My dad died of a heart attack at age 60. My brother died of a heart attack at age 40. Hearts are the family curse, so the condition of mine is never far from my mind.
I’ve always wondered, “If I ever have to have surgery, how would I handle it?”
I honestly don’t know the answer but I hope I handle it like Riley McLincha of Clio.
If the name sounds familiar it’s because he’s The Drubbler, meaning the guy who dribbles three basketballs at once — drubbling is his name for it — while running the 10-mile Crim road race each August, to the astonishment of his fellow runners and the delight of spectators.
Riley has been a runner — and therefore slim and fit — his whole life. But in April, an old problem finally caught up with him.
“My problem is a congenital defect,” he told me. “Like 2 percent of the population, I was born with a bicuspid aortic valve instead of a tricuspid. By about age 65 that 2 percent needs a valve replacement.”
Riley is 65 but he knew he had a problem four years ago.
“At the start of a run I had some sort of discomfort in my chest. It got progressively worse every year. I had many tests and it wasn’t until 18 months ago I was told I had aortic stenosis and a thoracic aortic aneurysm. The aneurysm was caused by the increased pressure of the blood through a smaller valve opening.”
Fifty years ago, such a diagnosis would have amounted to a death sentence. But these days, owing to the miracles of modern medicine, doctors told him they could fix him up with a pig valve and some flexible Dacron tubing.
He had the surgery in April. Five days later he was out and issuing pig jokes on his Facebook page.
“Since I’m now one-part pig, I decided to make a new (slop) bucket list,” he wrote. It included:
- Renew my ham radio license.
- Become a member of Kevin Bacon Fan Club.
- Rewatch the movie ‘Babe.’ (It’s about a pig in case you hadn’t guessed.)
- Make the Mythbusters prove you can make silk purse from a pig’s ear.
He later wrote, “My cardiologist said, ‘you are my model patient.’ I’ll say it again (oink) for those who did not get the word, my problem was congenital, my heart has been thoroughly examined and is clean as a whistle because of staying fit. If you are able to get fit, get your Nikes on and just do it. (oink)”
At one point, I asked him how he stayed so upbeat and positive throughout such an ordeal.
“Well, mostly, I just wanted to have the surgery so I could return to the lifestyle I’ve always known.”
And joking about it just seemed to help. Or as he wrote the day before the surgery, “I’ve been eagerly waiting to have this surgery now for 17 months. It’s Hammertime! Get this over with so I can go have a Michigan beer.”
Cheers to that, Riley.
By the way, The Drubbler, he says, will be back at the Crim this year, as always.
“If you’re a man with big (basket)balls, it’s what you do.”