A Hearty Year of Staying the Course

Gary Heart Surgery 2nd Anniversary

This week is the one-year anniversary of my heart valve repair surgery. I wrote about what I went through and some of the challenges I had at the time so I won’t rehash all of the details here other than to say that the surgery was pretty complicated, my valve was in terrible shape, and I spent one week in the hospital recovering, which was a couple of days longer than anticipated. The extended hospital stay was due to me having lost a lot of blood from the surgery which led to a big drop in my hemoglobin levels. Before releasing me they wanted to make sure that I didn’t need a blood transfusion. Fortunately, my levels started going up as this is what they needed to see in order to send me on my merry way. My levels have been back to normal for a while and overall I feel very well. 

Surgery At The Optimal Time

My surgery happened at the optimal time for a few reasons. My condition hadn’t gotten so bad that I was feeling side effects from it. On the other hand, had I waited a few more months my condition could have deteriorated quite significantly. And, while I was far younger than average for a surgery like this, the upside is that I potentially have many years to live with the benefits of having had it done at my age (55 at the time). In addition, because we were just decelerating from a Covid wave, the number of surgeries was limited which gave me access to a very competent cardiology team that was able to take great care of me without having the typical number of patients. My surgery and recovery took place at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles and Heather, my girlfriend who was caretaker extraordinaire, was literally the first non-patient allowed in the hospital to visit as Covid restrictions started to get lifted when I was there.

Gary surgery

It’s not unusual that when one goes through an event like this to use it as an opportunity to reflect on one’s life. After all, had the surgery not been successful then I may not be here writing this or the quality of my life may have been negatively impacted. For many people, such events can be wake-up calls to look at the behaviors and habits one has developed and formed in order to take corrective action to alter one’s path so that they don’t find themselves in such a situation in the future. My insight was different.

I took some time to reflect to see what has changed and somewhat to my surprise, very little. What is more enhanced is my gratitude and love for the people in my life who have loved and cared for me and how much I value them. From day to day living, however, I came to realize that the best course of action for me has been to stay the course. I came to this conclusion because my heart situation was not something that was a byproduct of an unhealthy lifestyle that bred harmful habits. Rather, it was something that I was born with and that overtime was on a path to regress in a way that would lead to the surgery that became necessary. I don’t think there was much that I did that exacerbated the problem. I had to play the hand that I was dealt.  

“if you’re going to get sick, then you better be healthy”Click To Tweet

Fortunately, I went into the surgery in pretty good health. My late wife Roneet, who was so wise, used to say that “if you’re going to get sick, then you better be healthy” and, I am definitely a testament to her advice. I had reasonably good habits that I had formed and used them as a cornerstone of living that helped me immensely. These are the ones I’ve written about before, but I will reiterate them again.

Good Health and Habits

This involved a fairly consistent exercise routine including working out with a trainer two mornings per week and playing tennis three to five times a week, including more strenuous singles. I have also tried to maintain a healthy diet which has centered around my now 20-year daily morning smoothie habit which allows me to consume a balance between carbohydrates, proteins, and good fats while also enabling me to absorb many of the vitamins and nutrients I need to help keep me healthy. I add at least 30 seconds of a cold shower every time I shower as well as put an ice cube over my face and neck each morning. Both of these are supposedly good for helping one’s immune system. Maybe it’s the placebo effect but I have rarely gotten sick and I have not taken a sick day, other than my surgery, for a number of years. And while I have never been a big drinker, I have actually consumed less alcohol during the pandemic, which goes counter to national trends as this headline shows.

Since the start of the Pandemic Americans Are Drinking Too Much

Here are the findings from the study cited in the article.

According to research from the Journal of the American Medical Association, those aged 30 and over experienced a 14% increase, with women seeing the steepest rise in heavy drinking — a whopping 41% during the pandemic. Click To Tweet

You can take comfort in the fact that I’m writing this sober and quite clear-headed.

Another important component to one’s well-being is having relationships. I have been fortunate to spend a lot of time with Heather playing tennis as well as other enriching activities we enjoy doing together. I have great relationships with my kids as well as my partners and co-workers with whom I often have very stimulating conversations. I have spent more time with family members as well as friends that I have made playing tennis.  Tennis can lend itself to being social as you talk on the court, catch up, get to know people, and sometimes spend time together afterward. It’s also great to compete against others who love the sport and have great determination as I have found that this brings out the best in me and makes me want to strive to become better. Competing, focusing on continuous improvement, and using my will on the court make me feel so alive. I am so grateful I took up tennis again three years ago.

I have been fortunate to have these activities and relationships during Covid so I didn’t become a hermit and isolated which would not have been healthy. I have also kept my mind active being busy with work, writing, reading, involving myself in charitable endeavors, and taking on new challenges such as building a pool at my house and purchasing and improving a condo in the Palm Springs area which has been a great project for Heather and I to work on together. It has also enabled me to spend much more time with my mom and siblings who spend a great deal of time out there as well. 

In reflecting on my one-year anniversary I feel like I have established a set of systems and approaches to life that helped me to build up the strength and resilience to handle my heart surgery with a healthy mindset and strong physical condition to enable me to recover from it quickly. I was on the tennis court 33 days after my operation, I didn’t take any type of painkillers other than some Advil, and I made a concerted effort to get moving as quickly as I could while also adhering to the recommendations from my doctors and not ignore the constraints that my body was placing on me. When I play singles it’s typical for my heart rate to average 155 beats per minute for 75 to 90 minutes and to exceed 175 at my maximum. I just can’t emphasize enough the importance of healthy habits in one’s life. 

I’m also proud of the fact that Roneet and I lived our lives in a way that provided a great balance between today and tomorrow. We always had our eye on the future but not so much that it detracted from our enjoyment of the present. We stretched when it came to the homes we purchased, believing that a little pressure today would pay off tomorrow as it would keep us focused on working hard and we would be in a position to benefit from a better living environment and greater growth in wealth if we purchased our homes at good prices. We were also committed to traveling and seeing the world. I have been to 44 states and over 40 countries. We took five cruises together in addition to countless other trips. And in many cases we were able to include our kids which expanded their horizons and created great memories for all of us. Fortunately, this consistent focus on balancing the future and present has resulted in me having very few regrets about experiences not realized should my life come to an end far sooner than expected. I have lived a very full life for which I am so fortunate and grateful.

I think if we can keep focusing on those activities and choices that benefit both our present and future selves simultaneously, then we have the opportunity to create more enjoyment today while benefiting ourselves tomorrow. Building capacity and strength in systematic ways to deal with the challenges and potential shocks that life can deliver us as well as to enhance the odds of greater longevity with quality living is the recipe for a life that I want to live. My goal is to live with vigor and to be vital well into my later years.  I don’t want my choices and habits to be the cause of my challenges and setbacks. Rather, I want them to put me in a position to weather virtually any storm that comes my way and to live life with joy, lightness, and ease.

My goal is to live with vigor and to be vital well into my later years. Click To Tweet

I want to thank everyone for all of your support, particularly from my CWS family, and how they were able to step up and do whatever was necessary to keep the machine rolling forward. I want to thank Heather for how she was always there for me. She was amazing in how she helped nurse me back to health. My family was also incredibly supportive. The doctors were outstanding and a testament to this is that the reports that I have gotten so far have been great.

My cardiologist said that holding all things constant, my future demise should not come from any heart-related issues. And now it’s up to me to stay the course and keep living with vigor, vitality, joy, and in a systematic way that builds up my strength, resilience, courage, and wisdom.

3 comments on “A Hearty Year of Staying the Course
  1. Doug says:

    LOVE IT!!! Go man Go!

  2. walt blass says:

    Hey Gary

    I had bi-pass surgery at 55 and my thoughts after mirror yours………. I am 75 now and still try to thread the health needle the same as you All the best

  3. Aldine (former CWS employee - Canada) says:

    Hi Gary – It was interesting reading your recovery story and glad you are doing well – stay strong! Your blogs are amazing and we need more of them…all the best!

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