Almost a year ago, Elaine Gray Lawrence was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, and at the time, she felt she had been issued a death sentence.
“Even though I know God and I trust God, when you initially hear it, you are human and you have human feelings,” she said. “I was heartbroken. Devastated. And then I had to tell my children.”
Looking at Lawrence today, however, it’s almost hard to believe that just a few months ago, she was unable to perform simple everyday tasks that many people take for granted.
“It was the most difficult time in my life,” she said. “It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever faced in my life.”
Lawrence said her faith in God and a positive attitude pulled her through that difficult time. “I am a woman of faith, and I had to use my faith,” she said.
Lawrence said, “I’m going to be a miracle. I’m going to be the one who confounds the doctors. I was speaking life and not death. The Bible says to speak life.”
She said now she wants others to know that “all sickness is not unto death” and that “you just have to believe and trust God.”
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Lawrence, 54, has been ordained for 15 years and has served as pastor of Swiftown Missionary Baptist Church for 13 years.
For 20 years, she has worked as a bail bondsman at Pugh Bail Bonding Co., located on Main Street.
Lawrence said she’s had some health issues in the past — a breast cancer scare, in which the lump turned out to be benign, and kidney failure, for which she takes medicine — but none related to her heart.
In fact, she had no idea that anything was wrong with her heart.
She described it as feeling normal one day and the next feeling shortness of breath while doing simple tasks, such as walking.
“I wasn’t sick or anything. I went to church that Sunday, and I preached, and the next day, I got up and I couldn’t walk,” Lawrence said. “I was breathless. I was unable to walk the smallest distance. I literally felt like I was going to pass out.”
Lawrence was taken to the emergency room at Greenwood Leflore Hospital, where she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. She said the doctor told her that her heart was working at only 10%.
“It’s a grim diagnosis, because most people diagnosed with it don’t even live a year,” she said.
She was admitted to the hospital, where she stayed for a couple of weeks.
“There was so much fluid around my heart and my lungs, and they were trying to get the fluid off my heart and my lungs,” she said.
She said that a short time after her hospital stay, she felt she wasn’t getting any better. In fact, she said, “I was getting worse.”
One day when she was feeling very ill, Lawrence’s sister drove her to St. Dominic Hospital in Jackson. When she arrived, Lawrence said it was discovered that she was in the middle of having a heart attack.
“When they saw me, they immediately admitted me,” she said.
Lawrence said she had to stay in an observation room with her own personal nurse, who checked on her about every 30 minutes.
Lawrence said her cardiologist, Dr. Donny Stokes, held her hand and told her, “‘Most people with congestive heart failure are in their late 60s and 70s when they get diagnosed with this.’ He told me, ‘You are too young to have this, and I’m going to do everything in my power to save your life.’”
Lawrence was put on the heart transplant list. In the meantime, surgery to install a pacemaker and defibrillator was recommended. With her heart only working at 10%, however, Lawrence was not healthy enough to undergo any surgical procedures to help her heart.
So from November 2018 to May of this year, Lawrence had to wear a life vest — a cardioverter defibrillator that is worn by patients at risk of sudden cardiac death — and was mostly on bed rest.
Lawrence said, “For me, to be an independent, self-sufficient woman all of my life, do you know how devastating that was for me? I just trusted God that he was going to bring me back.”
In May, Lawrence’s pacemaker and defibrillator were successfully installed.
“From last year to this year, my heart is pumping twice as better,” she said.
“I’m basically back. I can’t do any lifting, and I can’t go on a long walk, but during my downtime, I wasn’t able to comb my hair, take a bath or unscrew a cap off of a Dasani bottle.”
Lawrence feels she is a miracle, as she told herself she would be a year ago.
“My doctors told me that my great outlook on my condition helped my condition,” she said.
Lawrence added, “God is restoring me.”
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During what Lawrence calls her downtime, from November to May, she said she began thinking a lot about her life.
“You know, a lot of things run through your mind, a lot of mistakes that I made,” she said.
Lawrence’s mother died when she was a child, and she said her stepmother was not nurturing. At age 17, Lawrence was on her own.
“All the things your mom would teach you about life and men and all of that, I never learned,” she said. “I had to learn it on the streets; I had to learn it the wrong way.”
While on bed rest, Lawrence said, “Basically, the only things I could lift were pen and paper.”
So, she decided to write.
“I wasn’t even planning on writing a book,” she said. “I was just jotting down my thoughts.”
What came to fruition was “How to Become ‘Her,’” a 100-page self-help book.
It features inspiration geared toward women who want to better themselves and have long-lasting, healthy relationships. The book also includes Scripture and a couple of pages to write on after each chapter.
“It’s about how you can become the best woman you can be in life,” she said. “It teaches young women and older women not to make the same mistakes that I made in life, because I didn’t have anybody to teach me.”
Lawrence offers “pearls of wisdom” that she had to learn the hard way, and she said she’s already sold more than 100 copies since the book’s release at the beginning of this month.
“It’s a book for all women,” she said.
A book signing for “How to Become ‘Her’” will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at The Alluvian in the Terrace Room upstairs.
The event will include a question-and-answer session, Lawrence will read a chapter, and she will also talk about her book and being diagnosed with congestive heart failure.
“My health is doing well, my book is doing well, I’m happy in my life, and I’m trusting God that I’m not going to even need the heart transplant,” she said. “When I go back to the doctor in four months, they’re going to see even more improvement.”
A line from Lawrence’s book reads, “What should have killed me gave me life.” She said she hopes her story will encourage others who are facing life-threatening illnesses.
“There’s a lot of sick people, and I hope my story will help somebody to know that no matter what the diagnosis is that God can heal them,” she said. “Just if I can help one person, I will be happy, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.”
•Contact Ruthie Robison at 581-7235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.