By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
When Tim Epling sits at the family table today and a prayer is said over Thanksgiving dinner, it might feel a bit different than before.
Epling knows, more than ever, that he is fortunate to be here.
The 51-year-old manager of the West Virginia Miners and owner of Upper Deck Training Center, a son, a husband, a father of two, never realized how close he was to having it all taken away.
He didn’t know he was ignoring signs that his body was desperately trying to send. Not until he was partaking in one of his favorite hobbies — golf. He was on No. 9 at the Cobb Course at The Resort at Glade Springs when it hit him.
Something wasn’t right.
“I reached down to pick up my ball,” Epling recalled, “and when I raised up, I got so dizzy.”
A feeling of tiredness came over him, so much so that he could not finish the round. He simply didn’t have the energy.
Days went by and Epling was still sapped. He had no energy to do anything. So, he went to see Dr. Hassan Jafary.
“I told him I wanted a complete physical, and he said OK,” Epling said. “I said, ‘I want a stress test.’ I needed it for peace of mind, to know my heart was OK.”
Dr. Jafary made the stress test happen. A series of events led to Epling’s dad, Doug, getting in touch with an old business acquaintance, Dr. Mark Bates, who in turn got Epling in with Charleston doctors Kishore Challa and Ahmad Khan.
Turns out, Epling’s heart was not damaged — by the grace of God. It could have been at any moment.
Doctors found the main artery was 99.9 percent blocked. Epling was told he had a widowmaker’s heart — which means exactly what it implies.
“I was a ticking time bomb, and I had no idea,” Epling said. “If I had had a heart attack, I would have died. It didn’t matter how many doctors I had around me, there would have been nothing they could have done for me.”
One day later, on Nov. 5, Epling underwent a double bypass to undo the blockage. The surgery was a success, and Epling was home six days later.
He is now at home, reportedly being a good patient as he travels the long road to recovery. He did get to go to Upper Deck last weekend to speak at a clinic, but anything physical — including golf — is, for now, out of the question.
He has set Jan. 15 as his target date to get more involved with recruiting for the Miners, who will go into the 2014 season as the two-time defending Prospect League champions.
But he is keeping in mind what is more important.
“I used to celebrate the championships,” he said, “but now I celebrate life.
“It’s funny, as they were putting the IV into my wrist, they said, ‘You do know you’re going in for surgery, right? Most people have a lot of anxiety, but you have none.’ I said, ‘I have peace with everything. If it’s my time to go, I have been blessed. I know God has His hand on me.’”
The whole ordeal strengthened something Epling already knew.
“We have the greatest baseball fans in the world,” he said. “I want to thank everybody for the support they have shown. I got hundreds of e-mails and texts; I couldn’t answer them all. I just want everybody to know how much I appreciate it.”
Epling, who was diagnosed with diabetes in 2007, says he hopes his kids, Kendrick and Kayla, have learned a lesson at early ages. He is thankful for all the family support, especially wife Debbie, who has had to deal with health problems of her own much of this year.
Most of all, he wants people from all walks of life to learn from his situation.
“Don’t take things for granted,” Epling said. “This is nothing to play with. Don’t let your stubbornness get in the way of doing the right things.
“God doesn’t bless us for us. He blesses us so that we can be a blessing for others.”
— E-mail: gfauber@