Gay Atlanta WABE reporter returns to airwaves after heart surgery

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WABE radio’s Jim Burress is back on the airwaves after a six-week break to recover from congenital heart surgery.

Unfortunately, heart conditions are all in the family for the gay Atlanta local host and senior producer for “All Things Considered.” He’s been with NPR’s Atlanta affiliate since 2008.

“My genes are awful,” he told Project Q Atlanta. “My dad had a heart attack when he was 43, my sister had a heart attack when she was 43 — which was just last year. I just turned 42.”

Burress’s doctor diagnosed him with an enlarged heart after a routine X-ray in March.

“It’s something that would have been easily overlooked if she wasn’t as good as she is,” he said. “It would have eventually caught up with me, but it could have been in the ER. They said it could have killed me within a year.”

Anxiety grew as Burress did more research on the surgery.

“I couldn’t get past the notion that they actually chemically stop your heart,” he said. “It’s a miracle almost to me that they can do what they do, and the surgeon is brilliant and capable, but at the same time to think about what is happening is kind of grotesque.”

He forced himself to stop researching, which helped with the anxiety in the few weeks before the surgery.

‘Not ready to throw in the towel yet’

Burress doesn’t remember anything about the July 30 procedure.

“I do remember waking up and not being able to lay down the pain was so bad,” he said.

He returned home after about five days at Emory St. Joseph’s Hospital. The recovery was slow for six weeks, but Burress returned to the air on Labor Day.

“You really, really start to miss work,” he said. “Even getting the phone calls and emails at weird hours and worrying about am I going to be able to tackle this story today.”

“My coworkers I missed a ton. Everyone I worked with was so amazing during this time. It’s almost like I got homesick,” he added.

The post-surgery pain has subsided.

“A couple of weeks ago, I just woke up and felt better and I’ve felt better ever since,” he said. “It was like a light switch. It almost seems like something I experienced in the distant past.”

Burress continues doing all his duties from home, including hosting WABE’s The Brief. The podcast recapping the day’s news launched in June.

The heart surgery was Burress’s second health scare in the last two years. He temporarily lost his voice following surgery to repair collapsed spinal disks in 2019.

“You can’t pick the genes you get, and everything that’s happened has been genetically related,” he said. “But what choice do you have?”

“I still consider myself young at 42, and I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet. You suck up the pain and get through it,” he added.


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