By Vic Carter

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — For decades, Congressman Elijah Cummings has been a passionate champion for Maryland and the nation.

But in May, he faced a harsh reality. A medical problem that could have cost him his life.

“I had a shortness of breath and my legs swole up and I didn’t know what it was all about,” he tells WJZ. “And my sister-in-law without even seeing a note– a medical record– said you know you need to look at your heart.”

And that’s exactly what it was. Cummings needed heart surgery to replace a failing aortic valve. But what’s normally a simple procedure took a terrifying turn.

“What was supposed to be a three-day ordeal, ended up to be more than 100 days,” he says.

He recently spoke with WJZ’s Vic Carter about the scare:

Vic Carter: “Were you ever worried at any point, that this was going to be a much more catastrophic situation?”

Cummings: “Oh yes, oh yes. I tell people I felt like I died and came back.”

The 66-year-old Democrat was sidelined for months, forced to watch the healthcare drama on Capitol Hill unfold from his hospital bed. Cummings tells WJZ that was one of the hardest parts.

Vic: “You’re thinking about this while you’re going through your own physical dilemma — how was that?”

Cummings: “It’s my job…I would watch television in the hospital and I was– here I am going through a difficult medical situation and I wanted to just bust through the television and say wait a minute… and I tell people that it increased my passion 100-fold.”

Cummings says the most powerful and useful information he got while he was lying there in the hospital did not come from members of Congress, nor did it come from his team of medical professionals. Instead, it came from a cleaning lady, who said she was there to deliver a message from a much higher authority.

Cummings: “Vic, when I was in my greatest pain, a lady came to me in the hospital, she was one of the cleaning ladies, and she said, Mr. Cummings I don’t know you… and she reached in her pocket and she pulled out a little thing. She said, the Lord been talking to me… and he been talking to be so much, I had to wake up at 4:00 this morning and write this down… she said he told me to tell you he ain’t finished with you yet. He just wanted you to pause for a minute and he wanted to get your attention. So you can be better at what you do.”

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Vic Carter