McCrabb: One year later, pastor with heart condition says she loves starting a new church

Pastor Carrie Jena spent days in ICU after contentious church meeting.

MIDDLETOWN — In October 2022, Jeff Jena and his wife, Pastor Carrie Jena, had routine heart screenings to scan for potential cardiac concerns.

Their results were complete opposites: Jeff’s led to triple-bypass surgery that he has fully recovered from and Carrie’s was “perfect, exemplary,” she said.

But what the screening didn’t detect was Carrie was susceptible to takotsubo cardiomyopathy (TCM), generally a short-term type of heart condition.

She said following a “contentious” church meeting in January 2023 where she pastored in Cincinnati, she “felt a pain” across her chest she hadn’t experienced.

Jena, 65, started driving back home to Middletown when she pulled into a restaurant parking lot and called her husband for advice. He recommended sitting there for 15 minutes to see if the symptoms subsided.

They did and when she got home, they drove to a local Urgent Care, but it was closed.

“A blessing” is how she described going there after hours.

Instead, they went to Atrium Medical Center in Middletown, walked into the Emergency Room, and before she could describe her symptoms to a nurse, she was sitting in a wheelchair with wires and sensors attached to her chest.

“You had something happen,” she was told.

She was diagnosed with TCM that can be triggered by an episode of intense emotional stress just like she experienced at the church meeting, she said. The condition causes sudden chest pain or shortness of breath and can mimic a heart attack, she said.

It is also called stress-induced cardiomyopathy, or “broken heart” syndrome.

Jena’s blood pressure, typically low, dropped even lower because her heart had enlarged and wasn’t pumping normally, she said. She spent days in the Intensive Care Unit and was seen by some of the same nurses who cared for her husband after his bypass surgery.

She was told her blood pressure would return and TCM was curable. For three months, 24 hours a day, she wore a “life vest” that monitored her heart’s production.

She hasn’t stopped living.

Four days a week, just as she did before the heart episode, she exercises at the local YMCA. She golfs at Wildwood Golf Club, travels extensively with her husband and enjoys watching their son, Miles, perform with The Wonderlands.

Now she’s looking forward to the next chapter in her life.

Jena founded The Gathering in downtown Middletown and now is starting a church in the West Side of Cincinnati. Several members of the church she pastored when she suffered from TCM, said they were leaving if Jena left.

She met with members of the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church and received “amazing support,” she said.

Jena led a small congregation on Easter Sunday in the basement of a church member, and just signed a lease for a building at 6700 Ruwes Oak Drive. New Day United Methodist Church will launch in August.

Now, more than a year after suffering from TCM and during National Heart Month, Jena thinks back and how the results of that church meeting changed her life’s direction.

She could consider the heart episode a “bad thing,” she said.

Instead, she prefers to think of it as a God thing.

“He was moving me where He wanted me to move,” she said. “I’m right where I need to be. When things seem really bad, remember God has a plan.”

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