Island man shares his journey through a critical illness

Steve Connolly credits family and support for his recovery and return to his life

Jim Day
Published on February 23, 2013

Steve Connolly’s book They Touched My Heart will be launched Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Georgian Room at the Rodd Charlottetown Hotel.

Steve Connolly once made a living advising young people how best to lead their lives.

For most of his 20 years in education, the 70-year-old Charlottetown resident guided students through a host of challenging hoops and over a string of complicated hurdles.

He was also a teacher for six years, including two in which he split his time between teaching in the classroom and serving as vice-principal of St. Jean Elementary School in Charlottetown.

He also provided plenty of direction as a coach, establishing the first basketball team at St. Jean’s.

Today, he is hoping to deliver guidance to a notably older segment of the population: guidance based on first-hand knowledge gathered through hard-earned lessons in health and life.

Connolly had a heart attack in November 2007. He never saw it coming. Nor had he ever seen cause to brace for such a major health event.

His five weeks in hospital, his recovery period, and his ongoing post-heart attack lifestyle provide more than enough fodder to fill a book. So he did.

Connolly says he wrote, They Touched My Heart: A cardio version of a love story, with the goal of having others learn from his nearly life-ending, but eventually life-enhancing, experience.

“My first objective is to keep in mind the impact my experience has had on my life and that of my family, in hopes that I will remain vigilant in avoiding practices that might have me return to a cardiac care unit,’’ Connolly writes in his book that will be launched Tuesday in Charlottetown.

“My second objective is to reveal the vulnerabilities involved in a critical illness, and to encourage everyone to prepare for the financial impact a critical illness can have on a family and a business." (He estimates his six-month absence from work at his Connolly Financial Group resulted in a cost of roughly $250,000 to the bottom line).

He is also keen to share his story to help people cope with the emotional, physical and financial stresses a critical illness so easily creates.

The human element of the book is, well, really the heart of Connolly’s story.

Sure, he shares his wonderment in both the frailty and resiliency of the human body. “Amazingly, (the heart) beats about 35 million times a year as it contracts to pump a million barrels of blood to the body and lungs,’’ he gushes in print. “Even more amazing is the fact that the heart is about the size of your fist and weighs less than one pound.’’

Connolly writes glowingly of a health care system he feels works “very well’’ and is brimming not only with talented but often personable and caring medical professionals.

“I’ve met several cardiologists during times of great fear and apprehension,’’ he writes in a 64-page book that is a fairly quick, but compelling, read.

“While all were pleasant, competent professionals, strangely, I remember most those who connected with me and offered reassuring smiles and words of encouragement.’’

His heart attack turned his life upside down while also creating upheaval for his many loved ones, most notably his wife Marg, and the couple’s children Shayne, Kellie and Tracey.

When Connolly entered the hospital in 2007, his future was uncertain. Whether or not he would have a future at all was, in fact, in question. He would receive his last rites on three occasions before finally leaving hospital eager to once again embrace life.

Family played a key role in spurring Connolly through some dark, dark days in hospital.

His son and business partner Shayne refused to accept Connolly’s hospital bed declaration that he had nothing left in the tank. Connolly told his son he just did not have enough fight left in him to win this critical battle.

Shayne would not accept his father letting go. Shayne was not ready to let go. He leaned into his father’s face, finger wagging, and said: “No way, Dad. You can’t give up on us now. You have to dig deeper.’’

Connolly did.

He drew on the strength of so many loved ones and the quality care of many others to rebound, to return to work, to return to his life.

“I have never considered myself to be a particularly strong or brave person; however, I am told on repeated occasions that I have to have been pretty tough to survive,’’ he states in a chapter called Healing Words.

“My reply to this statement has always been that I owe my survival to the healing words I received from my family, friends, caring medical professionals and the collective prayers of a very supportive community.’’

Connolly stresses in the book that transition to a normal lifestyle centres around positive thinking about the future rather than dwelling on the past.

He has moved on. Semi-retired, he still at times will make his way into work five days a week. He is also knocking off item after item on a bucket list that includes travel to places like Ireland and diving into other special activities like taking a river boat cruise on the Danube.

Connolly is a man who always put “high value’’ on good health by exercising regularly. He played high school basketball and university hockey.

Leading up to his heart attack, he played plenty of racketball and swam regularly.

“He was always full of energy,’’ Marg observed. “I certainly see (today) he is very aware of what he shouldn’t do (like) eat the wrong foods.’’

One area in which Connolly is more than comfortable over indulging is family. His frightening health ordeal made a tight-knit group even tighter.

For weeks in the hospital, he most feared leaving his family forever and being unable to witness “the awesome potential of six of the greatest grandchildren on the planet.’’

“He has the biggest heart around — just an amazing man,’’ said Marg.

“That’s a mutual admiration thing,’’ Steve quickly shoots back.

Steve Connolly calls Marg, his wife of 50 years, his "pride and joy''.

©Guardian photo by Jim Day

"I owe my survival to the healing words I received from my family, friends, caring medical professionals and the collective prayers of a very supportive community.’’ Steve Connolly in They Touched My Heart

About the Author

Here is a snapshot of Steve Connolly:

• His brothers Postie, Paul, Mike and Dave are all familiar faces to many Islanders. He also has one sister, Mary Murphy.

• He credits his late parents, Steve and Lae, placing a high value on education with leading him to his first career in the school systems of Prince Edward Island.

• In his second career, Connolly joined the Sun Life of Canada sales force in 1983. In 2010, he received the industry’s highest honor when he was inducted into the Sun Life Financial Hall of Fame.

• Married 50 years to his “pride and joy’’ Marg.