Observations on being (pretty) young, (pretty) fit, and having a damaged heart.

A few weeks back I went from being a fit, pretty active guy, who didn’t have a medical care in the world to someone with serious heart disease!

I was being treated for what I thought was an extended bout of acid reflux– and the farthest thing from my mind or worries was what it turned out I actually had: a 99% blockage of my LAD, the largest artery in the heart, ominously called “The Widow Maker,” and that the pains I felt were actually my heart crying out, deprived of half its blood.

One day after spectacularly failing an echo-stress test– a test I went off to grumbling to my wife, “You realize that there’s zero… ZERO chance that this is heart related, don’t you…!” and then trudged back to an hour later, completely stunned, “Honey, I think you should sit down…”– I was sent up to Yale University Hospital where they inserted not one, but two drug-coated stents to reopen my bloodflow. It’s a remarkably quick and non-invasive procedure, the catheter amazingly conducted through my wrist; one that requires virtually no recovery time, and seems hardly worthy of all the expressions of concern and sympathy that flooded in.

In fact, I was weirdly conscious for most of the time. I remember waking up from the light anesthesia I was administered and hearing the doctors discussing the size of the obstruction: an inch and a half in length and at the very beginning of the artery, even more dangerous. I watched them thread the stents from my wrist to my heart, tears forming in my eyes. When the nurse came around to wipe them, she asked if I was in pain. “No,” I answered, staring at the screen. “I’m just thinking I’m watching you guys saving my life.”

Just five weeks later, I’m back to a completely normal routine: working out, playing tennis, eating smarter, appreciating life. Just with a prodigious line-up of meds to take each day. And the only, non-white-haired member of my local stent club! It all happened so fast, there was no time to even get scared, worry about the consequences; to hug your kids. To remember that chapter idea I didn’t write down. It went by with the speed of TV coming attractions. It was literally forty eight hours from diagnosis to cure.

So I’ve been waiting for that singular moment of profundity; that “a-ha” epiphany of what it’s all about, that always comes to me when I need a plot idea, but fails me now when it’s about my life.

Yet what I do think about is this: the many times I had to put up a hand, doubled over during a workout or on the tennis court with my pro– grabbing at the fence, trying to catch my breath, in pain. I see myself crumbling to the ground, realizing something far more serious is happening; thinking how my grandfather died this way, just off the golf course, and seeing myself, a virtual kid compared to him, looking up at the my helpless pro, tears glazing in my eyes, my mind going on about my kids, something trivial like whether I put the steaks in the freezer; stories I meant to write.

The only NYT bestselling author to ever die from acid reflux….

I would never have even known.

Except in this story I get up. Finish out the set. The coming attractions come on, and thank God, there’s another episode next week! I get to wonder who’s cheated who, death or me? I think about the two doctors I may never ever see again who gave me a new downpayment on life. Who let me pretend I’ve got it by the balls again.

But this time I know– I’m only renting.


  1. Sharon Braxton Says:

    Thank goodness you had a doctor who was savvy enough to send you for the echo. So glad you are up and going again!

  2. Sandy Friederich Says:

    You are so very lucky!! Same thing happened to my husband last April..his was in his stomach and arms..he didn’t even make the stress test. He had one stent put in and is like a new man. He did do the therapy also which really helped. He was so lucky that there was NO damage to his heart..Glad you are o.k..
    Take Care,

    Sandy F

  3. Merle Says:

    Thanks for sharing your story, Andy. Your family must be so relieved that you sailed through what couldve been an awful awful ending…There’s a lesson for everyone in this…to not ignore symptoms as you could be your own life saver!

  4. Lars Guignard Says:

    Wow! May the rest of your blog entries be dull as mud. Here’s to leaving the drama to fiction.

  5. danjotay92 Says:

    I’m so very glad that the Dr’s realized soon enough and were able to treat you and make you healthy and keep you where you should be.

  6. Stewart Clark Says:

    Just noticed your stent post. 13 years ago I had the same experience. Heavy duty exercising 5 days a week. Didn’t have the acid reflux experience, just shortness of breath. At the time,I was working at LSU Med School and went to one of my docs with the symptoms. Long story short – LAD blockage. They wanted to crack my chest because of the location, but I insisted not and ended up with one stent. (The ‘funny’ part was when the surgeon who wanted to do the open heart operation walked into my hospital room after the angiogram, it was a guy I worked out with all the time at the school. His first words: “What are you doing here?”)
    Afterwards, I had numerous tests to determine why it happened, because I had no risk factors at all. They never could find out why, except much later I heard about stress and anger as a possible cause.

    Just to let you know, if you keep exercising and watch you diet, you’ll be OK for years. I’ve had no problems in 13 years. Just took up scuba diving 3 years ago.

  7. Shari Blaine Says:

    I just read about your “adventure” and am so grateful that you’re OK. My son, at 43, wasn’t. He died of a massive heart attack October 28, 2000… the sweetest, nicest most compassionate person to walk this earth. He is still missed tremendously. If you’re married long enough, one of you will die first. That’s the normal way of things… but not outliving your child. That never should be. There is nothing worse. Take GOOD care of yourself, Andy; you’ve been given another chance. If I read you right, your mom will kill you if anything happens to you, so you’d best take good care.

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  9. Don Vaupel 3415 12th Ave #312, Olympia, WA 98506 Says:

    I was lucky too! Dr. Dean Ornish found me when I had my first heart attack happend. He changed my life! Then, STENTS entered the Universe! I was one of the first gifted, and then as time went on now have FIVE! The good news have avoided being in the Zipper Club (By-pass surgery),
    and though my driver’s license say’s I’m “an older adult”,
    My heart and mind are still 42!! Keep up the great writing and get into a great diet..Check our Dr. Dean Ornish!

  10. Frank Eskridge Says:

    Sounds familiar to me! I had three balloon angioplasties and a quintuple bypass in three years. My symptom? Ache in my arms after exercising, such as walking up a steep hill. I was told it was angina, which usually results in chest pain. So I call it “armgina.” Then 12 years with no problems, followed by more armgina. Two stents later, I seem to be fine again. So now I’m reading Andrew Gross thrillers.



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  15. steve golab Says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience here. I just had a similar near death widow maker experience at age 39 and I’m searching for more answers to why I survived. The best answer I have been given is by my cardiologist who says it is a mystery. Here’s to living another 40 years!

    • Don Vaupel Says:

      I had the same experience whe I was 51. I was alergic to the dye and rubber tubing…so .. I just died for 22 min. Doctor’s didn’t know what to do when my eyes popped open..and I came back Sweating like a trooper… I did not want to return but KNEW I had to do it!
      I am now approaching 75! Never a member of the Zipper Club (by-pass) but have 4 STENTS! What worked for me was being on of the first research patients of Dr. Dean Ornish in his Reversing Heart Disease Through Life Stype Changes! Still doing “Ornish Program” years later..when at 51 I was told go home, get my affairs in order, and I might have 3 months…..Years later..I ocntinue to seek new affairs!

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  19. Mike Says:

    Three years ago, this August ,I had two angina attacks within a week. Both happened, while surfing in the waters, here in Central California. Luckily after the second attack I made my way to the ER. After being told I had just had an “episode”, I was administered to the local hospital. After a few days of test, I was told that I would have to under go a “triple by pass”..three months of recovery and 3 years of back being in the water….I’m back at square one. It seems that the shortness of breath, lack of mental clarity and overall lack of stamina has brought the doctor to the conclusion that I might have another blocked artery.
    This Friday I’m going in for a Nuclear Stress test….we’ll see if life changes….

  20. Don Vaupel Says:

    Keep on keeping on….WE all need you to keep writing…I just “sold” and made sure they bought 6 copies of Eyes Wide Open! Hey, maybe just maybe…you had your own eyes “opened wide”..Be healthy!!

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  30. Tex Says:

    Basically went through the same procedure as you did. But I’m a little older. While they were in putting the two stents in they removed my Golf, the bastard took out my Golf! My last round of golf about killed me.

  31. Sheryl Holt Says:

    Just saw this post and was freaking out until I realized it happened two years ago. We’ve already lost Vince Flynn and Robert Parker and a few more this year. Hopefully you are still doing well and we will be seeing a new book from you soon.

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  33. David Combs Says:

    Having gone through a similar situation, it does really put life into perspective. I had acid reflux and the pain in my chest and stomach started to get really severe. I went to my GP who told me “that’s just what it feels like getting older.” I finally got so bad my wife got me into a specialist where I expected to get some ulcer pills and be on my way. As it turned out I had cancer in my appendix and had it immediately removed. I felt guilty recovering in a cancer ward where most will never leave. I really think it was a blessing as really not much in life is as big a deal as cancer, so it really puts the daily struggles into perspective. I realize I was given a gift by God to get to spend more time with the people that matter most. I’m glad you are feeling so much better.
    Continued Health,

  34. awomanofallseasons Says:

    Had same. No symptoms, just felt weird. 3 stents, two years ago. Took time to do cardio rehab. Back on my bicycle when it got warm again in Boston. Pondering the purpose that I have now with a new lease on life. I figure its to be a great friend and mentor, and to ride my bike. Pretty simple, that’s all there is. Just live every day to the fullest, work hard, play hard and just watch the seasons change. And be grateful for every day.

  35. Margt Kennedy Says:

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