Jeremy Stopford photo
Retired Pastor Jeremy & Thuvia Stopford

A testimony of God’s Grace:

Recalling September 14, 1965

By Retired Pastor Jeremy Stopford

55 YEARS AGO TODAY I had open heart surgery.

I was 13 years old, 3’7” tall, 68 pounds. Doctors told my parents that without the surgery, I would have been an invalid by age 20 and dead by age 30. Technically, it was to repair a “right atrial septal defect”, or simply put, a “hole in the heart”.

Mind you, these were the early years of heart surgery. I sure was fortunate to have the procedure when I did.

* I spent 6 days in the hospital BEFORE the surgery. During that time I had a heart catheterization, along with many other preliminary tests.

TODAY I would come to the hospital the morning of the surgery!

One year AFTER the surgery, at age 14 I was 4’ 8” tall, 120 pounds. My parents went through a LOT of clothes changes for me that first year!

A couple of years ago, my cardiologist and I talked about how heart surgery has changed since 1965. You might be interested – and perhaps amazed – in some of those changes:

* In 1965, at around 7:30 am, after much “prep work”, the surgeon – YES, the surgeon! – Dr. George Robinson, walked me from the prep room to the operating room! We had a wonderful visit. He asked about my hobbies. “I play golf,” I said. “Any good?”. “Well, last week I had a 78.” [I didn’t tell him, and he didn’t ask, that that score was on a Par 3 course!] Little did I know that would immediately change the good doctor’s plans for the surgery! Perhaps many of you have had your chest bone broken in order for the surgery to be performed. But the kind doctor – in order to SAVE my chest bone and my golfing arm – had my right arm held up during the surgery so that it would not be damaged. Thus my scar goes east to west instead of north to south on my chest.

TODAY: According to his 1999 obituary, Dr. Robinson was one of the nation’s pioneer cardiac surgeons, beginning the department at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx in 1957. Now the cardiac unit bears his name. And HE walked me into the operating room. Wow!

Needless to say, the surgeon no longer does that task!

* In 1965, the surgery lasted 4-5 hours

TODAY: the surgery lasts 30 minutes to an hour, depending upon the extent of the procedure.

* In 1965, my incision was (IS!) 1-2 FEET long!

TODAY: the incision would be 1-3 HOLES (arthroscopic!)

* In 1965, I was in the recovery room/cardiac ICU for 24 hours, and went home 10 days later.

TODAY, one might be in the recovery room UNTIL you do the required “pee, eat, and walk” – and then you go home!

* In 1965, I had NO activity for 3-4 MONTHS.

TODAY, physical therapy might begin BEFORE leaving the hospital. And I then would be back to active duty (school or work) within the week.

The times have changed!

But for this day, as wonderful as that heart surgery was, 6 years later I was to have a new heart surgery of sorts. Ezekiel 36:26 says, “I will give you a NEW HEART and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” In Biblical terms, I was born again. I became a new creation in Jesus when I trusted Him as my personal Lord and Savior.

And then? I did more than grow 1 foot and 60 pounds in one year. Within the year I was in Bible school in Canada – tell that to those in my hometown of Ft. Lauderdale that little Jeremy would be going to school out of the country. Within 2 years I would be married to my bride from Norwich, NY – yes, you read that correctly. A boy from Ft. Lauderdale goes to Canada to meet a girl from Norwich. Within 15 years of that “new heart” day, I was pastoring my first church in Beaver Meadow, NY. What only God can do! The psalmist, in Psalm 20:4, prayed, “May He grant you according to your HEART’S DESIRE, And fulfill all your purpose.” And God has done that and much more.

I like what Paul was inspired to write in Romans 10:8-10: “But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your HEART” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your HEART that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the HEART one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

True faith in Jesus is not a religion; it is a relationship with the living Savior.

You may not need open heart surgery like I had 55 years ago today. But have you been given a new HEART of faith in Jesus? Have you trusted Him as your Savior?