Sacred Heart Attack 2: Rehab – Chapter 9 – “What about all of that running?”

It was about two and a half weeks after my heart attack that I was talking to Lauren, RN with United Healthcare, about what had happened and how my recovery was going. The conversation was a bit of an odd experience. If you ever have a major illness or medical emergency, these days, a nurse from your insurance company will likely call you to see how you are doing and to offer suggestions. In my case, it was a welcomed voice in the midst of a rather quiet time of not doing anything, but waiting for my body to get stronger. {Of course, I was reading a bit and I had started journaling the events of Montreal that would eventually become my book Sacred Heart Attack.}

At some point in our conversation, I told RN Lauren about all of the running I had done over the last five years and being fairly active all of my life. She said that it was probably my running and the strength of my heart and lungs that allowed me to come through the heart attack. “Otherwise, you might not have survived,” she said.

I had heard some similar words from a nurse at Sacred Heart Hospital in Montreal. This reminded me of the fragility of life.

It was around this same time that I was talking to one of my good friends who had just seen an email from me regarding my experience of a heart attack. Milton had just found the email when he was looking through his junk mail folder before deleting the unwanted missives. I had sent him the email a couple of weeks earlier and he was traveling out of the country at that time, but when he saw my email he immediately sent me a text message. Then he called me on the phone to talk.

After I told Milton what had happened, he shared how he had just a few days earlier been in an ambulance with his brother-in-law who was having a heart attack as a result of blockage in the same artery where mine occurred. He said that unfortunately his brother-in-law didn’t make it. “Jimmy, if you had 100% blockage of your ‘widowmaker’ artery, you are unusually blessed, brother,” he said. “God must have something else for you to do.”

Milton’s words have rung in my ear for many days. As have the stories I’ve heard many times upon sharing my experience.

There’s always a decision I had to make during the first few weeks and months when I would see someone I hadn’t seen since January 9th. Do I mention my heart attack or not? Especially when someone asked, “So, what’s new?” or “How have you been?”

Because I knew that my story, however brief, would lead to more questions or a story from the other person’s life. Whether someone shared about their personal heart event or someone they knew, they would feel compelled to share a story, Sometimes the story was happy and sometimes sad, but ultimately my story would become connected to theirs.

I’ll talk about this more in future chapters, but one of the things that seems to be important is sharing my stories publicly through my website and books. Not that God has made my life as a writer easier or the decisions on publishing simpler. And that’s been frustrating! I remember when I was a young Christian thinking that since God probably wanted me to have a platform for sharing my faith and being successful would provide that opportunity, it will probably be easier for me to be successful. Obviously, I had a me-centered theology at that point. In fact, it’s pretty much the opposite for most of us. But what has changed is my willingness to take risks. I have an internal conviction that publishing is something I’m called to and must do. Having survived the worst-case scenario, gives me courage as long as I can lean into that place on a consistent basis. The tendency is to feel better and better until I forget that I almost died and begin to live in the fears and anxieties of “normal.”

Before I close this chapter, I’m happy to encourage folks to run, walk, and exercise because while we may not be able to change our DNA or genome codes, we can change our weight and the strength of our lungs and heart. So, if you believe that coronary heart disease may be in your future, eat less and walk more, my friend!

Cardiac Rehab: Chapter 7 – Chicken, Chili and Cornbread

I love receiving freshly cooked meals delivered to our door. It makes being under the weather just a bit easier to bear. And the visits with some of our closest friends during January and February made the food taste just that much better.

Food-Wine-3         Most folks had a few minutes to visit and usually started off by saying, “You look good. How do you feel?”

Remember: It’s hard for me to give a short answer. “I feel good, a bit tired, but happy to be home,” I said. “I find it hard to believe that I actually had a major heart attack,” I explained.

I remember a conversation with Dan and Debbie Gyger. They are some of our longtime friends through our church. Dan is an elder and residential contractor and had recently remodeled our kitchen, dining and living rooms. Debbie is an accomplished nurse and grew up in Brazil as part of a missionary family. They have three daughters and brought us some amazing tortilla soup and salad.

Jenny was not home from school yet, so I sat and talked with Dan and Deb. Being a nurse, Deb had pretty specific questions about where the blockage had been and what the doctors did. She instantly picked up on the seriousness of having a one-hundred percent blocked left anterior descending artery was and how close to death I had been. They were both very serious in their comments and thankfulness to God on my behalf. Dan prayed for Jenny, our family and me before they left.

I coughed through most of the conversation as I was still feeling the effects of my allergic reaction to Benazepril. Even though the cough was the result of a chemical reaction, it was like most every cough that took on a mind of its own whenever the air flowed through my throat. It was uncontrollable. So, the best way to quiet it was to close my mouth and calm myself. Of course, the cough made my visitors uncomfortable as they were thinking that they didn’t want to make things worse for me. Consequently, they didn’t want to linger and make me have to talk to them.

The gifts of food and the visits of friends was another example of how suffering is a catalyst for community. If we are willing to share our weakness and fragility with others, folks are eager to come to our aid. My friends Jean Vanier and Curt Armstrong of L’Arche have pointed this out many times. Namely, we should be more trusting of the human heart. As we trust and allow others to share in our weakness, we bring out the glory and essence of our brothers and sisters who have been made in the image of God. I found this to be true as friends shared their good food and acts of kindness with us in our time of need.

Chapter 4 – Slow Motion: January 17, 2013

On Thursday, Jenny went back to work as a special education teacher at Tucker Middle School in Tucker, GA, an Atlanta suburb northeast of the city. It was her first day back at school after traveling to Montreal and bringing me back home. She wasn’t looking forward to the attention, but was happy to get it over with on Thursday even though she’d be staying home on Friday to take me to the cardiologist appointment. I wasn’t cleared to drive yet and Jenny wanted to understand more of what had happened and what we could do to prevent another heart attack.

One of our longtime friends and member of our church had already begun scheduling a meal to be prepared and delivered for us every other day. And she – Cindy Terrell – brought the first one the after we had returned from Canada. This would become a tremendous help to us as most folks would bring enough for more than one meal and there was just the two of us. Also, it allowed me to slowly re-connect with many families from our church and neighborhood. Cindy had planned meals for about the next four weeks which coincided with my orders to not work for the 30 days.

As friends would drop off a meal I would replay the events of early January in a linear fashion. Beginning with the question, “Why were you in Montreal?”

And the explanation and Q and A went on for a few minutes until my cough began to interrupt our conversation too severely.

For the first couple of days everything was in slow motion. I had a bit of soreness from the whole experience of the procedures and sleeping in five different beds in a five-day span. Truthfully, I would be in slow motion for a few weeks! And mentally and emotionally I was trying to get my bearings and figure out what all of this meant and how my life was going to change.

Spiritually, I was grateful and I had a growing appreciation for God’s protection and life-preserving love that had given me a thumbs-up as my heart attack had played out before him.



Chapter 3 — In Search of a Cardiologist

I’m not sure how many hours I slept last night, but I was eager to get up and get started in finding a cardiologist. Jenny and I both made calls to Emory Clinic doctors. I called Dr. Donald Davis, my internist and primary care physician, to let him know about my surprise heart attack and to ask him for a recommendation to a cardiologist. His nurse responded with a “glad you’re okay” and no particular recommendation, but a blanket recommendation of any of the Emory cardiologists.

Jenny talked to her cardiologist who said that he could see me next week. I held out for someone to see me this week. So, we contacted the general cardiology department at Emory and were offered an appointment for Friday with Dr. Wissam Jaber at Emory Midtown which used to be Crawford Long Hospital. We took it and continued doing research. My friend Joe Hope had touched base with me and had said that his neighbor was a cardiologist at another hospital and he could ask him for a favor if I wanted. Ultimately, I declined in favor of staying in the Emory system for this initial visit and then we’d decide about ongoing care.

That would turn out to be the right decision for a surprising number of reasons. Dr. Jaber went to med school at American University in Beirut, Lebanon and then had residency at Duke University Medical Center and The Mayo Clinic. He was fairly new to Emory Healthcare and I would come to know – fluent in French. So, at our first appointment on Friday he could read that summary notes that my Dr. Guy Lalonde, my Montreal cardiologist, had written in English as well as all of the notes and write ups from other members of the medical team that were written in French. This was truly evidence of God’s sovereignty in our daily lives and a significant encouragement to me in my desire to begin understanding the sacredness of my journey toward rehab and improvement.

In the midst of a growing realization that “yes” in the largest sense I was “OK”, but that I was forever changed and my body could fail me, the signs of God’s love and care were often like flashing lights on a roadside barricade reminding me that he was still aware of my journey. This was comforting to know as my cough and sleeplessness would persist.

Signed copies of Heart Journey and Sacred Heart Attack available for purchase

While I’m working on a process for online ordering for signed copies of my two books, you can email me to order a signed copy.



A softcover version of Sacred Heart Attack signed by the author and mailed to you in the USA is $14.00 per copy. The hardcover version with dustcover and autographed by the author, mailed via USPS to you in the USA is $28.00. Email me at jimmy(at) for ordering information.



The prices are slightly higher for Heart Journey as the mailing costs are higher because the book is larger and heavier. So, the softcover is $15.00 and includes personalized signing by the author and mailed to you via USPS in the USA. The hardcover is $29.00 and is also signed and shipped via USPS. The hardcover is a glossy full-color finished book with no dustcover. This was designed as a devotional book you can write your own reflections in for future use. Again, just email me at jimmy(at) to learn how you can purchase your signed copy.

Of course, you can always order both books in multiple formats, including ebooks, from or or or your favorite book selling website.

Be inspired and share your story!

Q. & A. with Heart Attack Survivor & Author – October 24th!


Q. & A. with Heart Attack Survivor, Author of

Sacred Heart Attack and Intown Community Church Elder – Jimmy Locklear

Book signing and short workshop on the value of writing your story for healing and wholeness. And what’s the value of journaling? Also, an introduction to Jimmy’s latest book Heart Journey: Following Jesus to the Heart of God, including 30 studies in the Gospel of St. Matthew. An intro journal will be given to everyone who purchases a book. $1 for each book purchased that night donated to Intown’s Deacon Fund.  (Price of books $11.95 each)   Event: Thursday Oct. 24 7:00–8:30 PM

Intown Community Church • 2059 Lavista Road • Atlanta, GA 30329 [Room 302/304]

Sacred Heart Attack available through online booksellers

SKU-000658085_COVEROn July 25th, I received the first soft cover copy of Sacred Heart Attack! This is the printer’s proof to make sure that all the pages are straight and the colors are correct. And it looked and felt great! I let the printer know on Friday that it had my approval and requested additional copies. The hard cover version takes a few more days to set up, print and bind and I’m still waiting for the first copy. I expect it by the end of the week.–sacre-crise-cardiaque.aspx

You may have seen our book on the Amazon, WestBow or Barnes & Noble websites for a couple of weeks. Apparently this is commonplace to post the book before actual copies are available. And today, I noticed that Amazon had added the Kindle version is available. I quickly downloaded it to see how it looked. Awesome! Those of you who requested the ebook premium for your pledge of support, I hope to be able to send you the info on your free download shortly, too.

So, we’re just waiting for delivering of everything and then I’ll be signing and delivering to you in person or via mail ASAP.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of my hopes is that my story will inspire others to share their stories and experience freedom, healing, creative empowerment or some other food for their souls. I’m hoping to take this idea a step further and use some other resources like Dan Allender’s “To Be Told” in a workshop, seminar and small group setting to encourage a process of writing your story so that you can be guided by it in the future.

Just wanted to let you know how the publishing process was progressing. It’s moved a bit faster than I had expected, so, we should have books to you by the end of August. Which is earlier than my promised September timeframe.

I’ll leave you with a couple of lines from Chapter 4 to show how sharing our stories can bring healing: “I suppose it was no surprise that everyone was shocked by the news. Since I was hundreds of miles away, we (Jenny and I) had made the decision to temporarily underplay the severity of the heart attack by not going into a lot of detail. And since I was sounding pretty good on the phone—I guess I still had some adrenaline in my system—it was easy to pull off. But from time to time, the medical staff and Curt would remind me of the reality and gravity of my situation to keep my feet on the ground.”

Talk to you soon,


Chapter 13: To Discharge or Not to Discharge?

The discharge instructions and discussions were pretty straightforward. A pharmacist from the hospital and a student pharmacist who had been part of the resident doctors group that had followed my case came by to give me a prescription list. Included on the list were the medicines I had taken while in the hospital and which ones I would now be continuing or ceasing to take after my release.

At some point, a nurse stopped in and removed all the remaining I-V cannulas from my arms and hands; and the heart monitoring contacts or leads from my stomach, chest and shoulders. That felt good.

Dr. Lalonde came by to see how I had done over the weekend. He listened to my heart and lungs and they sounded good. Although my “numbers” looked good, he was concerned that I didn’t seem to be feeling well. First, I thought, “Wow, this guy is pretty perceptive and a damn good doctor.” Next I started worrying that he wasn’t going to let me go home tomorrow.

As we talked, I agreed that I wasn’t feeling as good as I had been on Friday and Saturday, but it was primarily due to my not having a good night’s sleep since leaving my CCU bed late Saturday evening. I told him I was feeling a bit tired and anxious, but that I expected to get a good night’s sleep tonight at the hotel and be ready to fly home the next day. Dr. Lalonde agreed that the hospital is not the best place to convalesce.

So, somewhat reluctantly, Lalonde wrote the letter giving me permission to fly to Atlanta on Tuesday. Jenny and I assured him that we would not do something carelessly and we would change our plans if I didn’t feel well. Little did I know that those promises would be called into question several times during the next 16 hours.

The hospital provided quite a cache of records and documents. So, after gathering up the official envelopes, DVDs, and permission letter, we pretty unceremoniously packed up and walked out. We said good-bye and thank you to anyone who made eye contact. There was no wheelchair and no escort!

So, here was Jenny, Jameson, Gus and I, and our first task was making the long walk to the entrance/exit of the hospital. Even though folks had told me, I had no idea what a huge operation this hospital was. There were steady streams of people entering and exiting the facility.


Why I write: An Unexpected Story

There are lots of reasons that I write. One of the foundational reasons is that it seems to be what allows me to share my heart with God. Often, the words flow from my heart to my hand to the heart of God. I feel a closeness to my Creator when I am expressing my thoughts and feelings through written or typed phrases and sentences. I’ve recently written an article for the L’Arche Atlanta Spring Newsletter that shows the importance of sharing our stories with others. Here’s the story I shared:


Rimas, Jimmy, Martynas, Jed & Jenny

An Unexpected Story

We were only together for three days, but we shared many profound moments. And it is a stretch to share such deep heart connections that our family made with Rimas and Martynas during the home visit weekend prior to the L’Arche International Assembly held in Atlanta in June of 2012. But, I’ll give it a try.

Rimas is the community director for L’Arche in Vilnius, Lithuania that is called Betzatos Bendruomene which means Bethesda Community commemorating the healing that Jesus did in the pool called Bethesda in Jerusalem. Martynas was the founding core member of the community and is an accomplished artist. Rimas was a Franciscan Brother for five years before God called him into business and he is now married with three children. We made our initial introductions via Skype a few days before their arrival in Atlanta.

We had a wonderful time from the start, enjoying cooking out, sharing experiences and stories of how we became involved with L’Arche. Martynas had a short list of sites he wanted to see and things he wanted to do, so, Saturday was a long and full day. After a hearty breakfast of waffles, bacon, and fruit, we were off to explore downtown Atlanta. Martynas wanted to buy a Coca-Cola from the World of Coke and we stopped off at Centennial Olympic Park and I explained the various neighborhoods, businesses and sports venues along the way.

We swung back by our home in the Oak Grove neighborhood and ate some lunch. I had bought a loaf of black rye bread which is a Lithuanian staple and we ate it at every meal. Then, my 22-year-old son Jed, Martynas, Rimas and I were off to Stone Mtn. to go hiking. Since it wasn’t too hot, we decided to hike up the mountain. Everyone survived and enjoyed the perspective from the top of the largest granite outcropping in the world.

Back at our house, we enjoyed cooking and eating outside and talking about our day. All along the way, we talked about life in our respective countries. Rimas spoke good conversational English, and although Martynas was fairly limited, he did not hesitate to ask Rimas to translate his questions for us. Shortly after dinner, Martynas, who requires a bit more sleep than we did, was off to bed. Our son Jed retired around 10:00 PM. So, it was my wife Jenny, Rimas and I who were talking at our dining room table. Jenny was enjoying a glass of wine, Rimas was sampling some of our fine local craft beer and I was drinking Lithuania’s oldest and noblest drink – mead – that Rimas had brought as a gift for us.

I was asking Rimas about his parents and his home life growing up. I had no idea of the power of the story he was about to tell. Rimas said that when his mother was five years old she and her twin sister were shipped to Siberia. Over one million Lithuanians (one-third of it’s 1940 population) were lost during World War II during Nazi and Soviet occupations through deportations, executions, incarceration and forced emigration. Over 150,000 were taken from their homeland and forced to go to Siberia, the Arctic Circle or central Asia by the communist government of Josef Stalin. Separated from her parents, after a four-week trip in a boxcar built for animals the five-year-old girl was forced off the train in Siberia and told to fend for herself. I was shocked as my friend shared such a painful story. I tried to imagine how a five-year-old would feel. He went on to say that after five years of that Siberian exile, she was able to escape and sneak on to a passenger train and spend two-weeks traveling the 4,500 kilometers back to her country. She made contact with an uncle and eventually made it to her uncle’s home where she was raised. Her twin sister stayed for a few years more in Siberia before being able to return to Lithuania. Approximately 30,000 died in Siberia due to starvation and slave work and another 50,000 were never able to return to Lithuania.

Rimas said that his father also had a similar experience and his parents met after they had returned to Lithuania. One of the challenges in 21st Century Lithuania is teaching the next generation about the pain and suffering of the past. Because life is so good now, there is a tendency to forget the past or not be aware of the price paid by previous generations. He said that he has told these stories to his own children and that there is a movement in Lithuania to share stories from 75 years ago.

As we talked, I was reminded that there is a story in each of us. And that it is in the sharing of our stories that we are changed and made more whole. The visit of Rimas and Martynas has now become a part of my family’s story. What’s your story? Won’t you share it with us!


Making Our Lives Available to Others

One of the arguments we often use for not writing is this:   “I have nothing original to say.  Whatever I might say, someone else has already said it, and better than I will ever be able to.”  This, however, is not a good argument for not writing.  Each human person is unique and original, and nobody has lived what we have lived.  Furthermore, what we have lived, we have lived not just for ourselves but for others as well.  Writing can be a very creative and invigorating way to make our lives available to ourselves and to others.

We have to trust that our stories deserve to be told.  We may discover that the better we tell our stories the better we will want to live them. ~ Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey.

Chapter 11: Cardiac Choices & Perspectives

In my new room, there was a Greek-born gentleman who had lived most of his life in North Montreal. He speaks three languages and was very helpful and friendly to me. He was in the hospital to get a new defibrillator put into his chest. He had suffered a heart attack about eight years ago. He said that it was a Friday evening and he wasn’t feeling well, so, he told the staff at one of the restaurants that he owned that he was going home early. He drove himself home took a shower, which he said “you’re not suppose to do,” and told his wife he thought he might be having a heart attack. She drove him to Sacred Heart Hospital and shortly he had open-heart surgery. He and his wife raved about this hospital and the great medical staff here. And they were generous in offering to help me in any way.

A pragmatic man, my new friend said that he had been offered an opportunity to be put on the list for a transplant, but he turned it down. To him, it seemed too risky and painful a process to go through. He said that heart-transplant patients are miserable for a year with lots of pain and discomfort just to add a couple of years to your life. He wasn’t interested. Now, he was quick to add that his wife and daughter had shared a different perspective, but so far he had won the argument. He is 68 and a successful restaurateur. He said that his family would be fine.

As you might imagine, his perspective raised some questions in my mind. I could see where he was coming from. On more than one occasion, I had been critical of terminally ill patients who had spend more money than their families would ever have to extend life for a short amount of time. It seemed to me to be a selfish attitude on the patient’s part or a fear-based or guilt-based posture for the family to take.

On Monday morning, he and I were talking and I asked him if he believed in heaven. With no hesitation he said, “No.” He thought that once you died that was it. There was a big nothing at that point. He was content that he had lived a full, good life and taken care of his children and grandchildren.

He subsequently “went off” for some time on the political nature of the Pope and the Apostle Paul. He said that Paul was a big time opportunist who saw an opening for political gain and went for it. The fact that much of the New Testament was written by a guy who was late to the party seemed very suspicious to him.

Our own intelligence, reasoning and beliefs about what God should be like often form a barrier to true faith. We are often looking at ways to prove ourselves smarter than God.

I hadn’t slept well the night before or the night before that. In fact, I was beginning to be anxious about leaving the hospital for my recuperation period. Along with the discomfort of changing beds and rooms and the increased noise of not being in a private CCU room, my slower breathing and heart rate created some anxiety and I felt like I was going to stop breathing if I went to sleep. That’ll definitely keep you awake! It would later become apparent that I still had some fluid in my lungs that was hindering my breathing.