On the evening of April 23, Chuck Meyer, the program director at KCUB AM 1290 The Source, knew something was very wrong.
"I was laying down to get to bed, and I was experiencing shortness of breath," Meyer said. "If I sat up, I was OK, but if I laid down, I couldn't get to sleep. I waited too long, but finally told my wife that I'd better go to the hospital.
"After a harrowing ambulance ride to Northwest (Medical Center), I was admitted and told I'd had a heart attack. A lady named Christy Smith, who I can honestly say saved my life that night, happened to be doing the rounds and told me she was going to take me down to (University Medical Center). They had a few more toys to play with down there. A few days later, I had a quintuple bypass operation."
Meyer, who has handled program-director duties at The Source for two years, knows now the symptoms were there, and regrets that he didn't act upon them sooner.
"It wasn't your classic Hollywood heart attack where you're clutching your heart and falling down," Meyer said. "I waited way, way, way too long to face reality and realize the shortness of breath was because I was having a heart attack. I have a family history of this. I should have been watching closer. In the past year and a half, I had lost weight, was exercising and eating well and healthy, doing a lot of good, healthy things, except my heart wasn't healthy."
Of course, the smoking didn't help. During my time on the UA football and basketball pregame and postgame shows on The Source, I often saw Meyer on the outside porch in the designated smoking area, attempting to wind down a bit.
"That always plays a role," said Meyer. "I don't care if you go to a doctor for a hangnail: They say if you're smoking, you should quit. Everybody tells you to quit. I was smoking more than a pack a day for a number of years. That has ended."
Meyer says the quitting was actually fairly easy. Eleven days in intensive care might have something to do with that.
"There's no way you can sneak a cigarette in there," Meyer said. "They offered me the patch, and I said no. I don't really need it. I wasn't going anywhere. It was me and a small TV screen up in the corner where I could watch the NBA playoffs. It wasn't that hard to quit. I didn't have the cravings in the hospital, and I've had very few since. I would not recommend trying it the way I had to do it, but I was able to quit."
That 11-day stay in intensive care was far more harrowing than the need to call it quits on nicotine. In the initial stages, it appeared as if Meyer's heart had suffered such significant damage that a bypass might not be possible.
"There was some early talk about me having to go on a transplant list. That was far too complicated for me to comprehend," Meyer said. "They do fine, fine work, but I was hoping I didn't have to go that route. Transplant is a whole new level. What happens then is you go on medication, and they send you home and hope that within a year, you get a phone call that there's a heart ready for you. With me, it would be riskier, because I'm a tall guy, so I wouldn't be able to take a smaller person's heart. Your body will always want to reject the new heart. That means you're on medications for the rest of your life. It's a whole different level. A bypass is serious, but increasingly routine."
During the course of that increasingly routine procedure, surgeons found five places healthy enough to use for the purpose of the bypass.
"They won't operate unless they think the heart has a fighting chance of regenerating itself," Meyer said. "A couple parts of my heart had 100 percent blockage. I'm pretty much lucky I lasted as long as I did."
Meyers waited nine days to get the operation, but once completed, he was released from UMC in less than a week. After just a couple of weeks of recuperation at home, he returned to work tending to office duties, and eventually came back in a full-time capacity, which also includes hosting the station's morning drive news block weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m.
"I thought about whether I wanted to do it, and it didn't take me long to decide I'd come back and try it. But I still wanted to find out whether I felt comfortable. I felt pretty good. I'm OK. I'm going to continue doing it," said Meyer, who along with co-host Christine Lion was recently awarded Arizona Associated Press broadcasting accolades for Best Radio Newscast, Best News Series and Enterprise News. "I was completely prepared to retire in my 50s. There's the new lease on life thing. I'm in my early-to-mid-50s, and I realize that most people who have this happen are older. In many ways, I'm lucky, and you get that renewed chance.
"I have every reason to think I can live a much longer, normal life now. Anybody who's been through this sort of thing can identify with that, but you really do treat every day after that as sort of a bonus. I'm in extra innings now. I truly feel that way. I don't feel like lightning has struck me. Everything is what I will make of it, but I'm standing up and breathing, which is a lot better than my prospects six or seven weeks ago."