Walk 2 million steps in his shoes

Published 8:55 am Thursday, April 27, 2017

Ray Evans’ days go something like this.

Wake up, go for a walk.

Eat breakfast, go for a walk.

Eat lunch, go for a walk. Eat supper, go for a walk.

Seven days a week, Evans logs around 12 miles each day, keeping up with his steps on his Fitbit.

Three days a week, the 66-year-old does a fitness class at the Senior Center, and he often hits the weight room, where he walks on the treadmill, uses the elliptical, rides the bike, and lifts weights.

What is even more remarkable is that he had his first heart attack at age 36, followed by a stroke, another heart attack, congestive heart failure, three surgeries for placement of pacemakers, and surgery to implant an artificial heart.

Seven months later, on March 16, 2013, Evans received a donor heart. Cardiovascular disease runs in Evans’ family, but his new heart has given him not only the longevity that his ancestors didn’t have, but has also given him the ability to run circles around most folks his age.

Evans had his first heart attack Jan. 19, 1988. He was a tractor-trailer driver and felt what he thought was gas in his chest. He mixed a concoction of baking soda and vinegar to help him burp, and when it didn’t work, he decided to drive himself to the hospital. There, he was told he was having a heart attack.

He was given two shots that saved his life, the first person in the county to receive the medicine he can’t now remember the name of but he does remember the cost was $10,000 per shot.

Two weeks later, he had a stroke that left him paralyzed on his left side. Evans said he had to learn how to walk again and still has a limp.

Four months later, he returned to work driving a tractor-trailer and was on a job in 1994 when he began to experience familiar sensations in his chest.

“I drove here from Charlotte in an 18-wheeler during my second heart attack,” he said. When asked why he didn’t just go to the hospital in Charlotte, he said it was because he didn’t want “a bunch of strangers” taking care of him.

For the next eight years, Evans suffered congestive heart failure, then received pacemakers in 2005, 2009, and 2011. A virus in 2012 left him with 10 percent use of his heart. He received a VAD (Ventricular Assist Device) Aug. 1, 2012, and was told the device would last around eight years, but a human transplanted heart could last around 20.

“I had to pray about that pretty hard,” Evans said, recalling his emotions thinking about someone dying before he could receive the lift-saving device. He finally made the decision to be put on the transplant list, and 17 days later, at the age of 62, he received a donor heart. Evans hopes to someday find out who the donor was.

“I see on TV people listening to other people’s hearts (donors’ families listening to the transplanted heart). I would like to thank the family someday. I wrote a letter but it’s not the same as in person,” he said.

Evans said he was always an organ donor, but his experience confirmed his belief that it is the right thing to do. He said if anything ever happens to him, he hopes the heart can be gifted to someone else.

He attributes the success of his procedures to two things. “Keep the faith and listen to the doctors. I know plenty of people who buy medicine and never take it or get a prescription and never get it filled,” he said.

Evans joined the Davie Community Foundation’s Health Davie Challenge of one billion steps in 100 days, and he has already accumulated two million steps by himself. Some of his walking takes place at his Cana Road home he shares with his wife, Caldonia, but he also walks at the Brock and outside at the Senior Center. He is careful to watch his diet, only eating fried food, and his favorite, barbecue, occasionally. He drinks a lot of water and never drinks diet soft drinks, which he said are not a good choice. Evans estimates since he got the implant, he has lost between 60 and 70 pounds.

When he isn’t walking, Evans, a Gideon, is active in the Northwest Ruritan Club. He is also a deacon at Bear Creek Baptist Church, is on the usher board, and is chair of the mission team, regularly traveling away for mission work. He takes his Bible with him everywhere, ready at any point to give his testimony.

“I’ve got a lot to be thankful for. God don’t call you home until He’s ready for you, so I must still have something I have to do here,” he said.