|Pastor a 'walking miracle'|
|Monday, 20 February 2017|
by Sonja J. Keith
As a pastor and a volunteer for Conway Regional Health System, Cornell Maltbia knows the importance of quality healthcare. When he suffered a mild heart attack in December, it took on a whole new meaning.
On Friday, Dec. 19, while working out at the Conway Regional Health and Fitness Center, Maltbia began having chest pains that he attributed to the upper body exercises he was doing. In reality, he was experiencing a heart attack.
Maltbia left the center and went home, staying in bed the rest of the day. He got up at 4:30 a.m. the next day to prepare for the church Christmas celebration. He was fatigued, like he was coming down with something, so he took a nap around 2 p.m. “That was very strange because I had been in the bed all day Friday.” When he awoke, he had flu-like symptoms. “At the time, I didn’t know that was the sign of a heart attack.”
His condition was no better the next day. “When I woke up Sunday morning, it was like I had been in a pool all night – a lot of sweats.” After the Christmas church service, he returned home and went back to bed. Around 6 p.m., while visiting his parents, he started experiencing what he thought was indigestion, which he had never had before. “On my way home, I felt like the Holy Spirit said to me, ‘Hey, you are having a heart attack and need to accept that and you need to go to the emergency room.’”
By himself, Maltbia drove to Conway Regional. “The staff was very attentive. It was determined I had a heart attack within the last 48 hours,” he said, adding that he was admitted to await instructions from a cardiologist. “Dr. (Donald) Steely was in there within 15 minutes and he shared with me, ‘Pastor, you need to go to the cath lab right now. We can’t wait until tomorrow.’”
With the hospital’s heart surgeon out on Christmas break, Maltbia was transferred to St. Vincent Medical Center in Little Rock. “Conway Regional has a great working relationship with St. Vincent and our cardiologists are part of the Jack Stephens Heart Clinic at St. Vincent.”
When he arrived, there was a six or seven-person team waiting to whisk him to the cath lab. “An hour and a half later, I had three stints.” One artery was completely blocked, a second was 95 percent blocked and there was a blood clot. “The doctor told me if I had not come when I did, my family very likely would’ve had a very different Christmas,” he said. “I certainly want to encourage people not to ignore warning signs and to err on the side of caution.”
After the procedure, Maltbia spent two days in the intensive care unit before he returned home. The doctor told him that “miraculously” his heart was healing itself and he should make a full recovery.
Maltbia has had six weeks of cardio rehab at Conway Regional, three days a week. “The staff at the cardio rehab are the unsung heroes of our hospital,” he said. “It is amazing what they do for those patients physically and emotionally. That has been the best thing for me because that has pushed me to get back active and calmed my fears.”
Looking back on the weeks leading up to Dec. 19, Maltbia said he had some early symptoms but they were not the classic signs associated with a heart attack. He had noticed that he fatigued more quickly in the gym and had sweats for no apparent reason. His legs had also retained fluid.
Natasha, his wife of 23 years, suspected that her husband might be having a heart issue and had encouraged him to get it checked, but Maltbia did not see a reason for concern.
He said in hindsight that going home and going to bed wasn’t the best decision.
Maltbia, who played football from peewee through high school, has always tried to stay relatively physically fit. At his most recent annual exam, there were no indicators of a problem and Maltbia thought he was the picture of health.
According to Maltbia, who will turn 45 on Feb. 28, it was determined that the heart attack was not related to his lifestyle but because of genetics. “If you have heart disease in your family, get it checked out.”
Since the heart attack, Maltbia now takes his own advice that he has offered to others over the years. “We are limited resources. We can’t be everything to everyone all the time,” he said, explaining that when pulled on by responsibilities, individuals should replace “and” with “or.” “Instead of saying ‘I’m going to do this and that,’ you really need to say, ‘I’m going to do this or that.’ So every time you pick something up, it’s probably wise to take something off.”
Maltbia, senior pastor and founder of True Holiness Saints Center in Conway, has been very active in the community, serving on a variety of boards. In addition to his family and church, Conway Regional and the University of Central Arkansas are his main focus.
In January, he began his second term on the Conway Regional board of directors and was named board chairman. “As a pastor, I’m in and out of there every week,” he said, adding that part of the church’s mission is to be good stewards of the temple (body) that God has provided. “The mission of Conway Regional was right in line with that so it was a good fit with what we were already doing.”
Maltbia joined the Conway Regional board in 2010 after serving on the health system’s Community Advisory Board for several years. “I am humbled by the vote of confidence given by the board of directors to serve in this leadership capacity,” said Maltbia. “I look forward to continuing to work with the employees, medical staff and fellow directors to provide quality and compassionate care from our flagship healthcare system.”
Maltbia, who attended the University of Central Arkansas, said he loves the school and has served in different capacities. Most recently, he was named by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to the UCA Board of Trustees. “UCA and Conway Regional are that important that I want to spend my time there,” he said. “I’m really honored to serve in those two capacities.”
In keeping with his new approach to time and commitments, Maltbia resigned from the state Martin Luther King Jr. Commission, the UCA parents council and the Conway Race Relations initiative.
In addition to the help and support of his wife, Maltbia also points to his staff in helping him through recovery and with his new responsibilities. “If I didn’t have such a good support system at the church and at home, I couldn’t do the things that I do now.”
Having never been a hospital patient before, he has gained a new perspective from the experience. “It’s much different when you’re the person sitting or lying in the bed and it can be very scary. But the staff at Conway Regional did an amazing job of calming my fears and addressing my concerns. The ability that Conway has to assess the scenario and then pull on the resources available at St. Vincent on such an intimate level speaks volumes for our healthcare system.”
Maltbia said that the experience has provided some time for reflection on maximizing time and those things that are most important. “I’m well aware that I’m a walking miracle. Not everybody has the opportunity to bounce back from that sort of thing.”