A Most Wonderful 80th Year

My tomorrows are far fewer that my yesterdays. If I don’t live today to the fullest, there may never be another opportunity to do so. Therefore, I try to make the best of each and every day.

Becoming 80 seemed like a major milestone in my life. I therefore wanted my 80th year (October 3, 2017- October 2, 2018) to be memorable, enjoyable and exciting. It was all of these in spite of a major surprise in the form of open heart surgery which turned out to be no more than a mere blip in the road. Hopefully, the story of a most memorable 80th year will be of interest to others and may benefit those confronted with open heart surgery and other major health issues.

My oldest daughter, Sandra Hatfield Clubb, played a highly significant role in many of the challenging events in my 80th year as described below.

The highlights of each event are summarized as follows:

Highlight  #1. World’s longest bungee jump, Macau, China (October 3, 2017). My wife, Mary, my daughter, Sandy, a lifelong friend, Gregg Hollomon, and I traveled to Macau to take part in the world’s longest bungee jump on October 3. Sandy also did the world’s longest bungee jump. (See Video on the David Muir program, an article in the Frederick NCI Newsletter and Photos).

Highlight  #2.  Chengdu, China (October 4-5, 2017) and Tibet (October 6-17, 2017). Gregg and I flew from Hong Kong to Chengdu, the Panda capital of the world, and visited the Pandas. We departed Chengdu by train for Lhasa, Tibet to see Mount Everest and a number of Buddhist temples.  We also had the pleasure of speaking with a Buddhist Monk for 45 minutes. (See Photos).

Highlight  #3. Tanzania (December 5-13, 2017) and Uganda (December 13-16, 2017). I visited Tanzania to see my youngest Tanzanian “son”, Deogratias Mtui, graduate from medical school and to visit my oldest Tanzanian “son”, Frank Mella, and see the superb property he was developing for his business. The three of us went on a humanitarian trip to Uganda to visit malnourished and severely starving families in northeast Uganda. I wrote an article on visiting Tanzania and Uganda entitled My two Tanzanian “sons” and our life altering visit to Uganda which was published in Medium Daily Digest on November 25, 2018. (See Story and Photos).

Highlight  #4.  Cuba (March 19-26, 2018). Mary and I took our first trip to Cuba. The trip was organized by Ms. Marilyn Seiber of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC, with a group of 17 others. We thoroughly enjoyed this visit to a most extraordinary country. (See Photos. The photos were taken at places Mary and I visited along with Marilyn and our 17 other travelers).

Highlight  #5. Senior Games, track and field (May 1 and May 19, 2018). I entered the Senior Games in Washington, DC on May 1 and in Henrico, Virginia on May 19. In DC, I won a total of three gold medals (50 and 100 meters and long jump) and 3 silver medals (shot put, football and soft ball tosses). In Virginia, I won two silver medals (50 meters and long jump). (See Photos).

Highlight  #6. Double bypass surgery (June 8, 2018). On June 4, I learned that I had run the 50 and 100 meters in Washington, DC and the 50 meters in Henrico with 95% blockage in my left, main artery (see Photo in the text). This artery supplies most of the blood to the heart. A heart attack caused by its blockage is called the “widow maker” as most patients having a heart attack with this much blockage die immediately. I had double bypass surgery to correct the blockage. I was fortunate to have had excellent medical care which resulted in my being able to consider this event no more than a mere glitch in my life. The Physician’s Assistants of my heart surgeon, Dr. Ammar S. Bafi, M.D., and the attending nurses credited me with performing tasks they had not seen open heart surgery patients do who were much younger, even as young as 40.

Upon hearing that I was going to have heart surgery, Sandy came immediately. She played a big part in helping both Mary and me through this event.

I was released from the hospital on June 13 with instructions to begin walking the next day for 10 minutes twice a day. I began walking 40 minutes twice a day. I returned to the gym on June 18 (10 days post-surgery) under the careful instruction of my trainer, Robin Gmeiner. (See Photos). I also ran about 30 meters with Robin carefully monitoring me so that I did not fall.

State of mind is of critical importance in recovering from health issues. By not having any fear whatsoever, I was able to make double bypass surgery a minor event, as well as several other potentially serious health problems (paralysis with an initial prognosis of being a paraplegic, myelodysplasia which is a blood disorder that had become worse with an initial prognosis of possible progression to leukemia, and chronic hypertension) I had faced earlier. Each health encounter is in the process of being described in detail elsewhere (article in preparation tentatively entitled Dodging four bullets in six years).

I would not have been able to overcome these obstacles without the excellent medical care of my internist, Dr. Daniel V. Young, M.D., cardiologist, Dr. Sean M. Dwyer, M.D., neurosurgeon, Dr. Joshua M. Ammerman, M.D. and heart surgeon, Dr. Ammar S. Bafi, M.D. and his superb staff, and the strong support of Mary, Sandy and Gregg. I owe them all a deep debt of thanks.

Ninety five percent blockage in my left main artery (see arrow). Photo by Itsik Ben-Dor, M.D.

Highlight  #7. Attempting to run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain (July 9-12, 2018). My heart surgeon, Dr. Ammar S. Bafi, M.D., had cleared me three and one-half weeks after surgery to go back to a normal life with the exception of not lifting more than 10 pounds of weight. When I asked Dr. Bafi if I could go to Pamplona, Spain to run with the bulls on July 9, he thought for a moment and then replied “If you want to”.

Therefore, my four grandchildren, Amber and Logan Hatfield, and Tristan and Skyelar Clubb, my daughter, Sandy and son-in-law, Jeff Clubb, Mary, and I went to Pamplona to run in the San Fermin with the bulls on July 9-12.

I tried on two consecutive days, July 10 and 11, to run with the bulls, but the Policia told me that I leave the streets on which the bulls ran as I was too old. On July 12, Logan and Amber darkened my beard with mascara to make me look younger, Sandy gave me an official red running jacket and an official white shirt and red scarf for the bull run, while Logan gave me the official white pants. Most upsettingly, these efforts also did not result in my running with the bulls. (See Photos).

Highlight  #8. Skydiving in Shenandoah, August 11, 2018. Mary and I went to the Skydiving Center at Skydive Shenandoah and I did a tandem skydive. My instructor and I jumped from 10,000 feet. (See Photos).  

Highlights  #9 and  #10. Ziplining and paragliding in Puerto Rico, August 20-24, 2018. Sandy and I visited Puerto Rico and did ziplining on the Beast and the Monster ziplines on August 23. Our speed on the Monster was as high as 95 mph. We did paragliding on August 24. (See Video and Photos).

Highlight  #11. Skydiving in Delmarva, DE (September 6, 2018). Mary and I went to the Delmarva skydiving center and I did a tandem skydive from a height of 18,000 feet. (See Photos). This skydive was far higher than I had ever jumped. In numerous earlier jumps, I exited the plane at 13,000 feet with two instructors, we fell to 5,000 feet where I opened my chute and completed the drive on my own.

Highlight  #12. Enshi, China (September 25-30, 2018). Brad Carlson, who managed my laboratory for more than 20 years, and I were invited by Dr. Xingen Lei to Enshi, which is known as the selenium capital of the world. Dr. Lei was one of the principal coordinators of a meeting that had been specifically organized for presentation of the translated version of the 4th edition of our book, Selenium: Its molecular biology and role in human health, into Chinese. (See Photo 1 and Photo 2).

Final and Most Significant Highlight. Annual Physical (January 16, 2019). I met with my internist, Dr. Daniel V. Young, M.D., for the completion of my 2018 annual physical. Dr. Young asked Mary to join us for the summary. He said that I had to be commended on how I had handled all aspects of my health in 2018. He followed this with the comment that he had found, in medicine, a patient’s attitude was the primary factor in determining health status and that many patients who had open heart surgery or another major health issue are intimidated by the diagnosis and treatments which consequently may prolong their convalescence. On the contrary, I had made it a point to stay very active. Mary chimed in to say that it was the open heart surgery that had motivated me to further undertake numerous challenging activities, including skydiving, ziplining and running with the bulls.

Dr. Young’s comment regarding my attitude towards health was among the highest compliments that I have ever received. It was, in fact, his comment that inspired me to write this story.

When I asked Dr. Young to check this Highlight for accuracy regarding his comments, he kindly made changes and said “Even thinking to write a piece like this is of itself ‘therapeutic’ in the giving out of it to the community for others inspiration”.

I hope this story will indeed encourage us older folks to try and “be all we can be” and live each day to its fullest for our tomorrows are, indeed, far fewer than our yesterdays.