A Heart Beats the Odds
By Wesley F. Brown D’76

Photo by Jim Wallace/Duke Photography
Wes Brown working out at the Duke Center for Living
Wes Brown working out at the
Duke Center for Living

I died twice on Maundy Thursday, April 9, 2009, after suffering a major heart attack. Although I was over-weight and not inclined to exercise, neither my blood pressure nor my cholesterol had ever been above normal. Just six months earlier, I had passed a stress test with flying colors.

The day developed with no warning of what was to come. I enjoyed a routine day at the office, then came home and mowed the yard. After a shower, I felt increasing discomfort, though not pain, with what I first thought was indigestion. The “indigestion” quickly evolved into tightness in my chest, shortness of breath, and a cold sweat. My wife was not at home, and I had a growing sense that something was seriously wrong. I felt oddly unable to move from my favorite chair. My cell phone was within reach so I decided, against all odds and thanks entirely to God’s inspiration, to dial 911.

Within 10 minutes, an ambulance arrived. While emergency medical technicians were assessing my condition, I passed out. As I would later learn, a clot had completely blocked my proximal left anterior descending coronary artery, and subsequent ventricular fibrillation resulted in cardiac arrest. This heart attack was the notorious “widow maker” that has meant sudden death for too many.

The EMTs shocked my heart back to life twice before I was stable enough to be moved to Duke University Medical Center. Though I have no memory of any of this, I know that I was rushed into surgery for heart catheterization and the placement of an arterial stent. I understand now that prompt treatment is critical with cardiac arrest. This attack could have happened anytime and anywhere with a very different outcome.

Expert health care and good insurance are huge advantages. My long and very expensive stay at Duke included three memorable days in cardiac intensive care (simultaneously connected to five different tubes) followed by nine days in the telemetry unit. Doctors also implanted a cardioverter defibrillator — a remarkable piece of technology, though it doesn’t download music — in case my heart acts up with further arrhythmias. I enjoyed consistently excellent and compassionate professional care at every turn. While visitation was restricted, I still had plenty of company and the room was literally filled with flowers and get-well cards.

Timing (kairos— God’s time) is everything. On Easter Sunday morning, my father, James C.P. Brown D’51, and stepmother joined me in ICU (with rotations of other family waiting for their visit). Together we shared the broadcast from Duke Chapel of Sam Wells’s thoughtful sermon and the powerful performance by the choir, soloists, brass, and tympani of the finale from Gustav Mahler’s “Resurrection” symphony.

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