Heart change: A local pastor’s heart attack helps him zero in on what really matters

A heart attack can quickly reveal what is most important in life. It certainly did for Kevin Taylor, a pastor, husband and father of three.

Kevin, who has been a minister for 30 years, moved with his wife, Veronica, and children, Benjamin, 29, Becca, 26, and Isaac, 14, to Marquette 15 years ago to work with Silver Creek Church. The outdoors-loving family took to the area quickly, with visits to Lake Superior and lots of hunting and fishing opportunities for Kevin.

When he’s not ministering to community members or basking in the beauty of the UP, his passions turn to family time and fitness. He developed an interest in running, which led to completing a 10K, two half-marathons and two tough mudders. When his daughter Becca invited him to a Zumba fitness class, he decided it would be a great way to get some family time in while working out. That decision helped save his life and, for Kevin, served as the precursor to a miracle.

“I felt an incredible urge to go to Zumba that night,” he recalls. “To me, that’s a big part of the miracle of this story. I do believe the word ‘miracle’ is the only word you can use to describe what happened. Church and Zumba were the only times during the week that I would have been in the right place with the right people for this kind of situation.”

It happened so quickly that Kevin doesn’t even remember the first song starting. Within seconds of the class beginning, Kevin had collapsed on the ground and had no pulse. Two women – one of whom is a nurse at UP Health System – Marquette, performed CPR on Kevin, while the fitness club owner, Phil Panel, rushed over to get the automated external defibrillator to jump-start his heart.

“As soon as Phil hit the AED, I was airborne,” Kevin recalls. “When the paramedics arrived, I was already breathing stably. I don’t remember anything until I got to the ER. The first thing I remember is seeing and talking to Dr. Rudy Evonich. I remember seeing him in his scrubs.”

Few people would have pegged Kevin as being at risk for heart disease. He didn’t have a personal prior history of it, his cholesterol had lowered 120 points back when his youngest son was born and he was on day 19 of a fruit and vegetable diet when his heart attack occurred. He had been losing his wind very quickly when doing a strenuous activity like shoveling, but it didn’t seem serious enough for him to check out – until it was.

“I’m your typical guy. I don’t think in those terms,” he says. “You gotta hit me over the head with a hammer.”

When he came to after being hit with the AED, for Kevin, there was only one choice of where to go: UP Health System – Marquette.

“It was never even remotely an option, nor was it considered to go somewhere else,” he explains. “The cardiac care that is offered there, I’ve always felt good about …There was no concern about whether we were in the right place. Not even for a second.”

Dr. Evonich quickly assumed the role of trusted provider and explained to Kevin what had happened to him and what he should do as a result. Kevin’s heart attack had resulted from the dreaded “widowmaker,” a critical blockage of the left anterior descending (LAD) artery. Because the blockage was where two arteries came together, Kevin would need a double bypass, performed by Open Heart Surgeon, Dr. Bradford Blakeman.

“I really liked Dr. Blakeman,” Kevin says. “I want someone who is smart. I think he has it together. You need your doctor to do the right procedure. We felt very confident with anything to do with what Dr. Blakeman was involved in.”

Today, as Kevin continues his road to better heart health, he looks back on his experience at UP Health System – Marquette with gratefulness.

“It’s such a big life event. As a patient, it’s so different than real life. There’s no shame. You’re not hiding anything. You’re exposed. I felt protected through all of it,” he says. “From the cleaning lady on up, it was ‘Is there anything else I can do for you?’ ”

Kevin’s experience has also affected a major shift in his overall perspective. He’s more dedicated than ever to fitness, planning to run two half-marathons this summer. And he’s choosing to focus even more intently than ever on what matters most.

“The most important thing to me is my wife and kids,” he says. “I get to take hunting trips with my boys … take my wife to a movie …spend time reaching people.

“It really changes your perspective,” he continues. “Why am I here? I’ve been in ministry for 30 years – it’s not hard to pull purpose from that. For me, anyone can do my job. Anyone can take my job. But only one person can be the father of my children. And that’s me.”

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