So grateful for a second chance at life
I woke up Saturday to the terrible, tragic news that Dwayne Haskins, the 24-year-old backup quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, had died in an auto accident in Florida.
It was hard for me to comprehend how Haskins was gone and I, at 62, was still alive and preparing to cover a UFC fight card off of television.
In what I’d called a blessed life — I do what I love and work is fun virtually every day — I got the biggest break of them all on Thursday: A second chance at life.
I had a 95-percent blockage in one of the arteries on the left side of my heart, something that could have killed me instantly. How I got to be on that operating table is because of a series of fortunate breaks, any of which did not occur and I would still be the walking time bomb I was a few days ago.
The surgery went extraordinarily well. They went in through an artery in my right wrist, and I got all sorts of warnings about taking care of the wound so I didn’t bleed out. When my cardiac surgeon came to visit me in recovery, he told me I could do anything I wanted as far as my heart is concerned, but I needed to lay low for up to a week because he didn’t want anything to happen to the wound on the back of my wrist.
A little more than 48 hours after the surgery, the incision looks nearly fully healed. There’s a scab no bigger than an ink spot on my right hand, just below my thumb at my wrist. That’s it.
For most of the last two days, I’ve been sitting on the back porch of my home in Las Vegas enjoying the beautiful weather and repeating over and over how lucky I am to be able to experience this. I easily could be dead.
The story goes back maybe eight years. In 2014, I was well overweight and felt lousy, lousy enough that I finally got sick of it and decided to do something about it. I worked so hard to rebuild my body and change my life. I lost over 100 pounds and changed my diet dramatically.
I kept that weight off for several years until I started feeling strangely weak in 2017. I was doing a chest press, pushing far less weight than I’d been used to, but I was struggling badly to move it. I’d gotten strong in the three years I’d been working out regularly and this was highly unusual.
One of the yoga coaches at the gym recommended that I see a doctor. It turns out I had a pituitary gland tumor that was pushing on the optic chiasm and if it continued to grow, I’d go blind. There was no surgery, but it could be controlled by medication. I was told the likelihood of the tumor going away was very slim, but by taking my medications, I wouldn’t have issues with it.
One of the problems that the tumor created was that it secreted a female hormone called prolactin, which suppressed testosterone production. Healthy males have prolactin levels of 2 ng/ml to 18 ng/ml per the Mayo Clinic. I had 851 ng/ml. And my testosterone had dropped to 69 ng/dl.
I’ve had to get an MRI every six months to track it, and believe it or not, it’s been shrinking. I took an MRI a couple of months ago and it was so small, it for all intents and purposes was gone. My prolactin level had reduced to 18 ng/ml and my testosterone is now at 359 ng/dl, well within normal range for a man of my age.
I quit exercising and dieting after the tumor was discovered in 2017. I work hard and have great motivation when I’m in an exercise program, but when I get out, it’s hard to get me back in. I put on a lot of weight and of course, being in the public eye, listened to several biting taunts from people on social media who mocked me. That hurt because people were being hateful and nasty for no reason.
Things turned in January for me. I had a full physical early in the month that came out well. I started doing Pilates right after and it’s been good.
The only bad note from my physical was that my total cholesterol was one point into the high level. A point lower and it was normal, so it was nothing to worry about. But my doctor suggested taking a heart scan at a place called “Preventative Diagnostics,” in Las Vegas just to be sure all was good with my heart.
Preventative Diagnostics doesn’t take insurance, so you pay out of your pocket. Because I was referred to them, I got a discount so it cost me $200. I agreed to do it. But I realize how many people in this country, and this world, couldn’t afford the $200 to take the scan. But doing so saved my life.
It was an easy test that took a handful of minutes to complete. I got a high calcium score of 718, which was concerning. The report I received said 400 was the cutoff for high. That led my doctor to send me to a cardiologist.
The cardiologist recommended getting an echocardiogram and a cardiac catheterization, even though he said my heart sounded good.
So Thursday, I reported to MountainView Hospital at 6 a.m. to have it done. The tech was doing my echocardiogram when my doctor came in. She told him the echo looked good and he looked for a while and concurred.
So when the nurses wheeled me to the operating room, I was as confident as confident could be that I was fine and would leave with a positive diagnosis and a recommendation to eat better and exercise more.
The doctor leaned over to me after the procedure was done and gave me a massive shock. He pointed to a large television monitor next to where I was laying and showed me a picture of the stent in my heart. He told me about the blockage.
The blockage I had is known colloquially among some as “the widow-maker,” because you don’t know you have it and you’re gone instantly the next moment. I honestly felt good; yes, I knew I was overweight but I was not only doing Pilates, but walking my dog, Malkin, every day and planning on a more vigorous program. I didn’t feel sick or encumbered or anything.
The doctor told me if I thought I felt good before, I should wait until I got back out and see how I felt. He said I’d feel like a new person.
I do. He was correct.
I feel great, and more than great, I am extraordinarily grateful. I’m thankful to my doctor for being so thorough and encouraging me to do the heart scan. I’m thankful to my cardiologist for getting me in to have the catheterization and I’m grateful to my surgeon for taking such good care of me.
I feel great, and more than great, I am extraordinarily grateful. I’m thankful to my doctor for being so thorough and encouraging me to do the heart scan. I’m thankful to my cardiologist for getting me in to have the catheterization and I’m grateful to my surgeon for taking such good care of me.Kevin Iole
God has been very good to me. I’ve had a life that I couldn’t have dreamed of having when I was young. I’ve traveled the world, done work I have loved doing and I have had so many amazing experiences.
My story has turned out amazingly well, and I hope it in some way can rub off on someone who reads this. Get checked. Take care of yourself. Be diligent about your health. There are plenty of people who love and care for you in the world and if you die of a preventable disease, you will hurt them tremendously.
I’ll be forever grateful for this second chance I’ve had and I hope that my journey can help others become just as fortunate.