The Most Interesting Month of My Life - Part I

08.14.09 | Cecil Van Houten | Comments[20]

One month ago today I went to my doctor for an appointment I had scheduled several months earlier.  I hadn't been feeling well for awhile before that day - very fatigued, little appetite, stressed out - so my goal that day was to ask my doctor what it might mean.  They checked my blood pressure, which was unusually low; my pulse, which was unusually high; then they ran an EKG.  I will never forget the look on my doctor's face when she came back in the room and said, in the most serious tone, "You've had or you are having a major heart attack and you're going to the hospital, right now."  I sat back in my chair - I had no chest pain, hadn't felt any discomfort other than the symptoms I was already concerned about.  I said, "You're kidding."  I mean, that was my first response.  She said, "No, something very serious has happened to your heart; we've called 911."  I suggested I just drive to the hospital since it's only a couple of doors down from my doctor's office.  The doctor turned her head and looked at me in a way that said, "Are you crazy?"  The next thing I knew, I was being put on a stretcher and into an ambulance for the short ride to the emergency room.

I called Connie at work while I was waiting for the ambulance.  That's a hard phone call to make - "Honey, it's me.  Now I don't want you to be worried, but I'm at the doctor and they say I've had a heart attack.  They're taking me to emergency."  There's no way to soften what must be said, but I tried to keep a calm voice so she wouldn't overreact.  To her credit, and the Lord's, she said, "O.K., I'll be there in just a little bit."  I called the office to let Mary, our radio admin, know what was going on.  My first thought was I had a meeting at 11 and didn't want to miss it.  Obviously, I had no idea what the next few hours would bring.  Missing that meeting was going to be the least of my concerns that day.

Connie arrived at the local hospital within about 25 minutes; I had a chest x-ray and another EKG and we talked.  The decision had been made to transfer me immediately to Arnot-Ogden Medical Center in Elmira where they have a more extensive cardiac center.  It was so strange to me - sitting on a gurney with sensors attached to me, a doctor asking me questions, my wife by my side - and I didn't feel that bad.  At least, not any worse than I'd felt when I went to the doctor's office that morning.  But the looks of concern on everyone's face told me it was more serious than I realized.

The ambulance ride to Elmira took over an hour and it was very bumpy.  If I can make one suggestion - no, two suggestions - they would be, operators should replace the shocks in their ambulances more regularly than they do, and, if you have a back or spinal injury, take a cab.  I felt more pain being jostled around than I had all morning.  I remember thinking, 'if the heart attack doesn't kill me, this ride's going to.'  On the positive side, the two EMTs who took me were both Christians.  In fact, the one who rode in back with me, Dan, was someone I'd met at FLN during a Sharathon and just a great brother in the Lord.  Connie was following a few miles behind in her car so it was just Dan and me in the back of the ambulance.  We talked about what had happened, what they might do at the hospital, and about our lives.  In fact, that day was his last day working for the ambulance service; he had been studying for the ministry, had his ordination, and was leaving in two weeks to begin pastoring a church in Kentucky.  So we had a good conversation about what God was doing in our lives and he prayed with me before we arrived at the hospital.  That meant so much in that moment because I was still in somewhat of a state of disbelief over what was happening.

When we arrived at Arnot-Ogden I was taken into cardiac ICU and met one of their cardiologists.  The plan was to do a catheterization from the groin area to see how the arteries and heart looked and determine what steps to take from there.  I was taken to a private room and Connie joined me there.  She made some phone calls to her family and we just sat, still stunned at what was happening.  If you've ever been in a traumatic situation like this, you know what I'm talking about - a heart attack, a serious injury, some major event that completely turns your world upside down in a matter of minutes.  If you haven't experienced something like that, it's hard to describe. 

We all go about our daily lives with a schedule and an agenda.  Even the most routine and mundane parts of life just seem to breeze by every day as we go about our business - our family obligations, work, recreational activities, church - whatever it is.  Even those of us who make a conscious effort to not take things for granted, do.  Because we don't parse our lives down to the moment - the minute - the hour - the day.  Life goes too fast for that.  It can be the same way with our faith too.  Yes, we're sincerely trying to follow the Lord, we're well-intentioned, we do all the right things.  And yet it sometimes becomes like a spiritual shorthand, especially for those of us who've known the Lord for decades, because we know the drill.  Not that we're indifferent; but we're just as subject to falling into routines, even if they're good routines, as not. 

As I lay in the hospital bed - and nothing against them, but I've never been a big fan of being in hospitals - looking at my wife, who was very concerned about me, wondering what was happening, thinking, 'Who's going to go on the air for me today?', looking at all the sensors and monitors I was connected to - it was all very surreal.  On one level, you're taking it in and trying to think through, procedurally, what is going to happen next.  On another level, you're thinking, 'what does this mean, Lord?', 'what's going on?' 

I believe God acts providentially in the lives of his children.  There are times in life when, despite our inability to understand what he is doing in the moment, his timing is perfect to suit his ultimate purposes.  A few minutes after 4 pm I was talking with Connie when the light coming through the window and the fluorescent lights in the ceiling became blindingly bright.  I felt lightheaded like I was going to faint.  This all happened in a matter of seconds.  I said, "Something's happening, get someone in here...get someone..." and I passed out.  The next thing I remember is two nurses attempting CPR on me then I passed out again.  Connie told me later, within seconds there were 10 people in the room working on me.  My heart rate, which had been in the 116-120 beats per minute range shot up and up and up to 225 - then it flatlined.  I coded.  They rushed her out into an adjoining room with a counselor.  The counselor asked, "Is there anyone we can call so you won't be alone?"  The last thing Connie saw was the crash cart being wheeled into my room. 

I'd had no pulse for over a minute.  People have asked if I remember anything about what was happening and honestly, I don't, except I vaguely remember hearing voices in the background and feeling myself being moved around in the hospital bed.  (They were rolling me on my side so they could put a board underneath me before they used the paddles.)  The next thing I know I felt a physical sensation like I'd never felt before.  I didn't know it was coming, obviously, but the second they shocked me, I felt my entire body shudder and jump - an intense pressure and a shock wave that went up and down from my chest to my feet.  I can only imagine it would be like being hit by a Mack truck going 40 mph.  My eyes opened and the same RN who had tried CPR had an oxygen mask over my mouth and nose and told me to breath deeply.  As I stabilized over the next few minutes, I asked what they had done.  The RN told me I had gone Code Blue and they used the paddles to bring me back.  She leaned in closer and whispered, "Don't ever do that again."  I tried to laugh, but it hurt.  I promised her I wouldn't.  Once they felt I was ok, they let Connie back in the room.  We embraced and cried.  I had suffered a major arrhythmia - where the heart beats wildly out of control, trying to function.  Where the heart attack was caused by a long-blocked artery and the near closing of a second one, the arrhythmia was caused by my heart's attempting to pump blood and push oxygen into the lungs, and, being seriously damaged already by the heart attack, it was unable to function. 

Few of us contemplate death until we're confronted with it; the sudden loss of a loved one; a family member or friend who is suffering from a terminal illness; the senseless tragedy of war and violence.  As much as we look forward to spending eternity with the Lord, whenever the time comes, if we're honest we prefer the life he's given us here on earth.  After all, this is what we know - the love of family and friends; the purpose to which he's called us; the simple joys of a beautiful summer day, listening to children playing or the joy we derive from reading a good book or listening to a great piece of music.  Without being melodramatic, the simple fact is I died.  And by God's grace, I live again.  I'm not rushing to try and filter this down into a spiritual analogy because there are many layers to what happened.  But God is doing something and has some greater purpose in all that has happened that I'm sure I'll only fully comprehend with time and the perspective it brings.

When I say that God acts providentially in the lives of his children I mean this:  if I hadn't gone to the doctor that morning; if they hadn't run an EKG; if I hadn't been transferred to Arnot-Ogden in the hands of two caring brothers; if I wasn't in an ICU when I suffered the arrhythmia, the story would end with "I died."  But God.  That's all...but...God. 

There's much more to this which I'll post in the next couple of days.  But I want to thank everyone who has prayed for me and Connie during this time.  I know when the word went out on the air there were many of you lifting me up.  I've received dozens and dozens of emails and cards, many from people I don't even know - just people who've listened on the radio who felt a sense of connectedness and wanted to support us in prayer.  That's the beauty of the body of Christ; that we join together to bear one another's burdens.  Connie and I certainly couldn't have made it through the last few weeks without your prayers.  The kind thoughts and support from people at Family Life, friends in the radio and music business, and people from around the country has been humbling.  God is good and his people are amazing.  Thank you.

More in a day or two...   


Your Comments(please keep them on topic and polite)

on 08.14.09 cindy commented

I also heard on the radio to check out your blog. WOW! I was listening the day you became ill and they announced on the radio that you were in the hospital and needed prayer.I am amazed at your story and pray for your continued recovery. You are missed. God bless you. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us.

on 08.13.09 Dawn T commented

Cecil you are missed and loved. Continue to get stronger. We will continue to pray for your speedy recovery and the discovery of Gods plan in all of this.
You said it all with "...but... God"

You have been a blessing and a true source of encouragement in my life I listen to you daily. Awaiting you return.

on 08.13.09 Judy (SunJudy05) commented

HI Cecil,

Oh my, words are hard to articulate right now as I am still processing your experiences ... but am so thankful that you are here buddy~~ Grateful I am... Man, my heart goes out to Connie, can't even begin to imagine going through that kind of emergency...

Thank you for taking time to write this blog. I admire your candidness, honesty and knowledge of taking your time on analyzing the purpose... I am sure (without a doubt) that God has been glorified already in the timing of tests/admitting and family, friends and your reactions. Take care and rest well...

on 08.13.09 Dan Follette commented

My prayers are still with you. It was a blessing to be with you that day. It is hard to imagine it has been a month. As I am writing I am in my offcie in KY and FLN is playing in the background (Thanks God for the internet). Lord willing I will be in touh with you soon. I can't wait to hear you back on the air.
God Bless my Brother.

on 08.13.09 Danielle Henery commented

All I say is "WOW" I miss hearing you.

on 08.13.09 Judy commented

As the song says....."He's not finished with me yet."
We miss you on the radio and we're so glad you are healing. Take care of yourself and HI to Connie.
Can't wait to read more of your story. You are a true Blessing.

on 08.13.09 6 year old Grace Harnisch commented

I love you Cecil. Some day I wanna see the inside of your car. Get it really clean so I can see it. I want to drive it if it's clean. I keep praying for you to get better so I know God is doing lots of work on you.

on 08.14.09 Bob at the farm commented


Just as Dawn T said, there are MANY times while doing afternoon and evening chores when you say some sort of "words" of wisdom or truth. Just like you knew what I had been praying earlier, sometimes within the hour just before your words.

This AM got a sence to pray for you and shortly after Denny and Sonny talked of your Blog.

Oh and by the way, a few days ago Nat played a "funky get down song" (I think it ---"Gotta get some of dat"), it was really GREAT to hear that in the morning after Sonny and Denny, kind of like a wind down while I was wrapping up, any way Nat is being a good girl now, so don't worry.

Hang in there and look forward to the time you are back on the air.

on 08.14.09 Shelly commented

Cecil thanks so much for explaining what you went thru. we are mourning the loss of our nephew who was in perfect health, coming back from a job in china and on his way home to his family. He was layed over in New Jersey due to bad weather. He died in the hotel. Still awaiting the autopsy. Your view of God's light before the storm was so helpful to giving us a little slice of heaven. Thank you!

on 08.14.09 Diane commented

thanks for sharing your story. We are praying for God's will in your life. I have had a similar situation in 1992. If I hadn't gone to the doctor, they would not have found out that I had congestive heart failure. I also was in ICU. But, praise God, there was no blockage, just a weakened heart muscle. Today, I still have the heart problem, and diabetes. I am praying, as with you, that God will use me for His glory.

on 08.14.09 Marcy commented

THANK YOU, Cecil, for sharing your breathtaking story of the valley you went through, and of how our awesome God's DIVINE INTERVENTION made it so you're here today! I don't usually drive to work, but take public transit. Today I drove, and, as always, I immediately turned on FLN and heard "wow, you gotta go to Cecil's blog and read it, wow". I totally agree...WOW! God is AMAZING and He is always in control of our every minute of life. I look forward to reading Part II. God bless you, Cecil!

on 08.14.09 Bill Kamberg commented

Cecil - you get an "A" in Creative Writing. Welcome to the wonderful world of cardiac survivors. It is with a lot of joy and a couple of tears that I read your words and know that you are still with us. Yes - you will never be the same. Incidentally I thought my life was going pretty smoothly until a week ago when I had a TIA - no residual symptoms - and I have been pretty frightened by that episode. Lose weight, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol....... Have a lot of faith in the Lord and enjoy each morning. Take care my friend.

on 08.14.09 Lisa Walters commented

I work with Connie ... and I know the power of prayer .. you've prayed me through many mission trips ... and I definitely am returning the favor ... but the favor is the Lords!!! He has you completely in His hands. I am really impressed with your witness ... it's awesome! Get well and I'll continue praying!

on 08.15.09 Renee Tuning commented

Whew! This is a cliff-hanger, and I'm anxious to see Part 2! I'm assuming you've lived ;)) I know that we can experience the greatest peace of God only during the roughest times of our lives, sitting in the eyes of the storm with Him! Trust you continue improving EACH DAY! My husband had two major surgeries last year, having both hips replaced, and we have just passed the 1-year anniversary of the first surgery. He's STILL seeing improvement, and no doubt you, too, will continue to see God's healing hands at work in your body for many months, even years, ahead. God bless you. The journey only gets better.

on 08.15.09 Judy Zwierzynski commented

I am very glad that God isn't done with you yet.
You are missed(a lot)on your show. I always loved to hear your voice after a long day working in secular radio in Binghamton.
I can understand how you and Connie felt during this period of time in your life. My father went through a relatively simular event and God kept him with us for another fifteen years. We know how much prayers can lift you up and let God know how much we care about his child.
Please know that you are in my prayers for a speedy recovery.

on 08.18.09 Bill Myers commented


I have never met you but I will be praying for you. Your story brought back a lot to me. I had an instance last fall where I was rushed to the hospital as well for a different condition. You are right, it feels very surreal to go through that. I came to the conclusion in the hospital that in life or death God is good. God's hand is obviously on your life. I pray you get stronger day by day and you can return to the station soon.

on 08.18.09 Nan commented

Cecil, been 34years, since I saw the "light" also, only I had the privilage to be aware of the PEACE THAT PASSES UNDERSTANDING & LIGHT all around me and in me. Having been in a severe car crash with no pulse or breath for some time, I was not aware of my surroundings. Even though I was unaware of what "born again" ment, growing up in a mainline church, I had a childhood confession of Jesus, and knew I was in His hands. That piece of His Peace saw me through quite a few more trials and close calls, and the blessing of raising children.
I am sure the Lord brought you back to continue His work in you, but you will never think about life the same.
Both you and Connie are in my prayers.
Love in Jesus

on 08.18.09 Kate Klos Rhea commented

Love you and miss you.

on 08.21.09 a listener, Noreen commented

Praise the Lord! In devotions this morning I was trying to get my arms around the fact God lives within us! And, if God lives within us, are we not different down to a cellular level? Continue to heal and draw on His strength and our prayers are with your dear wife and family.

on 08.31.09 larry commented

cecil I had open heart surgery several years ago and fell gods blessings and haling power daily.Reading your notes just lets me know how great our Lord is.