A Most Wonderful 80th Year: Aging Isn’t Fatal

My tomorrows are far fewer than my yesterdays. If I don’t live today to the fullest, there may never be another opportunity to do so. Therefore, I try to make the best of each and every day.

Turning 80 on October 3, 2017 was a major milestone in my life. I therefore wanted my 80th year to be memorable, enjoyable, and exciting so I decided to have an adventure while simultaneously crossing a few things off the proverbial bucket list.

There was one major surprise that turned out to be no more than a mere blip in the road. Hopefully, the story of my most memorable 80th year will be of interest to seniors as well as others.

It started with a bungee jump in China and ended at an academic meeting in China focused on one of the major works of my professional life. My daughter, Sandra Hatfield Clubb, was immensely helpful in arranging and participating in many of the challenging events in my 80th year. I detail the highlights of this adventure below.

October 3, 2017 (my 80th birthday): The world’s longest bungee jump, Macau, China. My wife, Mary, my daughter, Sandy, and my lifelong friend, Gregg Hollomon, traveled with me to Macau to take part in the world’s longest bungee jump on October 3. I did the jump. (See the video from World News Tonight with David Muir).

Sandy also jumped.

October 4–17, 2017: Chengdu, China, and Tibet. Gregg and I first flew from Hong Kong to visit Chengdu, the Panda capital of the world, for a visit with the Pandas.

On October 5, we departed Chengdu by train for Lhasa, Tibet, to see Mount Everest and a number of Buddhist temples. We also had the honor and pleasure of speaking with a Buddhist monk for 45 minutes.

December 5–16, 2017: Tanzania and Uganda. I visited Tanzania to see my youngest Tanzanian “son,” Deogratias Mtui, graduate from medical school. I also visited my oldest Tanzanian “son,” Frank Mella, to see the superb property he was developing for his business.

The three of us went on a humanitarian trip to Uganda and visited severely malnourished and starving families in northeast Uganda.

I wrote an article on visiting Tanzania and Uganda entitled My two Tanzanian “sons” and our life-altering visit to Uganda, which was published in Medium Daily Digest on November 25, 2018 (see story).

March 19–26, 2018: Cuba.1 Mary and I took our first trip to Cuba with a group of 17 others. We thoroughly enjoyed this visit to a most extraordinary country.

May 1 and May 19, 2018: The Senior Games, Washington, D.C. and Henrico, Virginia. In D.C., I won three gold medals (50 and 100 meters and long jump) and three silver medals (shot put, football, and soft ball tosses). In Virginia, I won two silver medals (50 meters and long jump).

June 8, 2018: SURPRISE! Double Bypass Surgery: On June 4, I learned that I had run the 50 and 100 meters in Washington, D.C., and the 50 meters in Henrico with a 95% blockage in my left, main artery. This artery supplies most of the blood to the heart. A heart attack caused by its blockage is called the “widow maker” since many patients having a heart attack with this much blockage die immediately.

I had double bypass surgery to correct the blockage on June 8.2 I was released from the hospital on June 13 and began walking 20 minutes twice a day. I returned to the gym on June 18 under the careful direction of my trainer, Robin Gmeiner.

State of mind is of critical importance in recovering from health issues (see Footnote 4). By not having any fear whatsoever regarding heart surgery (and also the lack of fear regarding three previous serious health issues)5, in combination with the excellent medical care I received 2,3, I was able to make double bypass surgery a minor event in my life.

July 9-12, 2018: Pamplona, Spain. When I asked my heart surgeon, Dr. Anmar Bafi, if I could go to Pamplona, Spain, to run with the bulls on July 9, he thought for a moment and then replied “If you want to.”

Accompanied by my four grandchildren, Amber and Logan Hatfield and Tristan and Skyelar Clubb, along with my daughter, Sandy, and son-in-law, Jeff, Mary and I went to Pamplona, Spain to run with the bulls. I tried on two consecutive days, July 10 and 11, to run with the bulls, but the policía told me that I could not run because I was too old. On July 12, Logan and Amber darkened my beard with mascara to make me look younger, Sandy gave me an official red running jacket, and an official white shirt and red scarf for the bull run, while Logan gave me the official white pants. Most upsettingly, these efforts were in vain, and I ended up not being able to run with the bulls.

July 17, 2018.: Major League Baseball All-Star Game. I had always wanted to attend baseball’s annual All-Star Game. I was accompanied to the game by Brad Carlson, who managed my laboratory for more than 20 years. Alas, there are not photos of the event

August 11, 2018: Skydiving in Shenandoah. Mary and I went to the Skydiving Center at Skydive Shenandoah, and I did a tandem skydive with my instructor, from 10,000 feet.

August 20–24, 2018: Ziplining and paragliding in Puerto Rico. Sandy and I visited Puerto Rico and we ziplined on the Beast and the Monster ziplines on August 23. Our speed on the Monster was as high as 95 mph.

On August 24, Sandy and I went parasailing.

September 6, 2018: Skydiving in Delaware. Mary and I went to Skydive Delmarva skydiving center, and I did a tandem skydive from a height of 18,000 feet. This skydive was far higher than I had ever jumped.

September 25-30, 2018: Enshi, China. Brad Carlson and I were invited by Dr. Xingen Lei to Enshi, which is known as the selenium capital of the world. Dr. Lei was one of the principal coordinators of a meeting that had been specifically organized for presentation of the Chinese translation of the 4th edition of our book, Selenium: Its Molecular Biology and Role in Human Health.

Thus, the tale of my 80th year has brought me full circle—beginning and ending in China—from the personal to the professional.

I hope this story will encourage older folks to live each day to the fullest and to realize that aging is not fatal; it’s just part of the adventure that is life.

Footnotes:

1 The trip to Cuba was organized by Ms. Marilyn Seiber of the New York Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C.

2 Dr. Ammar S. Bafi, cardiothoracic surgeon at the MedStar Washington Hospital Center, performed the heart surgery and he and his staff were instrumental in my recovery.

3 Dr. Daniel V. Young, my internist, and Dr. Sean M. Dwyer, my cardiologist, both played key roles in the pre- and post-open heart surgery.

4 January 16, 2019. I met with Dr. Young for the completion of my 2018 annual physical. He commended me on how I had handled all aspects of my health in 2018. He followed this with the comment that he had found, in medicine, a patient’s attitude was the primary factor in determining health status and that many patients who had open heart surgery or another major health issue were intimidated by the diagnosis and treatment which consequently may prolong their convalescence.

Dr. Young’s comment regarding my attitude towards health was among the highest compliments I have ever received. It was, in fact, his comment that inspired me to write this story.

When I asked Dr. Young to check this Footnote for accuracy regarding his comments, he kindly made changes and said “Even thinking to write a piece like this is of itself ‘therapeutic’ in the giving out of it to the community for others inspiration”.

5 The three previous serious health problems I encountered were chronic hypertension which could not be controlled with medication (April 2011), paralysis with an initial prognosis of being a paraplegic (May 2012), and a blood disorder, myelodysplasia, that I have had for many years which had become worse with an initial prognosis of possible progression to leukemia (January 2014).

 

This story has been published in Medium Daily Digest.