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"The Heart That Brought Hope"
Ronnie Dew
Ronnie Dew
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"The Heart That Brought Hope"

Posted on Fri, Jul 4, 2008

Miracle man survives seven heart surgeries

Rachel Edwards

On a typical day in 1996, Ronnie Dew got up and went to work, not knowing that he would have a massive heart attack before the day was over. He worked through the morning and went to lunch with a friend. During lunch he noticed a pain had developed in his arm. He commented to his friend that he hoped it would stop hurting. By the time he returned to work and sat down, he began having difficulty breathing. He was soon taken to the hospital.

At the emergency room, they discovered he had suffered an angina attack, and they sent him to Wake Medical Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. At Wake they performed a heart catheterization and inserted a stent. Soon he was sent to recovery where he suffered a massive heart attack caused by a blood clot in the stent.

The family had waited all day to hear from the catheterization. Finally, the nurse came out and told Ronnie’s wife, Donna, that he had experienced a heart attack. The doctor could not say how he would progress. Fortunately, he made it through and was able to return home. After a few months, he was able to return to work as the superintendent of water and wastewater distributions for the City of Wilson, North Carolina, but his heart had been severely damaged.

He lived a few years without major problems until 2002 when he became ill and was sent back to Wake. They did another catheterization, but it did not help. Then the doctor gave Ronnie two options. If he did nothing, he would have a fatal heart attack within a couple of months. The other option was open heart surgery. If he had the surgery, he would have a 50/50 chance of survival. Ronnie felt that the surgery was his only option..

On the day of the surgery the family sat in the waiting area for five hours with no word from the doctors. Finally, a nurse came out and informed Donna that Ronnie had gone into ventricular tachycardia. With a drastically increased heart rate, it could mean sudden death for Ronnie. He had been shocked over 100 times to get his heart beating normally. After calling a Wake doctor, who happened to be in Greensboro, they moved Ronnie into Intensive Care. The rest was a “wait and see” situation. The surgeon sat by Ronnie’s bed all night.

The family continued to wait, and were eventually allowed to see Ronnie. Seeing their anguish, a stranger in the waiting area came and volunteered to pray with them. Ronnie still had a long way to go. “They didn’t sew me up for three days,” said Ronnie. “They kept me packed in ice.”

Eventually, Ronnie started to improve. When he was able, they implanted a dual pacemaker/defibrillator to control his heart, and then he was released to go home.

At home he was walking alone every day. One day, his friend, Bucky Robbins, came by and walked with Ronnie. “No one had ever come to walk with me before,” stated Ronnie, as he described his surprise. They walked through the field behind the church, and then it happened. “I stopped to take a drink of water,” Ronnie said. “I put the bottle back in my pocket, and the defibrillator went off, kicking like a mule. It knocked me flat of my back,” he exclaimed. Fortunately, his friend was there to go get help. The defibrillator would reset itself after four shocks and continue the shock cycle until the heart was back in rhythm or the patient received medical attention. This time Ronnie’s heart stabilized, but Donna took him back to Wake to be checked by his doctor.

Ronnie remained at home as the year passed. On Christmas Eve, he was expecting his family. He and his son were getting ready to cook a pig outside. He looked out the door and told his son, Scott, that it was time to light the grill. Then he sat down in his recliner. Just then, the defibrillator went off. “My son on the couch said it sounded like someone breaking sticks,” said Ronnie. The heart doctor had told Ronnie and his family that he would be available over the holidays if he were needed, so they called the rescue squad to take him to Wilson first. The doctor at Wake called Wilson and told them to send him on up there. God continued to be by his side on that ambulance ride. Every minute counted.

After spending Christmas in the hospital, Ronnie came home in January. Donna felt that her life was always in limbo, not ever wanting to leave Ronnie very long at a time for fear that he would need her.

Sure enough, in January, Ronnie had another attack. On his next visit to Wake Med, he was treated for congestive heart failure, a condition in which the heart is not working like it should. He returned home in five days, and the family began coming over to cook and take care of his daily needs. One day, he was taking a shower when the defibrillator went off again. “It went off about twelve times that time, and I passed out,”said Ronnie. As his sons were carrying him to the bed, they, too, were getting shocked. Ronnie was turning blue as he waited for the ambulance from EMS. His daughter-in-law said it was time to do CPR, but he regained consciousness. “I passed out on the way to Wilson,” Ronnie said, “and the Lord spoke to me and said, ‘Don’t worry. Everything will be all right. I’m going to be with you. When you get to a certain point, you will be able to open your eyes and see.’”

Ronnie later told his wife, Donna, about the Lord’s message. She did not know if the Lord meant her husband would be taken care of on Earth or in heaven.

As soon as possible, an ambulance was sent from Wake to pick Ronnie up. When he arrived, the ventricular tachycardia started again. The doctors soon planned to perform an ablation. The surgery lasted four to five hours. The procedure would burn out the scar tissue with nerve endings that caused the irregular heart rhythm.

After the ablation surgery, Ronnie’s condition worsened, and he was sent right back to surgery for six more hours. This time, the old defibrillator was removed, and a new and improved one was implanted. As prayers were answered, Ronnie was able to return home in about two and a half weeks. He spent most of his time in bed, but the new defibrillator helped the shocks to be less frequent.

By July of 2003, Ronnie was able to travel to Chapel Hill, North Carolina for an assessment for a candidacy for a heart transplant. His name was on the list for a transplant, but it could be a year or more before he could get a heart.

Back home, the church and other friends continued to pray for Ronnie. One friend gave him the book, The Purpose Driven Life, which was of great comfort to Ronnie and his family as he waited for a heart.

Ronnie was getting weaker, and on October 1, 2003, he checked back into the hospital. About six days later, his heart rhythm became irregular again. He was walking with a nurse down the hall when he fell to the floor. Shortly thereafter, two men from the church came to visit. God had sent them, just when they were needed the most. Donna had been told by a social worker that they might need to have a fundraiser because Ronnie might have to go on a heart machine. Ray Joyner, a fellow church member, had already approached her about cooking barbecue chickens for this purpose.

On October 16, things worsened. His rhythm was uncontrollable, and they rushed him into surgery for a balloon pump, which did not work. The doctors then talked to the family about a heart machine. With the support of the church, family, and friends, Ronnie was placed on the machine. “It was the size of a dishwasher,” Donna said. Later, Ronnie was the first patient at Chapel Hill to be switched to the portable version of the machine. Ronnie’s life was now dependent on this machine and God’s healing hand.

As Ronnie waited for his transplant, God provided a good place convenient to everything Donna needed while she was there. Their granddaughter, Samantha, who was now 2 1/2, came to visit her grandfather and walked him down the halls with his machine. When she saw the doctor, she asked him a direct question in her tiny voice. “Will you make my Pa well?” she asked. The doctor said it was a very tall order from a little girl, but he would do his best.

On November 11, 2003, Donna was called to come to the hospital around 12:30 in the morning. Ronnie’s new heart had arrived. She called the family, and they all prayed. “We were both shaking,” Donna said. “We smiled; we cried; and we prayed.”

About lunch the surgery was over. Ronnie was in ICU. The doctor said things were going as well as could be expected.

The next day, Ronnie had to go back to surgery because a blood clot had formed at the site where the defibrillator had been. He became incoherent from the trauma. Then, about five deacons from the church came there at one time. God was providing, once again.

Finally, Ronnie was able to leave ICU, but he had to have sitters. The family prayed every night with the sitters. Ronnie was not even aware of what was going on some of the time. Then he developed an infection. It was not clearing up. More surgery was required.

Since his chest was weak from all the surgeries, the doctors took out part of his sternum and two ribs. They made a muscle flap to close his chest. The doctors said the surgery was successful, but the recovery would be slow.

In four days, Ronnie began losing blood. He was moved back into ICU and given six units. The Lord was with him. Donna called her niece that morning and asked her to request prayer from the church. When the church prayed, the bleeding stopped, and Ronnie was removed from ICU. His mind, however, had been affected by the medication.

Donna was concerned about Ronnie’s confusion because their granddaughter was coming to visit on that Christmas Day. The Lord, once again, answered prayer. When Donna entered the room that morning, Ronnie’s mind was completely clear.

At last, on January 15, Ronnie went home. His doctors called him the “miracle man.” He was taking 53 pills and 6 shots daily when he came home. Today, he is on 23 pills and no shots.

In May, 2004 Ronnie developed a rare fungus infection that could have been fatal if it entered the brain. He went back to Chapel Hill where the doctors taught Donna how to administer an IV at home four hours a day for three weeks. When Ronnie was checked again, there was no infection.

It has been almost five years since Ronnie Dew’s heart transplant. With God’s help, Ronnie can attend church, hunt, do yard work, and enjoy family activities. He is looking forward to taking walks with his granddaughter without the use of a heart machine. He and his family will be forever grateful for the second chance God gave him.

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