Beloved Sheriff Opens Heart To Doctors
Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes is recovering and back at work after heart problems sent him to Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital for three days last week and caused the sheriff to miss his own fundraiser on Friday, Jan. 31 – an event to kickoff his reelection campaign and double as his birthday party.
The 300 or so guests at Barnes’ fundraiser at the Greensboro Shrine Club on High Point Road was a who’s who of area politicos, and the crowd was stunned to learn shortly after their arrival that Barnes was in the hospital for a heart procedure and would not be at the event for which invitations went out more than a month earlier.
Barnes’ wife, Dena, and his good friend former Guilford County Commissioner Billy Yow, spoke briefly about the sheriff, who at that point was recovering from a heart procedure in which a stent was inserted to correct a malfunctioning artery in his heart.
Barnes, a Republican and one of the most powerful politicians in the county, is a highly popular sheriff who has served in that capacity for the last 20 years. He traditionally wins reelection by a large margin.
The guests at the Barnes-less event included 6th District Congressman Howard Coble as well as many of the candidates now vying for that seat, since Coble isn’t running for reelection. The Republican-dominated crowd also included many of the candidates running for other offices, as well as sitting county commissioners, city and town councilmembers and way too many notable citizens to mention.
On Monday afternoon, Feb. 3, two days after Barnes was released from the hospital, he was recovering at his home and in good spirits. He said he was on his computer and phone, working from home much of the day, and that he had probably taken “60 or 70” calls that day. The sheriff also said he was feeling well and added that his doctors were pleased with his recovery.
Barnes said that on Saturday, Jan. 25, he was at a National Sheriffs’ Association meeting in Washington, DC. He said his wife accompanied him and it was bitterly cold. It was there that he started to feel under the weather and thought he had caught a bug.
“I felt like I was coming down with the flu,” he said.
He said he took his vitamins that morning, and something felt like heartburn, but thought that a vitamin had gone down wrong and was lodged in his esophagus. Barnes said that Rolaids seemed to help but he could tell something was wrong.
He said he also felt bad on Monday and Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Jan. 29, Barnes was in Winston-Salem taping Triad Today, a local television show on which Barnes frequently appears as a panelist. He said that, when he left that show, he felt very bad and he made an appointment with the doctor that afternoon.
Barnes said that, a week earlier he’d gotten a complete workup as part of an annual heart checkup he has every year – and everything had checked out well. During that visit, Barnes had an EKG and the results were good.
“The doctor told me, ‘Everything looks great, I’ll see you in a year,’” Barnes said.
The sheriff said that, when he went to the doctor feeling ill on Wednesday, Jan. 29, the doctor told him that he did not appear to have the flu. He told Barnes he wanted to do an EKG. Barnes told the doctor, “I just had one.”
“I’m thinking, somebody’s got a boat payment,” Barnes said.
The doctor sent Barnes to the emergency room at Cone Hospital where he was examined again and the sheriff was told there that they wanted to do an EKG.
“Now I know somebody’s got a boat payment,” Barnes said.
Barnes remained in the hospital that night and, the next day, he underwent a battery of tests, and a cardiac catheterization was scheduled for Friday afternoon.
“I knew right then that I was not going to make it to the party,” he said.
Barnes said that, before the procedure, the doctor asked him to what degree he wanted to be knocked out by anesthesia.
“I told them I didn’t want to go under at all,” Barnes said. “I was able to watch the whole thing on a 50-inch screen four feet from my face.”
On Friday, the day of the big fundraiser, the stent was put in place using a long flexible tube that was inserted through his wrist.
Barnes said that, before the procedure, he had some instructions for his doctor.
“I said I only want three things: One, I want to come out better than I went in; two, I want to look like George Clooney; and, three, I want your money – and I don’t care about the second two.”
Barnes said the doctors and staff at Cone were exceptional, and he was very pleased with his treatment.
“They did a fantastic job,” he said.
Barnes said he didn’t think much of the hospital food, however, and the 6-foot-8-inch sheriff added that the beds weren’t nearly big enough.
“My feet hung over the end,” Barnes said.
Barnes also said it was impossible to sleep in the hospital for many reasons, and that it was a relief when he got home on Saturday, and was able to sleep for the first time in days.
It’s not the first time a doctor has put a medical device in the sheriff. Barnes had back trouble several years ago and had surgery to remedy that.
“I have two metal rods and eight screws in me,” Barnes said.
He said the only time during the three-day hospital stay that he was out of touch with his office was when he was actually having the heart procedure done. He said that technology allows him to run the Sheriff’s Department even when he isn’t in his office.
“I hope people know that I’ve still got my hand on the wheel,” Barnes said.
After the news of Barnes’ scare, Republicans and Democrats alike were wishing Barnes well.
Yow said this week that he’s confident Barnes will be as good as new in no time and be reelected.
“He’s a phenomenal sheriff and I think he’s done an astounding job,” Yow said.
BY Scott D. Yost
February 6, 2014
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