Eric Church on Secret Health Scare and Life-Saving Surgery: “I Was Going to Die”

“I said, ‘Can it kill me?’ And he said, ‘Today.’ And I said, ‘I need to make a phone call.’ ”

Written by Lauren Laffer
Eric Church on Secret Health Scare and Life-Saving Surgery: “I Was Going to Die”
Eric Church; Photo by Donn Jones/CMA

Eric Church has never been afraid to speak his mind and tell his truth. His cut-to-the-chase attitude was highlighted in a recent interview with Rolling Stone, where the singer talked about everything from his beef with Garth Brooks winning the 2017 CMA Entertainer of the Year to gun reform, politics and so much more. It was during that chat, however, that Church went into detail about a secret health battle he fought during the summer of 2017, one that he’s only now sharing with the world.

While home in North Carolina, Church was “watching the College World Series and texting about golf” and noticed that his left hand wasn’t responding the way it should. In fact, the singer’s arm and chest were red and swollen, prompting him to leave his kids with the nanny and rush to the hospital. (His wife Katherine was in Nashville at the time.)

After arriving at the hospital, doctors told Church that he would need an ultrasound, something that facility could not provide. Wrapping up the IV in his arm, Church drove himself nearly half an hour to a hospital in Boone, N.C. for further testing.

I didn’t want to be here tonight. I didn’t want to play guitar. I didn’t want to walk on this stage, but last night, let me try to get this out, last night somebody sent me a video of a lady named Heather Melton and she was talking to Anderson Cooper on CNN and she had on our Church Choir Tour shirt. And he said, “what brought you to Vegas?” and she goes “We went there to see Eric Church because he was Sonny’s [her husband who died] it was his guy, and we went there to see his guy.” And then she said “We have tickets for the Grand Ole Opry tomorrow night.” And there’s a, over here, section 3, row F, if you’re there in row F, there’s some empty seats and that’s their seats. And, I’m gonna tell you something, the reason I’m here, the reason I’m here tonight, is because of Heather Melton and her husband Sonny, who died, and every person that was there. I’ll tell you something, I saw that crowd. I saw them with their hands in the air. I saw them with boots in the air. And what I saw, that moment in time that was frozen there’s no amount of bullets that can take away. None. And that night, something broke in me, on Sunday night when that happened. And the only way I’ve ever fixed anything that’s been broken in me is with music. So I wrote a song…

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“By this time, it’s near 5 a.m.,” he explained. “I was thinking about my family and kids, and how I wanted to make it back home. But I was also thinking about the tour, and what we went through. I looked back and I honestly felt pretty satisfied that I couldn’t have given another thing.”

After his ultrasound, doctors returned to tell him that he had a blood clot in his chest and needed immediate surgery.

“I said, ‘Can it kill me?’ And he said, ‘Today.’ And I said, ‘I need to make a phone call.’”

Church called his wife, among other people, and made arrangements to be transported to Duke University Hospital. Before departing in the back of an ambulance, doctors gave him blood thinners. Hopeful for rest once he arrived at the hospital, Church was surprised to see his doctors waiting in the operating room.

“They took me into the ICU and I thought, ‘OK, I’m gonna go to bed, get up in the morning and do this thing,’ ” he recalled. “But when I walk in the room, the surgical team is there and the [doctor’s] in scrubs. He says, ‘We’re gonna go now.’ That was really when it hit me. To them, I was going to die.”

The “Desperate Man” singer later learned that he had thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition in which the topmost rib is too close to the collarbone. Three days after his surgery, Church once again went under the knife to remove the collarbone and prevent recurrence. While the scars from the surgery remain, the father of  two realizes just how lucky he was to have made it to the hospital on time.

“Normally, if you’re athletic, you’ll start having issues at 21, 22, 23,” he said, noting someone his age doesn’t typically find out in time. “They just fall over in the shower.”

Church is now back in full health, and can still play guitar…and he’s playing “golf better than ever.” He’ll soon embark on the next chapter of his musical career with his new record, Desperate Man, set for release on October 5.