It was news Sedona Vice Mayor Mark DiNunzio said he’ll never forget but something he later saw as a blessing in disguise.
In early April DiNunzio received a normal check-up from his doctor, who noticed that his blood pressure and cholesterol were much higher than normal.
“I had the angiogram at noon and at 1 p.m. I’m on a helicopter to Phoenix and the next day I’m having open heart surgery,” DiNunzio said last week. “My first thought after hearing the news was, ‘Oh my God.’ It was totally out of he blue and unexpected. I was told plaque had built up in my arteries, which had caused a major blockage.”
The result was triple bypass surgery with additional work to his fourth heart valve.
“I feel good,” he said. “I’ve never had surgery so I really have nothing to compare it to.”
And while he’s never had surgery, DiNunzio said he has dealt with issues over the years such as diabetes and atrial fibrillation. And being that his family has a history of heart issues, he said when he was younger he was an avid hiker and jogger to help combat that but admits as he’s gotten older he hasn’t been as active.
“They told me I was at serious risk of having a heart attack,” he said of that recent check-up. “I was jolted but not by fear. I just realized that this was happening and I had to deal with it.”
One of the few lighter moments during his days in the hospital following surgery was when he tried to retrieve his cell phone off a night stand. Because of the surgery and medication, his dexterity wasn’t up to par and while grabbing the phone, it crashed the floor.
“I kept getting phone calls but the screen was black and I couldn’t answer it. I’m sure people were leaving messages and when I didn’t call them back were thinking the worst,” he said, laughing.
DiNunzio said he will be meeting with doctors this week to discuss not only what may have caused the blockage but what he now needs to do to avoid it from happening again. He’ll also find out when he may be able to return to a normal routine, which includes taking part in City Council meetings.
“We all wish him the best and a quick recovery,” Mayor Sandy Moriarty said. “This was major surgery so it’s going to take some time. I’ve talked to him and he sounds well, upbeat and positive about the surgery.”
Since the operation, DiNunzio said he’s thought several times about what may have happened had that check-up not been scheduled or if he had postponed it.
“This has been a real wake-up call for me,” he said. “I need to make changes and be consistent with those changes. You can’t say ‘I’ll do it’ but then wait until later to do it because days turn into weeks and next thing you know a month has gone by. When it comes to your health, you can’t just blow things off.
“In a way I feel blessed that this happened in that it was caught in time. Plus, the outpouring of love and compassion from people who know me as well as those who don’t has been overwhelming and very much appreciated.”