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Cavanaugh: A reason to be thankful
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This is the time of year that should be devoted to peace and joy but is really a time of major stress for many people. It is a time, unfortunately, when folks suffer major heart problems.

I present the following column in the hopes that you don't let stress ruin the lives of you and your family, and if you have any symptoms of heart problems for gosh sakes don't play games like I did. I am fortunate that I'm here and able to write this.

if you feel a pain in your arm or tightness in your chest go immediately to your doctor or emergency room.

I have always thought of myself as being very healthy.

I get very few colds; in fact, my intestine burst open one time and healed itself without surgery.

I have red cheeks that get rosier with toddy or two, and I have always been "husky."

I owe this to good health, as well as having good genes.

That's why it amazes me that those good genes didn't cover my heart.

I'm grateful for modern medical technology, because without it, I wouldn't be here today.

Sixteen years ago, I had a bypass operation, the same operation my father has had twice, and he is now 87,

It seems that heart problems - namely blockages - are a part of the male gene pool on both sides of my family tree. Most of the women in my family seem to live to ripe old ages without this problem.

I actually started having the symptoms of blockage three years before I had the operation to correct the problem which was in 2008.

It started while Molly and I were on vacation in the Bahamas. It got progressively worse, so I went to a doctor in North Carolina where I was living at the time. He tested me and found out I had blockages; consequently, he wanted me to come in and have the blockages taken care of right then.

But I wasn't going to have any of that. I said to myself that it was a "gallbladder thing" or some other aliment with which I could deal.

I particularly didn't want to deal with a heart problem in the middle of switching jobs. We soon moved from Carolina to Paso Robles, California to publish a paper.

I learned to deal with the tightness and discomfort for at least another year.

How stupid this was, and sadly my brother did the same thing, he lived in the same denial.

He died of a massive heart attack at age 49.

My condition finally became so bad that I couldn't walk across a major mall one day as we were Christmas shopping.
Molly finally had enough of my denials and lies about how I felt and took me to Kaiser Hospital in Hollywood where they opened me up, scared me for life in replacing four veins , and fixed me.

After I had the operation, I made a speedy recovery, and for the next two years, I had absolutely no problems or symptoms of heart disease.

Because I had decided I was cured and refused to take medicine, I felt invincible.

Thanksgiving 2000 came; we closed our paper for the holidays and rented a cabin at Big Bear, located in the mountains of California.

We had a great Thanksgiving, but the next day, as I was walking the dogs, I felt a slight tightening in my chest.
I thought it would go away, but as I found out over the next 13 hours, it didn't.

As I began to feel the tightness get worse, our friends the Pullmans had just pulled up to visit, the ladies were all going to go to the little village of Big Bear to window shop, while my friend Dennis and I planned to visit the Elks and share some good stories with our brothers.

But as we started out, the tightness in my chest seemed to get even worse; however, I still retained hopes that it would go away by the time we got to the village.

When we reached downtown, I told Molly to go ahead and I would wait in the car. She suggested I try to walk; I made it three steps and just couldn't go any further. By this time, I also felt very clammy.

Molly wasn't going to play my denial game this time. "We are going to the nearest medical facility," she said.

By the time we had found the little medical facility, I thought I was going to die.

I found the strength to bolt through the front door of the hospital, passed the receptionist who was trying desperately to get my name and barged into the emergency room.

The staff gave me about four nitro pills, put monitors on me, shot me up with morphine and started pumping a blood thinner in my veins.

I laid there gray and cold and scared for close to five hours.

It was only later that I learned by the grace of the Good Lord that this facility had some type of experimental medicine that they gave me that saved my life.

The truth is I never thought that I really could have died as I lay there.

The tightness did not go away, but the morphine put me into another world for a while, so it was bearable.

The decision was made to fly me to Long Beach Memorial, a 50-minute flight by helicopter. Molly and the family had to pack hurriedly and take off by car down the mountain for the three-hour drive.

It actually was a beautiful night, and the stars and the moon seemed to be clearer than ever as I looked out the window of the helicopter, during which a nurse and a paramedic kept me monitored.

We reached the hospital; they rushed me into the emergency room and kept me monitored for almost two hours. In those two hours, I thought about every decision I had ever made in life, good and bad.

I prayed that Molly would get there before they did anything. They finally got me into the cardiac operating room, where

I was prepped for an angioplasty, and Molly arrived.

I was so glad to see her that I immediately relaxed for the first time during the whole ordeal. They ran the tubes through my groin, and I must have fallen asleep, because the doctor awoke me to show me the two blockages on the screen that had caused this attack.

He decided not to unblock them at this time because they were too close to my main arteries that had been repaired two years before. Besides, he said, the heart attack was now over and the damage had already been done.

I was so high on drugs that anything he said would have been fine with me.

Molly told me later that they came very close to opening me up again.

For the six days I stayed in the hospital I had great care during, and I found out what friends were really about as I had visits and calls and expressions of love and concern from many people. I feel fine now. And I take my medicine faithfully.

There's a little tightness from time to time, with which the doctor said I would have to live. My original arteries that were replaced are perfect, thank goodness. The two veins that caused the heart attack are dead.

My advice to each of you is to call your doctor anytime you think you have one of the symptoms of possible heart disease. If you don't know what those systems you and your family should sit down at your computer and memorize what they are If you won't do that, a family member if they love you should.

Doctors can perform miracles now, if given the time to do it.

I suggest that if you are over 40 that you make an appointment with a cardiologist and have a yearly check, if you don't do this you're being more than foolish.

We are fortunate to be living in the days of such great medical advances, I say a prayer for my current doctors every day, Dr.'s Wassim and Flores and I say a particularly big one for the one person who refused to let me continue to be an idiot, Ms. Molly.

T. Pat Cavanaugh is the publisher of The News. He can be reached at