Ricky Skaggs Feeling '150%' After Quadruple Bypass: 'It Was a Blessing I Didn't Have a Heart Attack'
"I have thanked the Lord hundreds of times that I wasn't out in the middle of Texas on a tour bus, miles away from a hospital," the country legend tells PEOPLE
Ricky Skaggs knew something was wrong. For more than six months, the country music and bluegrass legend found himself getting winded easily. He noticed a tightness in his chest that was never there before. And then, there was the shortness of breath that would hit him when he least expected it.
Maybe it was stress.
Maybe it was acid reflux.
Or maybe, it was something far more serious.
But, much like the rest of us, the Country Music Hall of Famer didn't have much time to dwell on these troubling symptoms. He had much on his plate in 2020. After spending a good portion of January and February out doing shows, Skaggs and his crew found themselves off the road and without a paycheck due to various COVID-19 lockdowns starting in March. At home, Skaggs and his wife Sharon White had been busy caring for her elderly father Buck White for the past three years. And before the crazy year of 2020 was through, their brand-new grandson would be born.
In fact, on June 11, Skaggs and his wife were set to travel to North Carolina to visit their son Luke and his wife Rosemary as they prepped for the birth of their new baby. But just a day before, after his six-month checkup and a subsequent CT scan of his heart, Skaggs received word that his doctors wanted him to go in for an angiogram to better address his symptoms.
"Scripture tells us God always knows the thoughts of man," Skaggs, 66, recalls in an exclusive interview with PEOPLE. "That was proven to me at that moment, because while I did not speak it from my mouth, I thought about putting the angiogram off for a week. When I thought that thought, it was like I saw the Lord with a jeweler's eye glass on. He was peering at me but never said a word. But just by His look, I knew He was saying, 'Absolutely no.' It put the fear of God in me. He had given me so many grace situations, but He was serious that I needed to take care of this now."
Four days later, Skaggs underwent a quadruple bypass on his heart at Centennial Medical Center in Nashville.
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"I have thanked the Lord hundreds of times that I wasn't out in the middle of Texas on a tour bus, miles away from a hospital," says the 15-time GRAMMY award winner best known for No. 1 hits such as "Country Boy," "Highway 40 Blues" and "Cajun Moon." "It was a major blessing I didn't have a heart attack. Nothing was hurt, and nothing was destroyed or irreparable. It was just by the mercy and grace of God that all of this happened in this way."
Indeed, while his underlying symptoms were troubling enough, Skaggs says that in the first half of 2020, there were a number of signs directing him to put his health first. From the Life Line Screening letters he kept finding in his mailbox to the news of Amy Grant's surgery back in June to address a congenital heart condition called partial anomalous pulmonary venous return (PAPVR) to the timing of his sister-in-law Cheryl White Jones' mini-stroke on the very same day of his six-month checkup, Skaggs says he continued to feel God tugging on his heart to do something about how he was feeling.
"God gives us grace, but we all have a tendency to kick in the boundaries of that grace," Skaggs explains. "Sometimes, we are like a bull running through the fence of grace. But then, there comes a time when He has to come after us. I knew that I couldn't stand in the shadows of my heart situation anymore. I had been fearful of a heart attack or getting a stent put in all of this time, but now, I was in a corner. I had to address it."
In the hours after the life-altering surgery on June 15, Skaggs met with his heart surgeon Dr. Sreekumar "Kumar" Subramanian, who relayed an earth-shattering story from the operating room.
"He told me that when he was finished with the bypasses, he literally was holding my heart in his hand, and my heart literally leapt in his hands when the blood started flowing through it again," a tearful Skaggs recalls. "I just started bawling. It was the most incredible thing I have ever heard in my life."
Today, Skaggs — who spent four days in the hospital, surrounded by wife Sharon and daughters Molly and Mandy, following the surgery —says he feels not just 100%, but 150% better than he once did. He walks without getting winded. He is working to strengthen his heart muscle. And in September — just days before his grandson Lyric finally arrived — Skaggs returned to play at the historic Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
"Don't put off tomorrow what you can do today," Skaggs tells PEOPLE. "That surgery gave me a brand-new heart. Not only a real heart, but a spiritual heart that has now been cleaned out, so I can hear Him better than ever before."
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