A 49-Year-Old Opens Up About His Journey From Health Nut to Quintuple Bypass Surgery to Running Marathons

On January 5, 2012 my son (and 800 other Marines) returned home alive and well from Afghanistan, thank God. I myself was barely alive and not well, it turns out. As the Marine infantry battalion was dismissed in the wee hours of that morning, I tried to run to him, but I could hardly walk because of the severe pain in my chest.

I had been slowing down since the summer and feeling terrible. By Christmas I could barely walk without feeling like someone was pressing a metal bar down on my chest and suffocating me. Being the stupid, stubborn man that I am, I shrugged it off as long as possible until the pain was so bad I called my family doctor. He saw me right away.

The doc took one look at me, and told me to go straight to the ER. He was ordering a heart catheterization for me. Maybe I just need a stent or some kind of medication, I thought.

On Wednesday, January 11 they did the heart cath. It was completely painless (I am such a big baby), but I was in for the shock of my life when the cardiologist looked up at the screen and shouted "Oh my gosh!" (You don't want to hear your cardiologist say that.) "You can't get a stent! You need heart surgery! You could drop dead at any minute!" What?? "You gotta be kiddin' me, doc. You have the wrong guy! I'm a runner! I'm a health food nut! I work out!" The doctor just pointed at the screen and said, "Hey, look at the screen. You have one, two, three, four ... FIVE almost total blockages!" I was surviving on only about 15% of my heart.

I was only 49. I am not overweight. Neither my wife nor I could believe I would need such extreme treatment. But the facts are what they are, and together we prepared ourselves and our family for the next day.

My surgery was six hours long. I woke up in the early evening with a hose down my throat and tubes and wires going in and out of every part of my body, it seemed. Later, at about 11 o'clock that night the surgeon told me that they had to open me back up; one of my arteries had "sprung a leak." One of the grafts was not going to hold.

"What happens if you don't do the second surgery, doctor?" "Well, then you die." Oh. "OK, where do I sign for you to cut me open again?" The second surgery in 15 hours was successful. However, I had a tough time snapping out of the anesthesia, so they had to put an oxygen mask on me and "blow it out of my system" for about the next 6 hours.

Recovery from those back-to-back surgeries was no fun, let me tell you. And then having them pull all the hoses and tubes out my throat, neck, chest, and other areas was horrible, although I must say that ALL of my nurses were absolutely superb.

My surgeon came in to see me two days later. I said, "Doc, what happened to me? How did this happen?" He told me it was not uncommon for people my age. I have a long history of heart disease on both sides of my family. It was simply genetic. It was going to happen. "But I don't eat junk food! I'm a runner! I lift weights! I'm a martial artist! What good did it do to live a healthy lifestyle?"

Next Page: What good did it do? Actually, it did a lot.