By Nancy Brown
Early Friday morning, in the quiet of his home office, Brian Curin will power up his laptop, click open a special folder and launch a file called “My Life.” Then he will watch the images and hear the words that his wife and three daughters thankfully have never seen or heard.
In the roughly eight-minute video, Brian — wearing a hospital gown and sitting in a hospital bed — says his goodbyes to each of them. He shares his thoughts and hopes for their futures without him. Emotions start to overwhelm him several times, but he somehow remains composed.
Brian recorded it early on Sept. 26, 2012, hours before a quadruple bypass operation. The only person he told about the video was his younger sister; someone had to know, just in case.
Brian is fully recovered now. He’s resumed both his career as president of Flip Flop Shops (North America’s authentic retail chain exclusively dedicated to flip flops and casual footwear) and a wildly active lifestyle that made his heart condition such a stunner to all who knew him.
Last Sept. 26, the first anniversary of his operation, Brian watched “My Life” for the first time to remind himself of how precious every moment in life is. Then, as a show of his renewed vitality, he went out and did — for the first time — the Grouse Grind, a 1.8-mile hike up a 2,800-foot mountain near Vancouver.
This Sept. 26, Brian will do it all again — a solemn, solo viewing of the video, then the energetic burst up Grouse Mountain. Only this time, he’s bringing a group of family and friends along for the hike.
Since becoming a heart disease survivor, Brian and his company have become involved with my organization, the American Heart Association. He’s become a wonderful volunteer and a powerful example of the saying, “If heart disease can happen to him, then it can happen to anyone.” I’m proud to turn this space over to him to share his incredible story.
If you’d asked me in the summer of 2012 what a heart patient looked like, I would have said someone old and overweight who smoked. Not in a million years would it have crossed my mind that a 38-year-old guy like me would’ve fit that category.
I weighed about 155 pounds, ate healthy and have been active all my life, generally in the water, on a board or on wheels. I swam competitively through college, raced motor cross and have done every imaginable watersport.
Yes, I had a bit of a family history of heart disease with my mom, her sister and their mother. But they all had different eating habits than me, weren’t active and smoked at some point in their lives. Plus, all were in their 60s when their problems began.
I had just started a new workout program when I started feeling something funny. I went to the doctor and all tests came back with flying colors. Just to be safe, the doctor sent me for a stress test.
I was shut down after only three minutes. An angiogram was scheduled for the next morning.
I showed up wearing flip flops, a T-shirt and a cap, with a demeanor that matched my casual attire. When the nurse asked if it was my first angiogram, I smiled and said, “Yes. Is it yours?”
The mood remained jovial as the procedure got going. Then, every face went white. My cardiologist soon explained, “You’re 100 percent blocked in one artery, 90 percent in three others.”
I needed a quadruple bypass. Had my heart muscle not been so healthy — had I been overweight, a smoker or both — I probably would’ve already been dead.
My body needed about a week to recover from the angiogram. While the care I received was terrific, the waiting was hell. I was afraid to blink the first two days. When I asked my surgeon whether he considered my procedure routine, he said, “Yours isn’t, Brian.”
“We don’t get a lot of young, healthy guys with three beautiful girls and a family they need to be around for,” he said. “We’re going to take as much time as we need.”
The night before, I cuddled with my three little girls and my wife. After they left, the nurses wanted me to sleep. I pretended to be out so that I could record my video in peace. That was probably the most sobering moment – being in the hospital room, telling my family things you should say every day but knowing it might be the last thing they ever hear from me.
My big scare hit a lot of people hard, right between the eyes.
“Dude, you’re the last person we expected this to happen to,” a buddy said. “You took the bullet for us.”
Another buddy began riding his bike to work. Another went for a stress test. One of my brothers-in-law said, “I just bought a gym membership and I’m using it because of you.” Others emailed to say they went for physicals, sometimes getting prescribed medicines and making lifestyle changes.
I hope sharing my story can impact more lives.
My No. 1 message is listen to your body. You only have one heart, and it’s what keeps you going. So take care of it. Get a physical every year. If something doesn’t feel right, get it checked out. (I had a stress test last month and my cardiologist told me that based on my stellar results, he is very confident that I will not need any type of reversal procedures for heart disease in the future!)
As hard as I’ve played, I’ve also attacked my professional life pretty hard. That means taking on a lot of stress. Research is still being done to connect the two, but it only makes sense to cut back on stress when you can. I tell people not to go a full day without laughing. I’m also a big believer in simplicity. Take work breaks. Leave your cell phone on your desk and go feel the sun on your face for five minutes.
It’s hard to argue with someone like me. Want to look like a shark bit you? You don’t. It sucks.
It’s unfortunate that I had to go through this, but I also kind of feel like it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me — next to my wife and kids, of course. This experience has been a game-changer. Little things don’t bother me. I have a whole different outlook on life, and it’s a good one.
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