One afternoon, Bruce Oakes, father of three, and a successful lawyer in his mid-40s, felt a severe pain in his chest. Somehow, he was able to drive himself to the nearest emergency room. Oakes, it turned out, had suffered a heart attack—unsurprising, considering the severity of the pain. And though it was a relatively minor one, the doctors decided, as a precaution against a future heart attack, to put in stents, a common preventive procedure that opens up the arteries. And there were other issues: Oakes was a heavy smoker, and—in addition to his briefcase—he carried a few extra pounds. Those factors, combined with the often stressful and demanding pace of his job, which called for almost constant traveling, created the perfect storm for health issues. What’s more, in addition to the heart problem, a previous bout with pancreatitis had left Oakes with serious diabetes, which one feckless physician deemed “out of control”—yet he sent Oakes home with no treatment; just a scary diagnosis that left him confused and feeling helpless.
“I had the first incident in 2007. I was at work, and I had some chest pains. I somehow managed to drive myself to the hospital. They told me I had had a heart attack. Well, they weren’t positive I did, but they said I was 99% blocked. That was bad enough. I was told I could have a bypass, but they thought that putting in some stents might be enough for now. They told me I should lose some weight and quit smoking. But, I still ate the same. Around that time, I was seeing a doctor who turned out to be pretty bad. He would write on my chart: ‘Diabetes out of control. Patient isn’t eating right.’ He should have prescribed shots of insulin; but instead, he did nothing. He just sent me on my way, as though there was nothing he could do. Things were fine for a while. But about seven years later, I was having some chest pains again. I didn’t want to admit it, but I knew things were bad. At that point, I decided I absolutely needed to stop smoking. I should have quit earlier. Actually, I switched to the vaping system, which was better than cigarettes. But, in other ways, I wasn’t taking care of myself at all. For example, I didn’t go to cardiac rehab, like I should have. I finally went back to my cardiologist and, this time, I was told that bypass therapy wasn’t elective—it was essential. Quadruple bypass. So, I went under the knife. Man, it was scary. But I pulled through the ordeal with flying colors. The doctor said I had strong heart muscle, and because of that, through all of this, it didn’t sustain much damage. He thinks that’s because I played a lot of sports when I was young. Basically, I have a healthy heart, he told me—but, because my arteries were once so clogged and it could happen again, I’m still on a statin, and I drink fish oil like it’s lemonade.
I look at life so differently now. I feel as though I’ve been given a second—or, is it a third?—chance to do things right. For one thing, I’m eating healthy. My wife, Dawn, cooks for me. About a month ago, I started on a diet consisting of a lot of vegetables—low carbs. And, I started walking about two miles a day. Now, I’m up to four miles. Since the surgery, I’ve felt so much better. I have energy. I work hard, but I try to find time to take it easy—to travel; things like that. I’m feeling grateful for so many things: my wife, my kids, my grandkids, my parents, my puppies—and I’m grateful that my law firm is doing well. I’m thankful for sports, for great drama series, and a good steak at Morton’s. And, I’m working on a novel, too; I haven’t given up my dream of becoming the next John Grisham. I have so much to live for. Life is short but wonderful—and now my heart is in it.