The Reverend Kevin Horak prominently displays a family photo in his office at The Church in Aurora, in Aurora, Ohio, where he has served as Associate Pastor since 1989. Taken in the fall of 2019, the photo captures a moment of joy for the Horak family: Rev. Horak and his wife, Kathleen, with their two adult daughters and six grandchildren at a homecoming event at the school his daughters used to attend.
That photo stirs particularly strong feelings in Rev. Horak, as it has much greater significance now. About a week after it was taken at the homecoming event, he would find himself in a situation he had never imagined — in an intensive care unit at a hospital recovering from emergency open heart surgery.
“This photo became even more significant because it could have been on a memorial table as the last picture we have of us all together,” said Rev. Horak, choked with emotion.
Rev. Horak, now in his mid-60s, had always thought of himself as a “very healthy guy.” He never had any major illnesses, and trips to the doctor were sporadic. “I was rather naïve to think that I was in excellent health just because I hadn’t been to a doctor,” he said.
Then Rev. Horak’s wife, a member of The Benefits Plan of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) along with him, encouraged him to participate in Call to Health, an online well-being program that is available to members enrolled in any of the three medical options (PPO, EPO, or HDHP) through the Board of Pensions of the PC(USA).
Call to Health encourages members to develop and maintain healthy habits in the four areas of wholeness: spiritual, health, financial, and vocational. Participants complete required and optional activities — called challenges — to earn points and work toward becoming their best selves. By completing challenges, participants can qualify for reduced medical deductibles for the following plan year and even earn gift cards.
Initially, the opportunity to reduce his deductible encouraged Rev. Horak to sign up for Call to Health. “It’s too bad that there has to be incentives for things that are going to benefit me immediately and directly, but I needed that extra little incentive,” he said.
Because of Call to Health, Rev. Horak made an appointment for a preventive exam — a required challenge for the program and included as part of the Medical Plan’s generous preventive care benefits — in the fall of 2019, soon after that prized family photo was taken. At his appointment, Rev. Horak’s primary care doctor suspected a heart-related issue.
“I prided myself that I was able to mow the grass in 40 minutes, almost exactly every time, with enough energy left in my gas tank to do some weeding or some edging. … Last fall, I noticed that it was taking me over an hour with several breaks to get some water and just catch my breath,” explained Rev. Horak. “I shared that with my primary care doctor at my wellness exam,” and the doctor asked him some key questions.
Rev. Horak’s primary care doctor immediately sent him to a cardiologist, and a heart catheterization revealed three major blockages. “The cardiologist said, ‘We need to do something immediately’,” remembered Rev. Horak, whose thoughts turned to all he had to look forward to in the coming weeks — including two weddings to officiate and an acting role in a local community theater production. “The doctor said, ‘You don’t understand. You’re not going home.’
“I was in pretty bad shape,” Rev. Horak continued, “but I had absolutely no idea.”
Today, Rev. Horak continues his recovery from that major life-changing surgery, and he continues, along with his wife, to participate in Call to Health. Together, they walk around their neighborhood five days a week, and Kathleen — who he calls his guardian angel — experiments with healthy recipes in the kitchen. “I burn water in the kitchen so that’s her responsibility,” laughed Rev. Horak. “And I’m very grateful.”
Rev. Horak has learned, he said, that his health “is not in the hands of the Board of Pensions or any of my doctors. It’s really in my hands and the choices that I make.” And he hopes that his story encourages others to participate in Call to Health.
“Without the Board of Pensions’ encouragement, I’m not sure …” he paused, emotion again overwhelming him. “I don’t know that I would be here right now. That sounds overly dramatic … but this is truly from the heart.”