From Scott Lecroy’s vantage on the front porch, he watched the trucks roll up and down the highway near his house. His Gibson guitar leaned against the wall nearby.
“I use that if I get the blues,” Lecroy said, gesturing to the guitar. “I pick it up and go strumming on it.”
Lecroy doesn’t appear to be a person who feels blue very often. He laughs loudly, makes jokes and eagerly shares the lessons he’s learned about life and his faith. The 54-year-old tries to live in the moment.
“I don’t look back to the past because you can’t change that,” Lecroy said, leaning back in his vinyl porch chair. “I don’t really look forward to the future because I see that as being downhill.”
A month ago, the Gainesville man learned his heart condition had deteriorated. He was told he could expect to live for another four to six months.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in every 4 deaths in the U.S. are because of heart disease.
The news came with the results of a recent echocardiogram. The latest results were compared with a test he took two years earlier and revealed significantly reduced heart function.
Lecroy said while he had been living with a heart condition his whole life, the news felt like getting punched in the chest.
“It was a sudden news and unfortunately my emotions fell apart for a few minutes,” Lecroy said. “I did cry. It did hurt. It scared me. But after I had a little while to think about it, I thought ‘I’m not dead yet. Let’s figure this thing out.’ ... It scared me worse than it (hurt) emotionally. It took a few seconds to get over the emotional part, but it took a few hours for Jesus to get it in my head that he’s in control and I was worried about what he’s in control of. After he gave me that thought, I let it go. You can’t control nature.”
Lecroy was born with a hereditary heart condition and later developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure. In the past 11 years, he’s had two heart stents, triple bypass surgery and had a pacemaker and defibrillator implanted to “kick start” his heart should it stop beating.
“I’ve had this heart problem for quite some time,” Lecroy said. “I blame it on two things, it’s hereditary in my family and it was an occupational hazard.”
Lecroy worked as a commercial truck driver — what he calls “the most unhealthy occupation a man can have” — for more than 35 years. Long shifts with little physical movement and fast food caused Lecroy to gain 100 pounds over the years.
Lecroy said he knew he had health problems but often avoided seeing a doctor because of his financial limitations.
“I don’t want to create bills that I can’t pay,” Lecroy said. “I try to shy away from that. Some day that decision may cost my life.”
Lecroy said he owes thousands in medical expenses after his health condition forced him to quit his job, which led to him losing his health insurance.
“Some of the things that have happened to me have been my own fault,” Lecroy said. “My doctor, Dr. (Brenda) Hott, at (The Heart Center of) Northeast Georgia Medical Center told me seven years ago to ‘Stop. That’s it. Apply for disability.’ I did. Unfortunately, the wife and I and our kids wound up homeless because I wasn’t working. Without money you can’t make it.
“Against the doctor’s better judgement, I went back to work anyway,” he continued. “I did it for another five years. She told me when I did that, I would pay for it. But under the circumstances, when you’re a father and you’ve got kids, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
Hott, medical director of the heart failure program at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, didn’t speak specifically about Lecroy’s situation but said heart disease and failure is a very common diagnosis. However, medications and lifestyle changes can prolong patients’ lives and improve their quality of life.
“They can live quite a long time,” Hott said. “It depends on how severe the heart failure is, how weak the heart is and how well it’s able to do its job. But with the medical therapies we have, sometimes we actually get hearts back to normal and they can improve and have a very good quality of life for a very long time. Unfortunately, at this point in time, we don’t have a way of predicting who will improve with medical therapy, who will stay the same and who will worsen. When we first see patients we try to be real aggressive and try to prevent negative changes over time and watch them very closely.”
Lecroy eventually did quit because of his health condition and sought disability compensation. His commercial drivers license was finally suspended last month.
He sought care from Good News Clinics, a nonprofit that provides free medical care to uninsured, low-income people in Hall County.
Lecroy was the first patient to receive follow-up care at the Good News Heart Failure Clinic, a partnership with Northeast Georgia Medical Center. The program provides medication, primary and follow-up cardiac care to patients at no cost.
“People in this community don’t often know what’s available to them and sometimes they wait until whatever the issue is to get very critical until they call out for help,” said Cheryl Christian, executive director of Good News Clinics. “They think ‘I don’t have insurance. I know it’s going to be expensive. I can do without it.’ In this community, it’s very unique that we do have the partnerships with the hospital and specialists in town that we can provide primary care and specialty care at no cost.”
Lecroy said he hopes other heart patients in situations similar to his own will seek care and prolong their lives as much as possible.
“I feel blessed to have Good News Clinics,” Lecroy said. “I wouldn’t have survived without these medications. I take about 15 pills a day and every one of them does something different. Without Good News (Clinics) I would have lost my life years ago. I really do believe I wouldn’t have made it this far.”
Lecroy said he believes he’s lived as long as he has because he “feels like God has something he wants me to do and he’s not going to let me pass from this life into the next until I do it.”
He said he “doesn’t know what that might be” but hopes at least to encourage other heart patients to stop worrying about the incurable condition and take steps to treat it.
“I hope somebody realized that this is really, truly a disease and once you get it, you got it, but you can live with it,” Lecroy said. “If you treat it and handle it the way the doctors tell you to.”
Though he’s been advised to take gentle care of himself and avoid strenuous activity, Lecroy said he’s never been one to sit still. He has been making a point to visit old friends, make new ones and spend as much time as he can with his family.
“Am I comfortable with the idea that my life is about over and I’m going to die? No,” Lecroy said. “I have four children, nine grandchildren and every reason in the world to live. But on the other hand, I’m a firm believer in Jesus Christ. God’s been in my life since I was a small child and there have been many things that have happened to me over the years that I could not have survived without my faith. That’s what carries me on today.”