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Passion For Life And Urgency About NFL Season? All It Takes Is A Near Death Experience

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This may be my first piece for OutKick, but I assure you, I’m not new to covering the NFL. This will mark my 32nd season reporting on the NFL, and if that sounds unremarkable, allow me to say it should have all stopped at 30 seasons.

Because by all expert accounts, I should have died last year. You see, on July 1, 2020, I had a heart attack. 

Only a handful of people are aware of this because even though my work is quite public, I’m generally a reserved, private person. My work is to tell you about NFL players and coaches, their agents and their families. I generally stay on the margin.

But I want to share this episode with you because it has helped define who I am now and how I’m about to undertake my new assignment in this space. So here’s what happened:

Around 3 p.m. on July 1 last year, a way-too-overweight 249-pound man in his 50s decided a blistering hot afternoon thick with humidity was a good time for a jog. 

And if this wasn’t foolish enough, ol’ fatso was only halfway done but fully spent when he got passed by a lighter, younger, more athletic guy. That’s when some ridiculous competitive gene kicked in. So I sped up to keep pace.

And almost immediately, I felt a pain in my chest.

I’ve heard for years that heart attack symptoms can include pain on the left side of the chest, and perhaps down the left arm, and even a bit around the jaw, and I realized at that moment that those were my exact symptoms.

I continued running anyway.

Because it couldn’t possibly be happening to me.

Eventually I slowed to a walk, hoping in vain the pain would subside. It actually became worse. That’s when I called my wife, who had gone grocery shopping, and told her to come home because something was wrong.

During the remaining quarter-mile walk home, the pain got worse again. And I walked in the door and started praying because it finally dawned on me I was in trouble.

By now my wife, still on the phone with me, said she would be calling for help.

That’s when I realized I smelled terrible. Still praying, chest still throbbing, left arm practically dangling from my side from the pain, I decided I needed a shower.

So I took a shower in the middle of my heart attack. 

Because if I was going to go, dang it, I wasn’t going to go smelling like bologna that had been left in the sun for three days.

I was praying the entire time in the shower and, nope, the pain wasn’t subsiding.

So I got done, put on some fresh shorts and my favorite Under Armour t-shirt and sat in the Florida room waiting for, well, I don’t know what. My wife walked in moments later, and she was followed by what seemed like a platoon of emergency response personnel.

I live in Lighthouse Point, which is a small town in Broward County, one of Florida’s largest counties. It took the amazing Lighthouse Point fire department approximately three minutes to reach my house from the moment my wife called 911.

And I am not exaggerating when I say they showed up en masse. I saw at least eight of them before I stopped counting. They walked in led by a gentleman who seriously must have been 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds.

And now this first responder who looked like Chris Farley’s much taller, much bigger brother started working on me.

He gave me some aspirin. The pain remained. He tore open two packets of nitroglycerin and poured the contents down my throat. And when the pain persisted, he repeated that two more times.

The other guys hooked me up to what I guess was a portable EKG, and Farley’s brother got on a phone with a hospital. And after all this activity went on for a few minutes that seemed like an eternity, Farley’s now red-faced and sweaty brother rose up and made an announcement:

“Sir, you’re having a myocardial infarction!”

I’m aware, I thought.

So now the conversation is about getting me to a hospital to save my life because the emergency measures at home have failed. 

And as they were talking to my wife, these guys lifted me onto a stretcher as if I was a flyweight. It wasn’t just their strength that impressed me. Their technique and cohesion would make even an NFL offensive line proud.

They told my wife she could ride along or follow in our family car, which is what she did. So off I went on my second-ever ambulance ride.

(The first ambulance ride was when I got stabbed by a would-be burglar back in 1981, but that’s another story for another day).

There was a lot of activity inside that vehicle as I lay there wondering if I was going to die. But suddenly everyone got really quiet and I could only hear the driver.

And he was cursing.

Very loudly.

Because, you see, to reach the closest hospital to my house, one must cross a railroad track. And as the emergency vehicle approached the tracks, the crossing gates descended, stopping all traffic. Including us. We sat there and did nothing as the longest train in the history of mankind passed while I was having a heart attack.

The ambulance eventually reached the emergency room entrance to Broward Health North, and it was as if I was in a scene out of E.R. or St. Elsewhere or something. No less than six people were huddled around the Stryker bed I was now on.

One person cut off my shorts. Another cut off that beloved t-shirt I never should have picked out. Another started shaving my chest and another started shaving my, well, groin.

“Don’t worry, hun,” she said, “I’ve seen it all before.”

Within a couple of minutes, I was told I needed surgery. Or else.

I didn’t know it but Dr. Violeta McCormack, a top interventional cardiologist who decades ago immigrated to the United States from Slovenia, was at the hospital giving some sort of lecture and agreed to attend to me.

A woman rescued out of communist Yugoslavia saved a guy rescued out of communist Cuba.

Only in America.

I’m fuzzy about what happened next because I was under general anesthesia, but Dr. McCormack inserted two stents in my heart — one in my left anterior descending artery (LAD) and the other in my left circumflex artery.

My left anterior descending artery was 95 percent blocked.

My left circumflex artery was 100 percent blocked.

Dr. McCormack later told me a heart attack that occurs when the LAD is completely or almost completely blocked is commonly known as the widowmaker. 

Because, she said, only 10 to 12 percent of men who suffer this type of heart attack outside of a hospital survive.

“You’re very lucky,” she said.

“I was praying the whole time,” I said.

God was listening because I not only survived, but I have since been motivated to make some serious changes in my life. I now weigh 219 pounds. And I thank God every day that I’m still here.

I share all this publicly for the first time to make it clear that I have not taken even one minute for granted since July 1, 2020. I do not take this space that OutKick has offered me going forward for granted. 

I am thrilled the 2021 NFL regular season is looming, and I will approach it with great passion and excitement and urgency. I promise never to take that or you for granted.

 

Photo by Anders Krøgh Jørgensen on Unsplash

Written by Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero has covered the NFL since 1990 for the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and ESPN. He was a 2016 Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 columnist. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and AP All-Pro team voter.

12 Comments

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  1. Great story. Been following you for years, Armando. As a diehard Dolphin fan (grew up in Miami) now in Virginia your podcasts kept me connected to the team. Hope you will be podcasting for Outkick. Wish you all the best.

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