GALION — When the Rev. Ash Welch awoke on the morning of Aug. 14, 2018, it never donned on him that in just a few short hours, he would be receiving life-saving treatment for a heart attack.
Welch, pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Galion since 2013, said he was going about the business of his day when an all-too familiar feeling welled up in his chest.
“That morning, I had driven to Columbus and back, dropping someone off,” said Welch, 62. “I had done some work here in the office for a couple of hours, bounding up and down the stairs to the preschool. And everything was fine.”
Circumstances changed dramatically for Welch, however.
“Around a quarter to 12, I said I was headed off to a meeting that I attend on Tuesdays,” he said. “I didn’t get very far up Grove Avenue and felt this pressure in my chest, inside. And I recognized that for what it was, same as the last time. I knew it wasn’t indigestion, heartburn, so I turned around and came back into the emergency room (at Avita Health System Galion Hospital). I walked in and said, ‘I’m Ash Welch and I’m having a heart attack.’”
Welch suffered his first heart attack in 2006 while ministering in Youngstown. He underwent bypass surgery to repair the damage. Heart disease is a hereditary condition in his family. He said his father and grandparents had suffered heart attacks as well.
“(Doctors at Galion Hospital) told me the grafts I had before generally last five to 10 years,” he said. “So, it had been 12 years. It was time for a change, I guess. One of them was nice and clear and open. Two of them had bypassed themselves, but the last one had occluded with blood clots and cholesterol. And when it stopped, it happened very suddenly.”
Welch was the very first patient to be treated by the staff of Galion Hospital’s Level II heart catheterization laboratory, which opened on the morning of Aug. 14, 2018. He spent four days in the hospital due to a post-traumatic fever.
But those first few hours in the heart cath lab were the most dramatic because physicians, specifically Dr. Michael Davis, had to revive Welch after his heart stopped on three occasions.
“I became aware of a peculiar sensation, or lack of it,” Welch said. “Everything kind of faded out. There was no sensation for just a brief moment. And no sense of time, either. All my senses completely shut off. People have asked me, ‘Did you see Jesus? A white light? Did you see heaven?’ No. That is when my heart stopped and, therefore, my lungs and brain stopped as well. Everything stopped.”
Welch said after he was revived, a nurse named Beth kept telling him to breathe and he could hear other people discussing whether or not to intubate him to assist his breathing. But that was not necessary.
Lying on that table, his life hanging in the balance, the veteran pastor seemingly discovered his own rhythm of life in a song he’d only heard once.
“As Beth is saying, ‘Breathe deeply. Breathe more,’ that song came into my mind and I started to sing the song,” Welch said. “’Jesus’ blood (deep breath) never failed me yet (deep breath), never failed me yet (deep breath). Jesus’ blood (deep breath) never failed me yet (deep breath). This one thing I know (deep breath), for He loves me so (deep breath). Jesus’ blood (deep breath),’ and then repeat, over and over again. Breathe and sing.”
Welch said while he credits the doctors and nurses at Galion Hospital with saving his life that day, that song, “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet,” was “part of the package deal” that helped him make it through the experience.
The song was discovered in 1971 by Gavin Byars who was working on a documentary about homeless people in London, England. Part of the film footage included the audio of an elderly man singing that song. Though the man was never actually shown on film, his voice and that song live on thanks to a compilation Byars produced.
“I don’t think that would have been the song I would have chosen had I been in my right mind. I was in my left mind, there on that table,” Welch said. “But that was the song that God planted there at that time.”
Fast forward to the present, Welch is healthy and still serving daily at St. Paul United Methodist Church, which is located across the street from the Galion Hospital campus. The church, he said, has enjoyed a long relationship with the hospital and serves as an emergency shelter. He serves as a hospital chaplain and said he’s “big promoter of the cath lab.”
Welch and his wife, Peg, have two sons and three grandchildren.