asks me why I am so red all the time. I tell her because I have so much blood flowing through my body.
I still lead a very active life. I continue to serve my Lord, and I never forget that my days have been lengthened by His grace towards me. These post Mitral valve years have given me an opportunity to get my investments in much better order, and He has given me direction as to how I am to use these investments for His glory. In addition, I have enjoyed the birth of seven more grandchildren, making a total of nine. My athletic abilities have not been affected. I still walk 1-2 miles several days a week and enjoy a very active life.
I pray my remaining years will be ones where I am a blessing to my wife and family and to those I come in contact with. I want to reflect our Lord’s character and be His faithful servant until I am called to be with our Lord for eternity.
P.S. Ten years later on January 3, 2011, I went in for my 10 year stress echo treadmill heart test. By this time, I had increased my walking to average five miles a day. The doctor who evaluated the results was surprised and astounded with the results and had no medical explanation for the following amazing results: 1) I performed 30% better than the top 1% of my age group on the tread mill. 2) My formerly enlarged heart was now in the middle of the normal size heart range. 3) My lifetime of Mitral valve leaking should have made my heart muscle very thick and stiff. The expansion and contraction of my heart should have been near the low range of 25. Instead, it was 60, well past the excellent range of 50. 4) The 2011 medical test equipment used to measure Mitral valve leakage was 10 times more sensitive and accurate then the equipment used in 2000 after my valve repair. Then the results showed 0% leakage. Now with this new 2011 test equipment, and with me 10 years older, my Mitral valve leakage still measured an amazing 0%.
This doctor was so excited. His only explanation was that Dr. Razouk had performed the most amazing Mitral valve repair that he could ever imagine and possibly had ever been performed. I assured him that Dr. Razouk's was indeed the best. His superior skills had been used by God to perform this amazing valve repair. As he repaired my valve, he had been bathed in many, many prayers of Christians. The doctor left me with these words. “If I were you, I would call Dr. Razouk and thank him for his excellent work". I agreed with him to do that...and to continually thank God for his great mercy and grace to me.
POINTS TO PONDER: What would you do differently than you currently do if you knew you would die in a short while? What would you do to plan to live? Are you prepared to die?
ACTION POINTS: Is there any sin in your life that you need to confess to our Lord and ask His forgiveness? If there is, get on your knees and do it now! If you have offended anyone or anyone has offended you, as soon as possible go or call or write that person and make it right. One of Satan’s greatest lies is that there is plenty of time to get right with God and man. Do not be fooled with this lie. Most of us will not have a warning of when we will die. We need to continually be in fellowship with God and man.
SCRIPTURE: "If we confess our sins, He (Jesus) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sin and purify us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9 (NIV)
"If it is at all possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." Romans 12:18 (NIV)