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Ode to joy

Randy Wagner takes center stage at Cavalry Baptist Church on Easter Sunday [2016].

Defibrillator offers pastor second chance at life

For Randy Wagner, it seemed like the perfect time for a quick nap. His wife was out shopping, his son was working in the basement and wouldn’t be up for hours, and the recliner was so cozy on a quiet August afternoon.

He had no idea that without a special device prescribed to him by Augusta Health, he never would have awakened.

“I was given a second chance,” he says. “Without this, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have met my first grandchild. I’m counting that August date as my new birthday.”

Out of sync

Wagner first began suspecting issues a few months earlier, when he couldn’t sing as well as before. Since the 58-year-old pastor is a music director at Cavalry Baptist Church, losing his singing ability is quite a big deal. But it wasn’t until he accidentally cut his hand and went in for tendon surgery that he found out his heart was to blame.

“His heart was out of rhythm,” explains his physician Glenn Brammer, MD, of Augusta Health. “When that happens, the guideline from the American Heart Association is to give it a few months to get better, rather than immediately putting in a defibrillator. But that leaves patients unprotected during that time.”

As a precaution, Dr. Brammer gave Wagner a LifeVest, a small device worn outside the body that continuously monitors a patient’s heart. If a life-threatening rhythm is detected, the device delivers a shock to restore normal function, while sending an alert to the physician.

Wagner recalls that Dr. Brammer sternly advised him to wear the device at all times except in the shower, and even then to have someone in the bathroom with him. “He put the fear in me,” Wagner says. “So, even though it’s a little uncomfortable, I followed his direction.”

Returning to rhythm

On that sleepy August afternoon when he’d just dozed off, his LifeVest sensed that his heart spiked into a dangerous rhythm and delivered a shock that Wagner says was “like a mule kick.” It also screeched in alarm, sending his son running upstairs. Just a few seconds later, Dr. Brammer called with the report sent by the LifeVest.

“Outside a hospital setting, the chances of someone surviving the type of cardiac event that he did are about 5 percent,” said Dr. Brammer. “For those who do, about half are left in a vegetative state, without any brain function. This didn’t just save his body. It saved his life.”

After going into the hospital, it was discovered that Wagner had a 90 percent blockage in his heart’s main artery. He had surgery to put in an internal defibrillator and Augusta Health’s cardiac rehab helped him get back on track. “I’m 100 times better than I was before, thanks to Augusta Health,” he says.

Recently, he did a solo at church, and Dr. Brammer was right there to appreciate all the progress he’s made during recovery. Although his life is settling back into its rhythm, Wagner never takes a moment for granted.

“When something like this happens, when you almost lose your life, you look at things differently,” he says. “Food tastes better, my wife is prettier, every day is beautiful even if it’s raining. I’m so grateful to be given more time to really live.”