I found out I have high blood pressure during a live TV spot in the late ’90s. I was shocked. I’ve always been active, never smoked, ate fairly well, played racquetball. I have a family history of heart problems, but my doctor put me on blood pressure medication, which did the trick.
In April, when my girlfriend Phyllis and I were vacationing in Mexico, I went to the pool for a swim, something I do two to three times a week at home. That day, after just a couple of laps, I started feeling this pressure above my heart that I hadn’t experienced before. Then when we took a walk on the beach the next day, I started feeling short of breath. I thought, I ought to get this checked out when I get back, figuring I was just out of shape.
I went to see my doctor at Lankenau Hospital for my regular allergy shot the next week and sort of casually mentioned to the nurse that I’d felt chest pains while I was on vacation. Next thing I know, I’m getting an EKG and being wheeled to the ER. I found out I had a 99 percent blockage in the main artery, which they call the “widow-maker,” and an 80 percent blockage in another. The pressure I felt on vacation was angina, resulting from the heart not getting enough oxygenated blood. It’s often a precursor for a heart attack.
Two days later, I went in for double-bypass surgery. I wasn’t afraid or panicked—just glad they caught the problem in time. I’m really one of the lucky ones. The longer I’m like that, the worse my odds.
Within the first day after surgery, they had me walking the hallways, which was good. But I had a hard time sleeping and eating in intensive care. I lost 14 pounds during my hospital stay.
Since then, I’ve managed to put on more than half the weight. I feel so much better and have more strength, though I still get tired more quickly than I used to when it’s really hot out. I know I won’t become a fitness or diet fanatic after this; I’m just going to be smarter than I was before about both.
The outpouring from viewers has been incredible. I’ve heard from a handful of guys who’ve said I saved their life. We’re stubborn and have this macho thing where we don’t want to show weakness. When I was in the pool in Mexico, I didn’t tell my girlfriend I was having trouble. So I think hearing this from another man got their attention. And that feels really good.
—As told to Emily Leaman
This article first appeared in the 2012 Be Well Philly print magazine. To order a free copy, go here.