One Upshur County man believes that each day is a gift from God, one to be enjoyed and lived to the fullest.
While many celebrate birthdays and wedding anniversaries, Jim Lockhart, better known to many as Fuzzy the Clown, is celebrating his 40th anniversary of having open heart surgery today.
On June 18, 1969, Lockhart, 18, was unsure what the future held, or even if there was a future, as he was wheeled into the operating room at Allegheny General Hospital in Pennsylvania for surgery.
(CU and Inter-Mountain/Becky Wagoner)
SPECIAL CELEBRATION — Fuzzy, left, and Stubbles will travel to Pennsylvania this weekend for a once in a lifetime celebration, marking a very unique anniversary.
"I have always had very good faith and I had made my peace with God," Lockhart said. "I knew I would see God in heaven or, if I survived, I would continue to live and do God's work."
Lockhart knew at an early age that something was wrong but learned the official cause and seriousness of his illness, Pulmonary Stannous, in January 1969. As a small child, the simple act of playing with friends would cause Lockhart's lips, hands and feet to turn blue. Breaks were also necessary after just a few innings of a pick-up baseball game, he said.
As a small boy, the only problem that doctors could detect was a heart murmur.
Lockhart credits his mother for his remaining active, despite the challenges.
"She never limited my activities because of the murmur," he said. "No matter what I was doing, she was always supportive."
Nine days before his surgery, Lockhart crossed another milestone in his life. He graduated from South Hills High School in Pittsburgh on June 9, 1969. With the end of school fast approaching, a teacher began questioning the soon-to-be graduates about their plans for the future.
"Classmates told of their plans to enter the workforce or attend college. I told my plans for open heart surgery," Lockhart said. "This is how my classmates and teacher found out. I did not tell anyone because I did not want to be treated differently." Lockhart's best friend, Dana Morreale, was the only person with the exception of a few school administrators that knew of Lockhart's condition.
With surgery day fast approaching, Lockhart and his father traveled to Cleveland, Ohio, to visit his stepmother's family, a trip that was never completed.
"On the way, we were involved in an automobile accident, we were hit by a drunk driver," he said.
Due to his medical condition, Lockhart was evaluated at a local hospital and was immediately transferred to Allegheny General to await surgery.
In 1969, the statistics were not favorable for successful open heart surgery.
"There was an 80 percent chance that I would die during surgery, or be bed ridden for the remainder of my life," Lockhart said. The prognosis for the remaining 20 percent indicated a high chance of limited future activities.
"Back then if a person had a heart catheterization and lived, the chances were a little better that you would live through the surgery, but there were no guarantees," he said.
In 1969, post-surgery usually consisted of about three days in intensive care followed by an additional two weeks in the hospital.
It took 12-hours to complete Lockhart's surgery. "I died twice on the table, but they were able to bring me back," he said.
To everyone's amazement, Lockhart made a remarkable recovering.
Within hours after the surgery his ventilator was removed and he was transferred out of intensive care the following day.
"The first thing I realized after surgery was that my feet were warm," Lockhart said. "They were warm for the first time in my life."
Two days after surgery, although going was slow, Lockhart was up and about, with assistance, and was able to return home just five days after surgery.
Lockhart's surgery was performed by Dr. George McGovern Sr. of Florida. McGovern, who is now 85, just recently invented a "muscle flap" currently being tested that will do away with the defibrillator.
Although Lockhart made an extraordinary recovery, his doctors disqualified him for the military draft.
"I had a friend who was drafted and I asked him what I could do," Lockhart said. "He told me to fly a flag in his honor until he returned - they brought him back in a body bag about a year later. I have flown a flag everyday since and I always will."
Lockhart attended one year at Adrian College in Michigan and graduated from Point Park College in Pittsburgh in 1974. He received his master's degree from West Virginia University in 1988. Lockhart taught elementary school and kindergarten for two years in Pittsburgh and 31 years in West Virginia. He also served as a principal for one year.
Although Lockhart has a high IQ, he received bad grades in elementary, middle and high school. "Counselors and teachers used to tell me I was wasting my time, I was only qualified to be a garbage man. "It was later determined that it was due to lack of oxygen," he said. "Physically, you could not tell I was handicapped, but I was."
As an educator, Lockhart has received numerous awards including the 1998 USA Today All-American Teacher Team Award, the Golden Apple, the National Jewish League award for introducing Read-a-Loud programs across the state of West Virginia, RESA VII awards for being co-creator of the local Children's Festival and was recipient with the Distinguished Alumni Award from Point Park in 2001. In addition, Lockhart won the Clownatarian of the Year Award from the Mid-Atlantic Clown Association in 1997.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary, Fuzzy and his faithful sidekick Stubbles, will travel to Martinsburg, Pa., for lunch with family and friends. The pair will then entertain at Homewood Nursing Home where Lockhart's mother is a resident, taking part in the facilities Strawberry Festival.
"When I look at my life as a teacher and a clown, look at all the lives God has allowed me to touch," Lockhart said. "My mother always said that God was not done with me yet."
In 1969, Lockhart was told additional heart surgery would be required in five years and if it was not performed, he would only live 10 more years. To date, although Lockhart has some other health problems, none are related to his heart and he has had no additional heart surgeries.