One look at Reverend Harlan Klein, and anyone would know his heart is working fine, because after 54 years of marriage to his dearly beloved, he still wears it on his sleeve.
He was just 15 years old when he met Evangeline. She was 14.
“I stole a kiss under the street light,” Klein recalled, telling Eva, “Go on, say what happened next.”
Eva obliged, having finished this story for many a listener. “I walked away, I was going home, I turned around, he’s still standing there and I thought, ‘What is he doing?'” she explained.
“I just kissed the girl I’m gonna marry,” Klein said he told his pastor that very night.
The couple wed when they were 18 and 17. They settled in Willis, Mich., and went on to have three children – Natalie, Eric and Angelina – and 11 grandchildren.
Rev. Klein and Eva spent the decades sharing their Christian faith with their friends and community, planting 14 Hispanic churches and three English-speaking ministries over 35 years – each one a labor of love.
“The basic need of every human being is to love and be loved, or we’re not complete as people,” Klein said.
It seems almost cruel and ironic that a man so in tune with matters of the heart suffered a massive attack nearly 15 years ago. It was his birthday, Feb. 27, in 2002 when Klein went into cardiac arrest in the emergency room at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor.
“They lost me for a period of time. I wasn’t hooked up to anything,” Klein said. “I hear one little phrase – ‘We have to get him to ICU, he’s very ill.'”
The doctor told Klein he had two days to live, three at most, but that he couldn’t operate on him for four days.
That’s when Klein says extraordinary faith kicked in. Instead of letting the news defeat him, Klein asked, “Doctor, do you mind if I pray for you? I want to ask Jesus to guide your hands in my chest.” Klein said during the 45 minutes of prayer that followed, God spoke to him clearly, and he knew he would be OK.
The surgery was successful. Klein stayed 12 days in the hospital, during which he says he received wonderful care from his doctor, nurses and all the staff at St. Joe’s.
“We ask God for miracles, and he does miracles,” Klein said.
Today, Klein continues to work in Pastoral Care at St. Joe’s as a visiting clergy member. He still takes medication to prevent blood clots, and sees his cardiologist, Dr. Tauqir Goraya, regularly.
His advice to others with heart disease?
“Just focus on the positive. You will recover. You will recover, and here’s the key,” he said, leaning in. “If you’re less than 60 percent believing in your heart that you’ll recover, you won’t. You can defeat yourself. It’s not the end of the world. It really isn’t. The sun’s gonna arise again tomorrow,” he added.
The other piece of advice is to follow doctor’s orders.
“Do your walking, take your meds on time, follow instructions, and keep your appointments at your cardiologist.”
Since that massive heart attack, Klein has suffered several other health scares, including a recent episode of septic shock from a bad E. coli infection. No one would blame Klein if he showed the slightest resentment toward the body that betrays his age. Instead, Klein remains ever ebullient, sharing his story with anyone who might listen.
“I wouldn’t have chosen this journey, or I’d be insane. I’m encouraged and I thank the Lord that I had these experiences, that I might be able to empathize with other human beings.” Klein said.
Through it all, Eva has remained steadfastly by her husband’s side. Their enduring love is evident in the way she gently nods as Klein recounts his story, or chuckles at the jokes she’s likely heard a thousand times over.
On this day, the couple is matching in red. It’s just one of the many expressions of love they adopted over the years. (Eva lays out matching outfits every night.) And as Harlan Klein takes Eva’s hand and breaks into song – the same love song he’s sung for her every day for the past 54 years – Eva’s eyes begin to water, as if this is the first time their hearts are beating in sync. They walk away, arms linked, toward the hospital elevators to visit a friend.
“We’re madly in love,” Klein smiled.
No one would question it.