Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Role Model

When my father was 69 years old, he had quadruple bypass surgery.

He is not the guy you expect to have heart problems--he was a school administrator so he put in his fair share of desk time but he was the kind of school administrator who isn't behind the desk very much, and if you didn't find him roaming the halls at school his "hobby" farm meant he was probably bucking bales or shoveling hog feed or scooping out grain trucks. He didn't smoke, and my dietitian mother cooked meals that were filled with vegetables and whole grains even before the food pyramid was built.

In1996, though, my 13-year-old nephew was chosen to throw out the first pitch at a Royals baseball game.  Dad was there to cheer Josh's strike to home plate, but as my father walked down the ramp from the stadium to the car, he felt a tightness in his chest, a shortness of breath. Being the man he is he didn't say anything about the discomfort. The next day, when he experienced the same symptoms in a less strenuous moment of taking out the trash, he did.

Three days later he was in the operating room where doctors opened his chest and rebuilt his heart's circulating system. Dad came through the surgery beautifully, but a few weeks later was back in the hospital. He had developed clots in the leg incision where the reconstruction vein had been removed, and some of the clots already had moved to his lungs. Then he developed an allergy to the heparin used to dissolve the clots.

Any of these health crises could have killed him--the heart attacks, the blood clots, or the allergy.

Instead, Dad fought back. He recovered from the immediate health crises, then set his sights on recovery perfection. He would eat right. He would walk the prescribed two miles, twice each day, in every kind of weather. And he would swim, lap after lap, in the school natatorium that his own fundraising made possible a decade earlier.

When the natatorium had trouble finding personnel to staff the early morning hours, Dad became certified as a lifeguard then volunteered to open the pool several mornings a week at 6 a.m. for early exercisers.

Last Saturday my father climbed into the pool at the state Senior Olympics five times. Five times he climbed back out as the gold medal winner. If you were to ask him about the competition he would say that the level of competition in the 85-89 age group is limited, and that he's just glad he didn't have to be towed in. He would say it's just a game, no big deal.

To which his family would say, "Dad, we couldn't be prouder if those medals were pure gold and you were Mark Spitz."

And he would be wrong, and we would be right.

No comments:

Post a Comment