MAYWOOD, Ill. -- Rhythm & Blues legend Joe Simon of Buffalo Grove is not one to stay silent most of the time.
During the 1960s and ‘70s, when he secured three No. 1 hits on the U.S. Billboard R&B chart and won the 1970 Grammy Award for best male R&B Vocal Performance, he knew that staying alive on the charts meant making his voice heard.
More than 40 years later, Simon’s baritone voice still can inspire a crowd, this time, as the leader of Bishop Joe Simon Ministries, a not-for profit organization that provides humanitarian services and community outreach.
But in recent months, when Simon was clearly experiencing distress symptoms with his heart, his voice went uncharacteristically quiet.
"I was working in the studio. I was trying to record and get a CD ready. Nobody in the studio knew what I was feeling. I didn't tell my family or my friends. But my heart did hurt and I could feel pain in both of my arms," he recalled.
Aches, chest pains and shortness of breath went on for weeks. All the while, Simon continued working, going on road trips with his ministry, walking his dog. He tried using over-the-counter pain medicines to get relief. One day, his wife Melinee recalled, she got a call as she was leaving for the store.
"He said, 'Mello, come take me to the hospital. I'm having severe chest pain." After being evaluated at the emergency room, Simon was eventually transferred to the Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine at Loyola University Medical Center.
To restore normal blood flow to his heart and lungs, Simon underwent a quadruple bypass with cardiothoracic surgeons Drs. Juan Bonilla and Jeffrey Schwartz on March 7. His four children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren all came to the hospital to lend support and prayer. Within three days, Simon was up and walking again. He was released from the hospital on the 13th.
Looking back, Simon realizes that his heart was giving him distress signals long before he sought medical help.
"Nobody has time for a heart attack, but I know now I should have paid attention much sooner," he said.
Simon said he appreciates the care he received at Loyola University Medical Center, even though the people in his care team were too young to know that they were treating a music celebrity. "They treated me like a VIP even though they didn't know who I am," he said, laughing.
He knows that the days ahead will contain some work and exercise. He is certain that his family will make sure that he follows doctors' orders before he returns to the recording studio or travels with his outreach ministry.
"When I tell my story, it will help people see that God is with them and looks after them," Simon said. "But I'll also tell them that when their heart speaks, they need to pay attention."