For Thomson High School Head Football Coach Luther Welsh, getting choked turned out to be a good thing.
The 73-year-old coaching veteran of 49 years had surgery to implant a pacemaker on Saturday. It will adjust his irregular heartbeat that was discovered after an emergency room visit to dislodge food wedged in his esophagus.
And true to his style, he was back on the practice field Monday morning. The only doctor-imposed regulation was that he had limited use of his left arm so that the stitches could heal. Other than that, Coach Welsh said he feels younger than he has in years.
"I'm 100 percent better than I was last week," he said. "Now my heart is working like it should be, and my heartbeat is correct, and I'm getting the right circulation. ... (The doctor) told me the next day I was going to feel better."
Coach Welsh went to the emergency room at McDuffie Regional Medical Center last week after being unable to completely swallow a peice of meat. The meat came loose on its own, but the doctor ran an EKG and sent the coach to visit his cardiologist.
Former Thomson football player Mac Bowman, Coach Welsh's cardiologist, told him he needed the pacemaker after reviewing a heart monitor that the coach wore for an extended period of time.
Initially Coach Welsh said the only good time for the surgery was a week later when the players had a day off from practice, but his wife Anne had different plans.
"I said, 'Uh uh. No. You're starting two-a-days on Monday. There's no way I'm going through a week of this,'" she said. And Dr. Bowman scheduled the surgery for the very next day.
Now that the surgery is done and he's feeling like a much younger man, Coach Welsh plans to start back weight lifting and maybe even jogging, despite the bad knee. That kind of workout was nothing new for the coach, but now the feeling during and afterward is much better.
"I started feeling not right about six months ago, and I thought it was old age," he said.
Dr. Bowman told Coach Welsh that many people begin needing a pacemaker after age 65. The devices are typically more prevalent among the aging that are physically fit and have a slower resting heart rate.
If he hadn't received the device, Dr. Bowman told Coach Welsh he could have suffered from a stroke, heart attack or loss of consciousness while coaching or even driving.
Mrs. Welsh said her husband definitely has a guardian angel. Five years ago, while undergoing tests to find a kidney stone, doctors instead discovered lymphoma. So she is thankful for the little problems. Those have led to the discovery of larger ones that needed immediate treatment.