Recognizing the warning signs led to heart surgery

Aug. 13, 2012

I never have thought that going to opening day in April and my son's wedding in California on Memorial Day would end up with me having bypass surgery on July 12.

But the key for me was I recognized the warning signs - it just took me a month to do it.

Life works in funny ways.

I took my son, Scott, and my sons-in-law, Jon Moore and Nick Fouts, to the Milwaukee Brewers home opener. It was my first opener in years since they usually are on Monday or Tuesday, which are my busiest days.

I got the tickets late, but the preferred parking was sold out, so we parked in the last lot up by Bluemound Road and Story Parkway.

While walking to the stadium I felt a terrible pain in my triceps on both arms. I really don't have much of a triceps, but the pain was there. It went away when I sat in my seat, so I didn't think much of it.

However, on the way back to the car, which was uphill, I was really hurting and had to stop every 15 yards or so. My son-in-law, Jon, stayed by my side and helped me along. When I got to the car it went away.

So obviously it was nothing.

My oldest son, Marty, lives in California and had his wedding on May 28, so my whole family went out there. On the return flight, we stopped in Denver. We landed at Gate 2 and had to walk to Gate 96 … and the pain came back.

It was just a coincidence, but I had my regular appointment with my cardiologist the next day. I had recently had a stress test and passed, so when I told him about the pain, he suggested we should play it safe and get a cardiac catheterization like I did in 2007.

The last time this happened, I had a stent put in my heart. Unfortunately there was a problem with the other artery which got torn and I had to have an emergency bypass done.

So this time we figured I might have to have another stent put in. Except when they were done, my doctor told me he had bad news. I seem to get that a lot when having a catheterization done.

One of my arteries was 90 percent blocked and another 80 percent. Oh, and by the way, the bypass I had done in 2007 didn't work anymore.

He recommended a surgeon who he worked with only on special cases - I was a special case - Dr. Scott Schlidt. So I set up an appointment with him for the following week.

Not knowing the man, I went online and looked him up. His photo made him look like Doogie Howser, who was played by Neil Patrick Harris, on "Doogie Howser" from 1989-93. The catch - Howser was a teenager.

Our meeting went well - he is 42 and looks a lot better than his photo. He laughed when I told him and said he gets that all the time. It was taken when he was back in his residency. I told him image is everything, so get a new photo.

He explained to me that he might have to do up to six bypasses, including fixing the previous one that went bad. He said he did this all the time and told me not to worry.

Someone was cutting open my chest and putting in up to six bypasses, but I shouldn't worry. I'm learned a long time ago that "routine" surgery is something that happens to someone else. He was working with the most important organ I have. But I shouldn't worry.

My son flew in from California even though I told him not to (tear-jerking moment coming). He said "Dad, when you were with the Brewers, you still came out early to my Little League games and threw me an hour of batting practice. You were there for me then and now I'm going to be there for you now."

The toughest part of the surgery for me was saying "see you later" to my family. But when the nurse came to get me to take me to the operating room, two things put me at ease.

First of all, she had a barbed wire tattoo on one arm and a Brewers logo on her name tag. I figured I had a good chance of making it if someone like that would be assisting the doctor.

I asked the anesthesiologist and his assistant to "don't forget to wake me when it was over," but I don't remember going under. There were also two nurses and an assistant doctor, who would help out with my surgery.

Four hours later I woke up in the recovery room. The Waukesha Memorial Hospital staff was great with my family. They kept them up to date on everything - when they opened me up, when they fixed the first bypass that had gone bad (I was told later that was of huge importance for the surgery) and when they did each bypass.

I slept through the whole thing.

I was in the hospital for five days, but after having two hips replaced in three months a few years ago, this was a piece of cake. There was very little pain, but some shortness of breath when I walked too fast. Funny part is, no one has ever accused me of walking too fast.

I spent most of my time reading the "The Game of Thrones" books on my Kindle as well as four fantasy football magazines. I lived in my home office, our deck and in the bathroom.

I also spent time reading cards, emails and answering phone calls from readers, coaches and friends. I want to thank everyone for that. It meant a lot.

So let's "Play ball!"




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