While on patrol on a spring night in 1999, Officer Ike VanHorn of the Greenville Public Safety Department heard a call over the radio that would forever change his life.
And, perhaps, save it.
“We had a report of somebody from Belding coming to Greenville with a shotgun in his car to confront his girlfriend,” VanHorn recalled recently.
VanHorn located the car and tried to pull it over, but the driver sped off into a nearby field.
“We drove across the field and finally the car stopped,” VanHorn said. “He got out and we got into a wrestling match. Another deputy showed up.”
Together, they cuffed the Belding man and put him in the back of the squad car.
It’s been a whole different world for me. …I’ve been able to do things I haven’t been able to do in 10 years.
The criminal had been apprehended, but the way VanHorn’s heart felt caused immediate apprehension.
No matter how hard he tried, VanHorn couldn’t catch his breath. He leaned against the car. The other deputy noticed his struggles.
“I had a real tight feeling in my chest,” VanHorn said. “Years ago I was an EMT, so I knew something was wrong. The pain went away after a few minutes, but I knew what it was because of the training I had had.”
He did the smart thing and immediately saw his doctor. He failed the stress test.
Two days later he underwent triple bypass open heart surgery at Spectrum Health Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“They said I caught it early enough,” said VanHorn, who went through cardiac rehab at Spectrum Health United Hospital in Greenville. “I recovered fine and was able to work for another year and a half, then I decided to retire. I was old enough and had enough time in.”
And in the back of his mind, he didn’t know how much time he had left.
‘He could hardly breathe’
As the years rolled on, VanHorn developed more heart issues. He raised horses on the side, but his breathing and weakness got so bad he had to sell all his livestock.
He and his wife, Jennifer, thought they would have to sell their farm because of VanHorn’s declining health.
“It got to the point where I could hardly do anything without having chest pain,” VanHorn said. “I didn’t have any strength. I just couldn’t do anything. Weeds were taking the place over, grapevines were growing all over the barns. I thought I would have to sell the place and move back into town.”
Jennifer said she feared for his life every time he’d step outside.
“Walking out to the mailbox, you wondered if he was going to have the breath to make it back,” she said of her husband of 49 years. “There were so many times he would walk in and I would look at him and say, ‘Do I need to call 911? Are you OK?’ It was often. He could hardly breathe. He couldn’t speak, the look on his face, you just knew it wasn’t right.”
On April 5, 2015, VanHorn underwent his second open heart surgery and two more bypasses.
Then, he hit the cardiac rehab center three times a week for a couple of months.
He’s a changed man.
“It’s been a whole different world for me ever since,” he said. “The second surgery really did the job for me. I’ve been able to do things I haven’t been able to do in 10 years. In fact, right now I’m out in my workshop building things.”
VanHorn, 74, knows he’s the lucky one in the family.
All the men on his father’s side of the family died of heart attacks or diabetes before they reached age 60.
VanHorn is following the diabetic tradition, too, diagnosed before the age of 40.
“It’s been a long battle with it, but right now it’s pretty under control,” he said. “You have to really watch what you eat. It’s a horrible disease.”
But with a special diet, along with his most recent surgery and cardiac rehab, VanHorn feels like he’s back in the saddle again.
“Rehab inspired me, not only physically but mentally,” VanHorn said. “It’s hard to explain the ups and downs you go through after a major surgery. The therapists take you under their wings and you come out of there feeling really good. I feel like I owe those girls (therapists) so much. They really got me back to where I needed to be.”
A life resumed
VanHorn’s farm is back in pristine condition. In fact, there’s very little that he can’t do these days.
“It’s been such a turnaround,” he said. “I’m able to take care of everything that has to be done now. I feel so fortunate it turned out as well as it did. I don’t know how many years I’ve got left, but I know one thing, my quality of life has really improved.”
Jennifer said they’re able to do so much more now as a couple.
“It’s been wonderful,” she said. “Before, he would just sit in a chair. Now, if we want to go shopping or walking someplace, we can do it.”
Amber Strachan, a registered nurse with United Hospital’s Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehab, said she’s impressed with VanHorn’s dedication to the program.
“Ike remained positive throughout his rehabilitation journey and was a delight to have in our program,” Strachan said. “He encouraged other patients with his positive outlook and challenged himself during his exercise sessions.”
Best of all, Strachan said, VanHorn’s life resumed.
“He was working toward returning to his recreational activities and having the confidence that he could safely do this,” Strachan said. “He accomplished his goal.”