MONTROSE – When Montrose County Commissioner Ron Henderson began to feel sharp pains in his chest during church services on a Sunday morning in early October, he wasted no time in making the decision to go to the hospital. The decision to act immediately upon those pains was a promise he had made to himself after his father had died of a heart attack at an early age.
While it was a relief to find out at Montrose Memorial Hospital later that morning that Henderson was not having a full-on heart attack, doctors said there was enough blockage in his arteries to need bypass surgery. Following an ambulance ride to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, Henderson underwent quadruple bypass surgery two days later. Now, just over six weeks following that major medical procedure, Henderson is recovering well as he eases himself back into the life as husband, grandfather, elected official, and member of the Montrose community.
“I feel really good,” Ron Henderson said in an interview with The Watch on Nov. 21.
“I certainly didn’t expect him to recover as fast as he has,” Ron’s wife of 20 years, Diane, said. “He’s doing really well.”
A Promise to Respond
A native of the Uncompahgre Valley and graduate of Montrose High School, Henderson said his family’s history of heart disease is something that has always been in the forefront of his life. In 1987, he suffered a heart attack and has worked to remain fit and heart healthy with the help of cholesterol reducing medication.
Henderson also recalled the death of his father, who, on one summer morning started feeling chest pains. Thinking nothing of it, his father fought through those feelings and continued on through his day has he normally would. Later that day, Henderson’s father died at the age of 58.
“We found out after he died that he had been having a heart attack and it lasted all that time,” Henderson said. “I made a promise to myself that if that were to happen to me, I would respond. It is a conscious decision to refuse what you are feeling inside.”
With a history of heart problems and a family history of heart disease, both Ron and Diane said they do their best to exercise regularly through walking and eating less meat, especially Ron’s favorite, ribeye steaks. With the help of medicine, his cholesterol has been at a healthy level at 112. Even with those precautions, Henderson said his family history still made heart disease something to take seriously.
“Really, every day I’ve been living with that in the back of my mind,” he said.
So on Sunday, Oct. 6, during communion service at his church in Montrose, when Henderson felt a certain pain, he remembered his promise to himself and wasted no time.
“I started feeling really remarkable sensations. I knew something was up,” he said. “I stood up and walked right away from the service.”
Diane immediately drove Ron to the emergency room at MMH where he underwent a series of tests. His heart rate was as high as 200 beats per minute.
“The cardiologist did an angiogram,” Ron said. “He walked from that angiogram to the telephone and called St. Mary’s and said, ‘You are about to get another patient.’”
Ron was transported to St. Mary’s Hospital on Monday at noon and by noon on Tuesday, he was undergoing quadruple bypass surgery. Doctors used a vein out of his left leg to create bypasses around the blocked arteries in his chest.
“They did it with the minimum amount of cuts. It’s just amazing,” Ron said.
While Ron was in surgery, Diane Henderson said the support from the Montrose community and the communication from the doctors was “phenomenal.” Several families of county employees and family friends made the trip to support Diane while Ron was in surgery. Diane said she knew the most critical part of the procedure would be when doctors transferred Ron from the mechanical heart he was on during the surgery to his own heart following the bypasses.
“We felt God’s presence,” Diane said. “I never once thought that he wasn’t going to make it and that was a real comfort at that time. When they were finishing up the surgery, the doctors came out and said that he had been moved from the mechanical heart to the real heart. We all whooped and hollered to each other.”
It wasn’t long before Ron began to feel better and was able to go home. In fact, he was able to go home in time for Sunday church.
“When I first woke up, I was startled at first,” he said. “My chest tubes came out three days later and soon they took all the tubes out of me. After that, I really started coming back and feeling good. We were able to go to the church service but I didn’t stick around for too long. I was really glad to be able to go to church.”
Both Hendersons said the concern many community members offered during his hospitalization were both heartwarming and humbling.
“The number of cards that came in blew us away. It was really amazing on how thoughtful people are,” Diane said. “We really appreciate the cards, the thoughts, the calls, and the prayers – mostly the prayers. We felt it was a godsend that it was found so quickly and taken care of so quickly.”
‘Energy for Living
Moving forward, the Hendersons are making more adjustments to their eating lifestyle. Not only did Ron say he’ll be happy to never touch a ribeye again, he’s made significant changes in the types of foods he eats.
“Probably my biggest problem was my carbohydrate consumption,” Ron said. “The fine flowers and sugars need to be at a minimum along with lower salt and lower amounts of caffeine.”
“We are trying more of a Mediterranean diet with lots of vegetables and fruits and less meat,” Diane said. “If we are going to have meat, it’s going to have to be really lean. We are doing a lot more natural stuff and switching over to eating whole foods. We are making an adjustment that says this is OK. It’s energy for living.”
Diane called Ron’s recent surgery a “wakeup call” that, for many people, comes too late.
“Living a healthy lifestyle is something you need to do when you are young,” she said. “You have this one body and you need to take care of it. A lot less things would happen to us if we ate less refined sugar, less of the fatty animals, less fatty foods and more of the fresh, wonderful foods that you have. What I think children should know is what you do to your body now is going to make a difference later on.”
Besides his new eating lifestyle, Ron said he’s going to continue to use the help of his wife and the advice of his mother.
“Life is valuable and gracious and is well worth seeking along the lines of the better attributes of love, caring and forgiveness,” Ron said. “All those things your mom told you when you were growing up. Over the last 20 years I have been gradually self correcting through the able tutelage of Mrs. Henderson toward a better life. To have a God centered life. That is really our direction.
“I am ready to not ever have another one of these. I have had my share,” he said.