The best gifts at Christmas

May 24, 2011

Delaware County Treasurer Jon Peterson led off a telephone interview from his hospital bed Monday with a little Mark Twain.

“Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” Peterson said, punctuating the quote from the famous American novelist with a trademark belly laugh.

About five days after suffering a heart attack that nearly killed him, Peterson this morning will undergo surgery to install a pacemaker, a device that will use electronic impulses to regulate his heartbeat. The former state representative and Delaware County political fixture remains hospitalized at Grant Medical Center in Columbus.

After a few days in intensive care, Peterson’s condition has been upgraded from “critical” to “serious.” He said he hopes to be released from the hospital Wednesday, with his sights on returning to the treasurer’s office for a few hours by Friday.

Peterson has identified various “blessings” while reflecting on his heart attack. For starters, it’s only luck (or providence) that he is even alive. He doesn’t remember anything about his heart attack last Wednesday, and his recollection before then is foggy.

“I had to read about it in the newspaper to find out what happened to me,” he said.

But he knows his wife Melissa is usually at work in Columbus on Wednesdays. He’s not sure why she was home, but he’s grateful she was; she’s the one who discovered him unconscious in the Peterson’s home and called 911. With the help of a dispatcher, Melissa Peterson performed CPR on her husband, keeping his blood circulating until a Delaware police officer arrived at the scene and restarted his heart with a defibrillator.

Peterson says he is pledging to make lifestyle changes following his latest heart attack; he gave up smoking after his last heart attack and subsequent sextuple bypass in 1997, and practiced a vegan diet for two years.

He plans to resume his vegan diet, and to start riding his bike to work (his doctor forbid him to drive for six months.)

He does not plan to stop working, he said; instead, he plans to delegate more, both at the county treasurer’s office and at Zion United Church of Christ, where he has served as a pastor since last October.

“I’m not going to be good to anyone if I am gone from this Earth. So I’m going to try to take care of myself,” Peterson said.

“The spirit works in different ways,” Peterson said later, “and maybe this is a blessing in the sense that I will be able empower others around me (at the county and Zion church) to embrace their work, to affirm their work and to grow in their different positions. I think that will be the result of this.”

Although he still has some chest congestion (he coughed occasionally during a 20-minute interview) and spoke uncharacteristically quietly, Peterson’s was regaining his booming voice that befits him, a former lawyer and current preacher. He was also taking phone calls and sending emails from his hospital bed.

He said he appreciates the roughly 50 letters and dozens of visitors he has received since he has been at the hospital.

“I’m just humbled… I don’t know what to say other than that,” Peterson said.