Gospel singer LaJaye’ Britt always kept one foot in the music world and another in the medical field.
Whether performing on stage or working as a technician with dialysis and cardiac patients, Britt was totally in tune with others. Then, one day last May, it was time to pay attention to his own health.
Britt felt an unusual pain stretching across his chest toward his left underarm. He wasn’t too alarmed. He had been lifting weights the night before and thought he’d pulled a muscle.
“The pain, it would hit and back off,” he explained.
His wife, Shalonda, was asleep upstairs because she worked a hospital night shift. When LaJaye’s daughter ShaJaylah, 13, arrived home from school, she helped take his blood pressure. It was extremely high.
ShaJaylah did some Internet research, paused, then told her father: “You could be having a heart attack or a stroke or something.”
The pain kept worsening. It was piercing. Britt – the man normally so full of song – was losing his breath. Then he couldn’t even stand. His wife was now awake, and they decided he should go to the hospital. As she raced to get him there, he recalled, “It attacked me full stream.”
Emergency room workers surrounded him in a trauma room. They quickly determined Britt was having a heart attack.
Doctors planned to send Britt in a medical helicopter from the community hospital in Goldsboro, North Carolina, to a heart hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina. But the chopper couldn’t fly because of a storm. Britt was given pain medication and nitroglycerin and was taken by ambulance on an hourlong ride to Raleigh, with lights flashing and sirens blaring.
“It was just really, really bad,” Britt recalled. “I was struggling. I was begging them – don’t let me die.”
A CT scan and X-rays revealed problems with his arteries. One main artery was 99 percent clogged, and a doctor opened the blockage by inserting a stent. Fortunately, there was no other damage to his heart.
“They just told me how lucky I was,” he said. “They were surprised I had not flat-lined.”
Immediately after his close call with death, Britt awoke with a clear mission in mind.
“I told my wife, ‘I keep having this dream about calling the American Heart Association,’” Britt said.
He contacted the association’s North Carolina affiliate, and soon began volunteering.
Now 46 and a full-time singer, songwriter and recording artist, Britt has spent the past few months speaking about cardiovascular health and appearing at American Heart Association events.
As he performs with rhythm and blues great Lenny Williams, Britt informs audiences about heart disease, the nation’s No. 1 killer. Sometimes his celebrity acquaintances want more information, too. He also spreads the word through social media and has been working on a recording project to benefit heart health awareness.
“I try to do as much as a I can. God kept me here for a reason,” Britt said. “I get an opportunity to get that message out to the public.”
He warns others to know their health statistics such as their blood pressure and cholesterol and to pay attention to symptoms.
“Heart attacks, they don’t make appointments,” he said. “They just come on in!”
Britt, who had no known family history of heart trouble, started walking daily and eating healthier. He’s lost nearly 50 pounds. He is on a blood thinner and baby aspirin. He avoids salt, pork, sodas and fried foods and eats fresh, green vegetables, an effort his wife encourages by cooking this way for the entire household.
Britt cherishes time with his family, including his four children, Shamiyah, LaJayvion, ShaJaylah and Shaliyah, ages 8 to 20. And, he delights in bringing music – and a heart healthy message – to the world.
“My passion to help others,” he said, “is why I want to live and do what I do.”