Ron Irwin is an artist, author and Splash Magazine Worldwide journalist. When he shared his story with me, I felt certain that Splash Magazine readers could benefit from the information either directly or for friends and family. Certainly, Ron’s story is an inspiration. He also has an invitation for our readers. Congratulations, Ron.
Ron’s story begins:
On the afternoon of December 18th 2012 I dropped dead in my home and ended up like this:
One doctor even told my family I would never walk again.
These days I walk a minimum of 13.1 miles a day every day [That equals 162 marathons per year.] and on my 72nd birthday, April 30th 2017 I will for the third time be leading my annual “Hollywood Health Hike” from Burbank to Hollywood and for first time continuing on to Santa Monica.
At this point, it is my mission and my passion to help win our war on obesity, a disease that now touches over 37% of the American adult population per CDC.
Wanting more information, I asked Ron for an interview which follows.
B.K. What you are describing, a death/near death experience is terrifying to most of us. Can you share some of your feelings in this regard?
R.I. The lungs had stopped, the heart had stopped; that is pretty much dead. But as for feelings, at the moment it happened it was simply black and silent. Clearly Emergency Medical Technicians arrived on scene and clearly they immediately began the process of resituating me but I felt, hear, saw done of it. It was very much in a coma and it took days before I began to move out of that condition. But looking back the one feeling I have about it is that it was full and complete absence of feeling.
B.K. Your recovery is amazing, if not, miraculous. What was involved in the recovery process? At what point were you able to walk? Were you in a rehab facility? How long?
R.I. The recovery process involved primarily intravenous injections and apparently some level of external massage although I had no conscious recollection. Slowly I began to regain some degree of consciousness but it was filled with several powerful delusions. One of the first and strongest was my son Ronnie and I were sitting somewhere in Boston about a block away from a Holiday Inn and I kept telling to please get us to the Holiday Inn so we could have a Widmer Beer. I don’t much like beer and never had a Widmer but that was one of my many bizarre delusions.
At some point I became faintly aware of dealing with other people at some level. One woman was attempting to measure my cognitive skills which at the time were pretty much nonexistent.
My first real demonstration of returning to the world of motion came the day my wife kindly remove one of the restraints on my arms and I immediately removed all of the needles and hoses and even the PICC line stuck in my body. Doing so apparently set me back a little as the nurses went into wild panic. It felt great.
Eventually I got eased into a wheel chair. It was wonderful getting out of bed but horrible being in a wheelchair. So I fought hard to get up with little success at first. But eventually I managed to get up and used the wheelchair as a walker. So the hospital folks replaced my wheelchair with a walker and I got moved to a different unit where physical therapy would begin.
I vividly recall my first to physical therapy. With a lot of help and over about 15 minutes I actually was able to climb one stair. I knew I had a hell of a lot of work ahead but I became totally focused on improving.
The only rehab facility involved was the Saint Joseph Hospital in Burbank, California. They did good work but I really wanted out.
At one point I was allowed to take a shower but only with the help of a young Asian woman. Now the weird thing about that is that I have a rather strong attraction to Asian women having been married to one for over 32 years and still counting. But I was devastated to realize that my standing naked in a shower with a pretty young Asian woman had zero effect on me. Damn I was messed up and my desire to recover grew even stronger.
Finally I was walking without a walker and I could climb four or more stairs in under 15 minutes so on the evening of my 25th day in the hospital I staggered out to the nurse’s station and told the nurse I a note she could put in my chart. That note, I told was that this patient is leaving tomorrow, formally discharge or not I would be leaving. The next morning the attending physician came in, gave me a whole bunch of prescriptions and signed my release. My beautiful wife drove me home, it was a gorgeous day but I did say to her: “Please do not crash I do not want to go back.”
B.K. Was there a time in your life when you were athletic, involved in any sports?
R.I. I played some baseball and football in Junior High School, but I wouldn’t call myself a jock. However I did serve 4 years in the Marine Corps including 13 months in Vietnam and there definitely was some physicality in that experience.
B.K. Were you overweight as you were growing up? Always overweight? What was it that lead you to believe you were obese and not overwight?
R.I. Now that is both an interesting and telling way to phrase this question. What exactly is the difference between “overweight” and “obese?” That somewhat vague distinction I believe is what gets a lot of folks in trouble because after all, yeah sure I have a few extra pounds but I am not obese so keep on eating – poorly. That fact is clinically speaking obesity begins at about 20 pounds above ideal weight for you gender and height. Somewhere around age 11 or so I was obese for a while. But as I moved into my teen years I got back to a good weight of about 160 or so and stayed that way pretty much into my forties and then it began. At my absolutely worst I hit 316 pounds, about double my ideal weight. I managed to shave about 30 of those pounds before I finally got around to killing myself. As for how to get so fat; well it was a combination of too much unhealthy food, too much drink and very little exercise. But most of all it was a wild trip down that very dangerous river we call Denial.
B.K. What was it like to return home? What kind of help did you require at that point?
R.I. My first day back home was pure joy but very difficult. I need to climb 14 stairs from our courtyard to our home. That took me a good ten minutes, ten minutes for 14 stairs – wow! But I was so happy to actually do I decided I need to go for a walk, so I headed off to a Ralph’s Market a half mile from my home. That trip took me an hour, a trip that now takes me 7 minutes. As I arrived at the store my daughter Kimberly showed up in her car and offered me a ride home and I declined.
It was game on.
B.K. When you first began walking, how far could you go? Was the walking difficult? What motivated you to keep at this?
R.I. After this first day it became clear to me that to fully recover I needed to walk as much as possible as often as possible. So each day I would walk a little more than the day before and it became extremely enjoyable. The actually walking was not per se difficult but I was limited in time and distance at first. But as my walking abilities steadily improved so did my overall sense of well-being and basic attitude toward life. But there was one other event that really made my commitment to walking vigorously each and every day and that came from a whole new set of health problems when I was diagnosed with advanced stage prostate cancer a couple of months after leaving Saint Joseph’s Hospital.
Well ain’t that great news after Heart Failure and Diabetes – advanced stage prostate cancer. So I began 42 radiation treatments which weren’t too bad. And as they continued I began to walk to and from my radiation treatments, a distance of about 7 miles round trip. But after the radiation I reluctant began some form of chemo therapy and that damn near killed me.
The drug made me totally psychotic. I would sit in a dark room staring at black screen on a TV that wasn’t on and contemplate in extreme detail all of the people I would kill and exactly when, where and how. As those horrible thought mounted I would get up and walk very briskly towards a shopping center about a mile from my home. By the time I arrived at the shopping center my mind was at ease. Walking soon become the ultimately drug for me and a very healthy and positive drug it was.
B.K. Are you formally involved with any group that is focused on helping people manage a healthy life style? If so, which one?
R.I. I never got involved in any group but I have started my own little campaign I call the annual “Hollywood Health Hike.” It started on my 70th birthday, April 30th 2015. Just me and one other guy walk from Burbank to the Delphine Restaurant at the W Hotel in Hollywood, a distance of about 14.2 miles on the route we used. The next year I did it again with about a dozen folks including A list actor and musician Johnny Crawford who at age 70 did the entire walk in his cowboy boots. I was impressed by the energy Johnny showed that day. This year on April 30th I have doubled down. We will again walk from Burbank to the W Hotel, but then after a nice lunch we will walk on right through Hollywood to Beverly Hills and on to Santa Monica a distance of about 29 miles. I’d love to see a million people on the hike because my sole message is “Look if this 72 year geezer can do this you have no excuse.” That is the message, no forms to fill out, no fees to pay no bogus 501(c3) non-profit nonsense, just setting a real world example by doing it and not just talking about it.
B.K. What advice do you have for our readers?
R.I. It is far better to get and remain healthy than it is to treat disease. In all of my years having seen dozens of various medical doctors not once did any of them ever say to me, “Ron you are too fat, you need to lose some weight.” But they were always eager to prescribe drugs to treat whatever disease I complained of because their job, their profession is treating disease NOT helping you maintain health. They are not bad people, but it is the way they are trained. Gaining and maintaining good health is your job and your job only. Do your job well and you will most likely live long and strong and that alone brings joy as it really annoys your enemies.
B.K. Thank you for sharing and becoming our inspiration and guide. Here’s hoping that your annual hike fulfills your dreams.
Photo credit: Kari Irwin