By Sandra Massey Buckley
A Heart’s Second Chance
Saturday, May 14, 2016, at 3:00 p.m. is a moment in time that Ruth Ann Rigby of Jackson will never forget. Still today, recalling that moment stirs deep emotion.
That day, Ruth Ann, an alcohol and drug abuse counselor who serves as director of business development for Capstone Treatment Center based in Arkansas, was in Florida at The National Association of Treatment Providers annual conference.
She received an unusual text message from Jody, her husband of 20 years and a retired Lt. Colonel from the Mississippi Highway Patrol, which asked, “Do I do OK in CT scans?” Unsure of why he was asking this and knowing that he was severely (and potentially fatally) allergic to many medications and dyes, she immediately called him. “I could only hear, ‘I am at St. D.’ and then his phone went dead,” she says.
In a panic, she called St. Dominic directly for information and then called close friends who are doctors at the hospital, who were thankfully able to go and check on Jody and his condition. “I was in Florida and just wanted someone to tell me what was going on with my husband,” she explains.
Ruth Ann quickly learned that her husband had been admitted to the hospital with chest pains and that test results would be forthcoming soon. “I was absolutely paralyzed with fear,” she says.
Unable to sleep that night, she was comforted by her colleagues there with her in Florida, through prayer, and knowing that family, friends, and their Madison Broadmoor Church family were with Jody either in prayer or in presence. “It was the longest period of my life,” she adds, “and a feeling of powerlessness unlike any I had ever had.”
The next morning at 5:00 a.m., Ruth Ann was on the first flight back to Jackson and was at St. Dominic by her husband’s side by 8:45 a.m., right before they took him back to the catheterization lab. “We prayed immediately,” she remembers.
The day before that fateful text message was sent, Jody had taken Ruth Ann to the airport, come home, and cut the grass with his zero-turn riding mower, and “everything was fine,” he recalls. The next day, he was running an errand and noticed the tire on his Jeep was low, so he stopped by a car repair service to get it fixed. That’s when the pain, which he had never experienced before, began. “I started having left shoulder pain, high up, and it hurt,” he says. “I thought it was from cutting the grass the day before.” Unfamiliar with this feeling, he even drank a Coke so that he could burp, but that didn’t ease the pain.
With an innate feeling that something wasn’t right physically, Jody asked the mechanic for the keys back to his vehicle, explaining that he didn’t feel well. “Then, I drove straight to St. Dominic to get checked out,” he says. “Before I go to St. Dominic, the pain had stopped; but I was concerned. My intention was to drive to the hospital and sit in the waiting room, and if I fell out, they would know what to do.”
The minute he pulled into the hospital, “everything fell into place,” he says. “I got the first parking spot, and I knew then God had sent me there.” A security guard immediately met him and drove him to the emergency room entrance, where a nurse greeted him and took him directly back to see a doctor.
That day was the beginning of an unexpected journey that neither Jody nor Ruth Ann had ever imagined.
For days, Jody went through a battery of scans, tests, and procedures, all of which ultimately led to a quadruple bypass surgery. His time in the hospital spanned from May 14 to May 27, and was physically and emotionally trying. “I have always had faith, but this scared me tremendously,” says Jody. “God gave me the will to live.”
That will to live led Jody through those critical days and weeks in the hospital—and then on to an intense recovery phase at home.
A successful recovery plan at this point meant cardiac rehabilitation, which would be a crucial step to his long-term health goals. He chose to follow the renowned Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease, administered at St. Dominic, whose mission is to “undo” or reverse causes of cardiac events or heart disease through altering a person’s diet and routine habits. “It’s a lifestyle change,” Ruth Ann explains.
With decades of medical research supporting it, the Ornish Program integrates four key categories—nutrition, fitness, stress management, and group support—that work in tandem to deliver extraordinary success rates and results in individuals. “He follows it without fail and has never relapsed into the abyss of unhealthy eating since,” says Ruth Ann. “It has been a transformation!” In less than six months, Jody went from a size 40 pant waist to a 34 and has lost more than 60 pounds.
During this journey, both Ruth Ann and Jody have clung tightly to Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” As Ruth Ann explains, the verse “gave us peace” and reaffirmed that “God is with us and right beside us.”
From the couple’s faith to the dedicated doctors, nurses, and hospital staff to their family, friends, church, and law enforcement community, there was a tremendous outpouring of care during this uncertain time. “I had incredible support,” says Jody. “It was a terrible thing for me to go through, and they were right there beside me. It was very humbling.”
At the very core of his support, though, was his partner. “Ruth is my wife and best friend,” he says. “I couldn’t have made it through this journey without her by my side and navigating this.”
After the uncertain days, weeks, and months that have accumulatively made up the Rigby’s experience, they now faithfully share a message of hope—especially during this month, as February is recognized as American Hearth Month. The fact is heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, causing 2,200 deaths every day. This astonishing statistic, however, does not have to be a reality, as heart disease is very often preventable through education and a healthy diet and lifestyle. After all, Jody is living proof that a heart can, at times, be restored back to health.
While 2016 was a year filled with challenges for Ruth Ann and Jody, gratitude fills their hearts today. “We found strength in the experience and in our faith,” adds Ruth Ann. “God graced us with another day.”
Sandra Buckley is marketing director for a statewide economic development organization and also a freelance writer who, between these two roles, loves to promote the inspiring people, places, and potential of Mississippi. She and her husband, Bryan, live in Madison and are members of Madison United Methodist Church.