Friday, December 17, 2010

Another Obituary Moment.....Or It's Time To Really Live !

As I was growing up, my parents would remark 
to each other about someone famous either in 
music or film, or a relative, who had passed away. 
Depending on how far or close they were to 
my parents lives, and how much they identified 
with them...they would exhibit that amount of 
sorrow. It always fascinated me and 
I would take interest in listening to them, 
with a mix of new sorrow for whoever it was 
to a neutral learning about that person...

It seemed to me that my parents were quite 
taken by some peoples passing....and that's 
usually when I learned of that person...because 
of their obituary. I remember learning the word 
"obituary", and realized that all the recent deaths 
in the local area were printed in the newspaper. 
That was quite a read for a while....

The most famous person I didn't know about 
until he died was Martin Luther King. I remember 
sitting in the den and watching a show on television, 
and all of a sudden the announcement interrupted
my show, saying that Martin Luther King was shot, and he was dead.
I was briefly upset that my show was interrupted, but I also knew 
that I was going to tell my Mother the news, and maybe she would
be interested or not....

To my surprise she was devastated. She began to cry and 
was so smitten by it that she was completely taken with the news. 
I had no idea who this man was, or that she even knew his name..
but in the ensuing few days I saw the national funeral and non stop 
news coverage about his legacy and what he stood for. 

Mr. King (January 15, 1929-April 4, 1968) was shot in 1968, 
and I was born on July 25, 1956, so I was 11 years old. That 
time was also filled with the deaths of John and Bobby Kennedy, 
Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jack Ruby, and many many 
others including our own relatives.

We watch the procession of births and deaths on a daily basis....
but I for one felt like I would live to a ripe old age, and I could 
live and act in any manner I wanted. Time keeps marching forward... 
See the world clock here and see the world birth and death rate here   

(Right Click the links and click "Open In A new website or use your 
Back button to return to the Blog)

This is the most amazing site Ive ever seen on the net  
You click the little icon to launch it, and then you are taken 
to the most sobering info you'll ever see. If you hover your 
cursor over any country, you will see the birth and death rate 
of that country in real time, and you will see the amount of CO2 
being released by that country and per person!

In the US someone is born every 7.4 seconds, and dies 
every 12.1 seconds. We have a population of 311,000,000+ 
and climbing, and we release CO2 into our air at the rate of 
1000 tonnes every 5.3 seconds!! Thats 19.22 tonnes per 
person per year....and thats only the US...

This website is absolutely staggering...a stunning real time 
WAKE UP CALL to the citizens of the Earth to stop "Living a 
Death march", and to start pulling together and conserve, and 
stop populating at such an alarming rate! We might even be at 
a tipping point already! We simply cannot keep going at the 
rate we are and maintain the same quality of life that we are 
barely enjoying now!

It's definitely time for me to start Living, in every way I can 
to Love and be Loved, To Fulfill My Dreams, and more than 
that, to do what I can to help my world and my fellow man! 

Watch The Girl Who Silenced The World For Five Minutes

Its time my friends....what happened to me showed me 
that Death is right around the corner.. it can and does happen 
every is precious and fleeting, and the consequences 
of our actions will no longer be local, but Global! 

You can believe I'm drawing, practicing my music, and 
Following My Bliss. 

To hell with wasting time! 

To Love and be Loved.....To make sure Im 
doing my part at the voting booth and beyond!

Like 9/11 banded us all together for a short while, I 
believe that world disasters will bring mankind together to 
aid each other....We will be "scared straight" from being 
pushed to the precipice of Eternity....To Hell with 
partisan politics ! To hell with greed and corruption...
To hell with waste and pollution!  If mankind doesnt act 
and act quickly, there wont be a world 
to gloat over in riches and authority! 

OK! I can get off my soap box now...but I really have 
new eyes....I have a third aneurysm and it could burst 
at any time...Ive had two aorta surgeries this year, and I 
wish I had a dollar for every time I was told how lucky I was
to still be alive! 

We dont take our belongings to the afterlife. We dont 
garner an award for how much we earn, but we sure will 
still have our relationships with each other I believe, and 
the quality of our judgments and actions both personal and 
to our fellow man. 

What am doing to help? What do I conserve? What cause 
am I interested in? Who do I love, and how do I really treat 
my peers? Why am I or arent I religious, or political, and how 
does it really affect anything but to create an argument?
What strengths do I have that can benefit people, or improve 
the quality of life?

Please leave Comments: I Love it! Thanks for reading this far....
I get to pour my heart out here and Im grateful to you for reading. 

“Death is more universal than life. Everyone dies but not everyone 
lives.” -Alan Sachs


Stephen Stavropoulos
Dec 17 2010

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Do I Have To Go To Cardiac Rehab?......Yes, Yes, YES !

Since Ive been home these 7 months 
Ive been dealing with being so shortwinded, 
it's the #1 "ailment" that I struggle with
besides the actual "tightness" and pain 
of the second incision (around the ribs on 
my left side)....I'm really out of condition...

To that end Ive been set up in cardiac 
rehab 3 times a week, every Mon, Wed, 
and Friday....I get a cab ride paid for by my 
insurance. When I first arrived there, 
again, I wept for the fact that I was 
among disabled people having to exercise because we all almost died at one point in the recent past...

I fill out a slip about my meds and weight, and start class with
tabs stuck to my chest that hook up with wires to a transmitter
that sends a signal to the nurse about my "vitals" while I'm exercising..

Then we all stretch, and I use a set of 3 lb. dumbells to start building 
back up some muscle....I haven't progressed much on the weight
since the rotator cuffs in both my shoulders hurt too much....

After that short initial stretching, we all use a treadmill, and a stationary
rowing machine, and a recumbent cycle machine for a minimum of 
ten minutes each.....I'm at the beginning using the lightest settings as 
far as resistance and time...

I really have a love and appreciation for the two rehab nurses who 
run the class, Cheryl and Pat....They tirelessly take all of our blood 
pressures 3 times a visit, before, during and after the exercises, and 
check on our exertion and keep us motivated and cheerful...

This is the rehab class I had the TIA (small warning stroke) 
and if it wasn't for the attentiveness of Cheryl who knows what 
would've happened! Luckily, I was on the same floor in rehab as 
the ER, and I was taken care of promptly.

Ive been told that I should figure Id be going there till at least 
the middle of January....I am progressively getting my "wind" 
back, and feeling better every day....It's great! I realize that it 
takes consistency to really reap the benefits of exercising, and 
getting in condition again.

When I go home, I use my computer, and have started a  
portrait drawing class online, since I am now able to do the 
things that I couldn't very easily when I was painting houses 
every practice my bass and guitar

I still play in a band, and have even gigged a few times since 
my heart events. Thank God I am still ALIVE and able to live 
life daily to its still pursue what I love to do in life, 
and I still am living to love and be loved....

Thanks so much for reading


Dec 7, 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Source Of A Great Deal Of My "Normal" Depression

"Don't let today's disappointments cast a 
shadow on tomorrow's dreams." -Unknown

After my first experience with my aorta I 
was struck by how blue I was.....How easily 
I wept over things...however small they might 
have seemed to me before it all happened....

I remember the first ride I had in a transport 
vehicle to rehab....It was a dreary gray day 
anyway,  and I was experiencing things like 
this for the first time. The driver took a turn 
in the opposite direction from the hospital and 
I asked him where he was going....only to tell 
me that he had someone else to pick up on the elderly woman as well....

I started to get all choked up, and realized I 
was seeing my lot was now cast among the 
elderly and the infirm, I was in a medical 
transport vehicle in a world that I thought I 
would never be in, at least for another 20+ 

years or so! I remember watching that vehicle go by 
when I was healthy and sort of sub-thinking..."Oh...
those people in that bus....Thats a world far from me !" 
Little did I know.....

That happened to me a lot....Everytime I got bad news 
about my health, tears would well up in my eyes, and I
would not know exactly what I was thinking, but this natural
"awareness" of what I was going through would strike deep 
in  my soul....

I asked about my apparent depression, and I was told that it 
was a normal occurance for heart patients, especially men, 
and I should consider counseling.....Gosh! More depressing news...
I was needing to rehash all this depressing "stuff" about my 
experiences with a "neutral" stranger....only to wonder what 
good it would do really.....

I just couldnt imagine that my life was going to go down this road
of filling out forms, becoming dependent on the powers that be, 
sitting around all day every day with no choice as to where I was 
going to go that day....taking meds daily to maintain my fragile health, 
just completely worried about what the future held for me....

I realized the crux of the issue, was that I had always felt like I was 
going to live know,'re going along in life in reasonable real got a lot of plans for the future, and 
no reason to think that anything would end it till you were good and ready 
to cash it in, like when you were in your 90's or so!

When I was a boy, my nickname was Skipper, evryone called me Skip.
He is my "Inner Child", and his heart was broken! He could now plainly 
see the door every day, right there in front of him....that death was as
real and likely as it ever could be.....and he really had a stark realization 
that that third aneurysm could burst at any time, or he could have that 
final stroke that would kill him or put him on a hospital bed for the rest 
of his tube and machine filled life....

Ive been told many times that I was "...Lucky to be alive".....and that 
God wasn't done with me, or that the Devil didn't want me yet...or that 
I was in the top 5% of people that survive through what I went through...
that I was living on borrowed time....

You know, I can say we all are living on borrowed time, it's just that
I'm more keenly aware of it than people who haven't teetered and tottered
over the cliff of Eternity...We truly are mortal, finite beings....and no matter 
what we plan or think day by could all be over in a very real 
and quick instant!

There's a song by Henry Rollins of "Black Flag" fame called "Shine"....
I remember hearing it before my heart event and being struck by how 
positive it was..and yes, even being brought to tears over its powerful 
message as I remembered it again....Here is a portion:

If you think you've got 100 extra years to mess around you're wrong
This time is real. your time is now. it's hero time.

Hard times are getting harder
The liars are acting strong
You better get a grip on yourself
Or you won't be around too long

No such thing as spare time
No such thing as free time
No such thing as down time
All you got is life time  GO!

No time for drug addiction
No time for smoke and booze
Too strong for a shortened life span
I've got no time to lose

It's time to align your body with your mind
It's hero time
It's time to align your body with your mind
It's time to shine

from "Shine" by Henry Rollins
Album  "Weight"

I know that I can think that I have to take care of myself and 
not do anything that fulfills or challenges me, and I do at first...
but I realize full well that I have the same inertia and ambition
battles I had before my heart event....and that it really is up 
to me what I do with my Precious Lifetime here on Earth!

If I'm a heart patient I still have the use of my hands and feet, 
my brain and my talents, I still can play in a band and draw with
pastels, I still can Love my Fellow Man and seek to help and aid 
those that are less fortunate than I am...and there are plenty....

"The future is completely open, and we are writing it moment 
to moment." -Pema Chodron

"Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a 
wonderful stroke of luck." -Dalai Lama

"Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to 
live with insecurity is the only security." -John Allen Paulos

I am certainly going to clear my heart with those that I Love around
me before I die....I am certainly going to cherish every single second
and breathe that I take, and no matter what happens to me I know 
that I can make lemonade out of lemons, and fight for the very last drop
of opportunity that Life Gives Me To "Shine"

Stephen "Skip" Stavropoulos

aka Smilinsteve

Nov 30, 2010

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Life Has A Board for Every Behind, or the Lessons Are Always Available If You're Open

I've been known to say upon waking 

to my friend, "OK, so today I can stay 
home, or I can stay home, so I guess 
I'll...Stay Home ! I've come to realize 
that I have no choices in the matter...
this happened to me, and I'm stuck in 
it's reality, and there's not one thing 
I can do about it....I've also said that 
my house is just like a jail....maybe with 
more ammenities, but it's still a jail....
I can't leave at will, I have to wait 
for the only car to get back home, and 
I can't even work hard at home doing all the projects around the 
house that desperately need doing...

One thing I do is spend time online at a site called The internet is more interactive, and had many 
more choices than daytime television, THAT'S for sure!
Blip is a godsend for me in that I build a playlist of songs
and share them with friends worldwide with a Twitter 
size message along with it....It's great fun and almost 
addictive but it's kept me company and kept my mind
occupied these seven months or so since May 7th.

Ive complained about and shared my past medical history
with my friends at Blip....they have been more than 
supportive and even loving to me, Thank God I've had them
these past few months ! I probably have kvetched about my 
pains more than I should, and even complained about how 
much I wanted to develop the same friendships and success
that I saw others had there...I have over 200 listeners to my 
playlist, but some have tens of thousands, and a seeming endless
charisma and even flirting with each other...I was feeling lonely
and bored with life, and wanted more....

One of my friends at Blip named Ellen Diane recommended a 
site to me called Tiny Buddha. It is a wonderful, thought provoking, 
and life enhancing site, and I would recommend it to anybody for 
it's brevity and usefulness in the harried life we all live....

At the very first though, I was almost angered or offended....
I didn't want to be told things like "If you look for Love, it will flee
from you, but if you go about your business and be yourself 
Love will come to you on its own...."

It struck at my self pity and impatience! I wanted to be successful
and have tons of fun daily at Blip and that was all there was to it...
I'd suffered a lot, and I wanted sympathy and attention...(I guess!)

But after reading further, the Wisdom and Healing Power of all of its 
wonderful sayings rang in my heart as Truth, and I soon saw that
my friend had given me a wonderful gift, and I succumbed to it's 
loving helps from all it's wonderful authors including it's founder
Lori Deschene.

The post that struck me at my core was : 

5 Ways To Masterfully Navigate Life Challenges
by Alison Miller 

Alison Miller can be found here at

I couldn't believe how timely and helpful this article was! Just like 
the Breakthrough episode by Tony Robbins it had a wonderful lesson
from another fellow human being concerning her fall from a great hight, 
her paralysis, her despair and the lessons that came to her from life
that made her stronger, gave her wisdom, and healed her heart from 
what would have been a lifetime of depression and hopelessness.

PLEASE take the time to read this amazing account of one persons 
journey from despair to great insight. I realize that most people 
including myself fail to remain as positive as we could facing even far
less challenging problems in life. How much more rewarding life would 
be for all of us if we took the time to embrace the lessons that life
arranged for each and every one of us !

I have also come to realize that there is an "inertia" problem.....yeah, 
I read the post, and marvelled at it's profound truth, let it wash over me, 
and I saw I could continue to go along letting my 'flesh" keep me in its 
lazy 'problem loving' grip.....never to leave living in reaction rather than
surmounting my own particular challenges with PROACTION...Planning 
and carrying out my lifes Deepest Dreams.....

I could practice my bass and guitar daily, I could write this blog and 
even publish books, I could improve my drawing with pastels, and 
learn more about myself and embrace what success looks like for me ! ! !

I would be a lot happier, wouldn't I?

Thanks so much for reading this far....This blog is cathartic for me, 
and hopefully might affect a friend or two reading this with me...

Thanks again so much!


Nov 27, 2010

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Sun 'Can And Does' Come From Behind The Clouds !

OK! So I have an appointment with my surgeons nurse an hour away in Springfield at 9 AM! I've arranged a ride from the FRTA and they send me a service that picks me up in a new looking Oldsmobile CTS...Lemme tell ya, it was some snazzy smooth ride ! 

I was going to hear about whether or not I was going to have surgery soon in style! We got there in good shape and I met with Mary the nurse (who I like very much) and she took my blood pressure, it was really good...even a bit low compared to what I'd been getting for results recently.

 She said my vitals looked good, and that I was doing well...I asked her about the "new" aneurysm that they found in  the last CAT Scan, and she said it was too small to operate on, and to continue to watch my blood pressure.....

I was feeling kinda lucky, so I asked her if I could go back
to rehab....She said Yes, that following I was 
feeling even more lucky and asked her if since I could work 
my heart rate up in rehab, could I become sexual again....?

She said yes ! As long as i didn't overdo it....she said it was 
part of a healthy lifestyle, and I pressed her again asking...
...."even with the aneurysm?" She said yes! I was really 
happy that I could resume being sexual again! 

I was worried that I might not be able to since I had to 
watch my blood pressure...I was really happy, it felt like a 
burden was lifted off of me, and I had a new "sprite" in my 

After 6 months of being at home thinking or fearing the 
worst, not really going anywhere, visiting or even driving to 
the corner store, I was starting to see some light at the end 
of the tunnel...

I remembered the TV show "Breakthrough" from Tony Robbins.
The first show was about a couple on their wedding day, and 
how they were at their reception at night, and some were
swimming in the pool just outside, including the wife...

The husband decided to join them and jump in, and he hit his 
head in too shallow an area in the pool, damaged his vertebrae, 
and was instantly to be paralyzed....a full quadriplegic, from the 
first day of his marriage to his last day on earth, he was to be
completely dependent for everything from his new wife.....
without any hope in sight of repair!

Talk about devastating! Talk about a reason to despair! 

They accepted life as staying indoors and going through the same 
rituals of getting up, being dressed, taking meds, and not doing 
anything that any young newly married couple would want to do.
The wife was living a life as a caretaker, not dong anything for herself, 
and simply lifting the burden of the obligation that Love put on her 
from day 1!

When they went to see Tony on the island of Fiji, he told them that 

their desire to see this thing through was going to require commitment
on their part, and were they committed? Though they were nervous
about what was coming, they committed...Then Tony told them that 
he had arranged for him to go up in a plane with trained personnel, 
and that he was going to jump out of the plane strapped to another 
person, and they were going to "skydive" that very next day!

Talk about blowing false perceptions out of the water! 

The following day they did just that...the wife was taken to a resort spa, 
where she was pampered and played golf, and did for herself, while her 
husband was catapulted from a small plane to land on the earth one 
changed man!

To think that life had no more opportunities for him was no longer 
a way of thinking, it just had to be done from another vantage point....
all the time he spent wallowing in the dead end perception of life was 
slowly killing him emotionally, and spiritually, and tearing down their 
marriage before too long...and now he had no excuse! 

Now what was possible was what was in his mind!

Next Tony had him join a basketball team in wheelchairs, and meet 
others who had learned to see beyond their expectations, and he 
began training to ready for the Championship Game!

On game day, not only did he play, but Tony had his wife and 
relatives and friends come and watch him play, because they too 
had to see him in a totally new light, and they were amazed to 
say the least! There was their paralyzed son and friend playing 
along with the others and meeting new challenges "head on" !

I highly recommend you go see this heartwarming and miraculous
story if its still available at HULU

Just search for Tony Robbins show called "Breakthrough", the first 

As for me, getting back into playing music was an amazing step
forward from thinking that I would never play again.....The trembling 
hands I had were so strong that I could hardly use a spoon to eat
and get food to my mouth....and now I was jammin' in the band I 
enjoy so much, and using the computer at home among other things

I couldn't get over how I had to learn to play the guitar or bass 
as though I hadn't played in years, or type at the keyboard, and my 
bass seemed like it had doubled in weight, but it wasn't too long and 
I was playing all the old tunes again....What a thrill to make live music
with others ! I still can't carry my amp down the stairs and get it into 
my car, but i just have one of the band members come and help me...

When There's A Will, There's A Way!      Querer Es Poder!

I'm still struggling learning to make it through every layer of challenges
that life has put in front of me...but who am I to feel really badly for myself?
I know that there are many others who have it a lot harder than I do, 
and that the only limitations I have are in my mind only ! 

Thanks so much for reading this far...I really hope that you will share
your insight and stories as well in the Comments area below, or email me

Smilinsteve   Wed, Nov 24

Saturday, November 20, 2010

OK...So What The Heck Is A "TIA"?

At this point I've gone through two surgeries, and I'm home
dealing with my slow recovery, taking meds, watching my
blood pressure and trying not worry, and be happy....
Now they have started me going to cardiac rehab, 3 days
a week...I use three different stationary pieces of
exercise equipment and I'm starting to recondition
myself....I hope that I  can get to the place where I'm not
so short winded all the time...

That's My Girlfriend Belinda....Thank God I have her in my
life at this time to take care of me and help me along!

One Wednesday I'm on the third and last piece of equipment
in which I place my feet in the stirrups and pedal for 11
minutes..I'm working harder that I usually do....going by the
guage on the screenI'm putting out "80 watts" of work output
instead of  the usual 60....I'm wanting to get myself moving along in
the weekly climb towards being healthy and able again.....

Then, my left foot falls out of the pedal and after
repeated tries it kept falling out, no matter how many times
I put it in, it simply falls out again.....Then I try enlarging the strap
thinking that its simply too small for my left foot....but Im strangely
unable to use my fingers, or figure out how to unhook it, so I signal
for the Nurse Practitoner Cheryl to come and assist me...

When I start speaking to her, we both realize that the left
side of my mouth is drooping, and my speech is so slurred that
something is wrong! She exclaims, "Stephen, are you alright...?"
before I know it,there are five more nurses there with a bed on
wheels....putting monitoring tags on my chest and asking me
questions,wheeling me into the ER, which luckily was on the same
floor as the rehab!

By the time they got me into the ER, my symptoms were
almost gone. They were talking about sending me to get a CAT
Scan, and using the word"stroke"....After a little bit more time,
I was able to smile with both sides of my mouth, and my speech
returned to normal.....

The ER Dr. gave me a Stroke test consisting of 22
questions, each scoring towards how bad my stroke was...I
scored a 1 out of a possible 22, and they told me I had what
was called a TIA, or a "Transient Ischemic Attack" which is so
small a stroke, it's like a warning....They wanted to ambulance
me down to the Springfield hospital where I had my surgery,
and have mysurgeon look at me as I stayed another
night in the hospital was funny 'cause all the nurses down
there were exclaiming "Steve!" What are you doing back here?..."
and "How are you?"

It was like being around old friends again....that
was nice....I really like the staff in the cardiac telemetry
unit at Baystate Hospital, very hard working and pleasant....
They took great care of me and helped me through the
worst of the whole ordeal....I appreciate them very much....

The next day I had a 40 minute MRI on my brain and neck to
check for clots or damage from the lack of oxygen, and it
eventually showed all clear....Then they gave me a Trans
Esophageal Echo, which meant they knocked me out and put a
camera down my throat to check on the aortic pipes that
were just put in to see if there were anymore clots in them....
which also was all clear....!

I was relieved to say the least!!!!

I got to go home that night with Belinda, and started the
road to recovery again....I have to say more fearful of what
the future held for me since I could have another TIA at any
time....and maybe I would be at home or at least not at
rehab like I wasbefore. I had new meds to take to further
lower my blood pressure, and it meant that it was more
watch and wait...

Then another shoe drops! Im seeing my local cardiologist,
and she reads on my CAT Scan report that my abdominal
aorta has enlarged below the second repair to another
aneurysm! Oh No-Possibly another surgery!
My mind is blown....I wander out of her office                                                     
dumbfounded....feeling hopeless and I can see how Im
actually going to die instead of having the feeling that
I'm going to live forever like before the whole ordeal.

I go home, and start telling Belinda, Lisa, and
Nick....writing emails that I have even more bad news..
Im crying at the drop of a hat now more than ever! A third
surgery in 7 months! Would I be  paralyzed? Would I even
make it off the operating table?   How would I live in my house
with a stairway to the bathroom and  bedroom, and my studio
with my bass, guitar and computer?

I'm scheduled to go see my surgeons nurse that next
morning, and hear whether or not I have to go for surgery,
and how soon....this is definitely the hardest night of my whole
cardiac experience.....

Stay with me as the news takes a dramatic turn, and the
Lessons of Life start pouring in.....

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Then The Other Shoe Drops !

There she is, my musical friend Annie Hassett, 
who was available to drive me home from the 
hospital since my girlfriend was working that day...

The reason I bring it up is that the energy we shared
during that ride was so wonderful and uplifting...
even though I was gaunt and weak we sang together all
the way home....She is so cool!

It made me feel hope, and loved, and that life had new
meaning for me, it felt really good to sing with
abandon with someone who loved me! Very healing.... I
had played bass for her many times before, and those
gigs were always high energy and a lot of fun....Annie
also got all the local musicians together and they
threw a benefit for me at a small local club....I was
completely broke at the time, and it really
helped....My heart is filled with gratitude towards
Annie and all my friends that came to the Deja Brew
that day...all four bands that I'd played in one way
or another came and played was great!

I'll never forget it~

So I'm home for about two months....getting used to
the shock of such a sudden life change...from painting
houses, playing music, and being an all around people
person to being stuck at home, no driving, no lifting,
no choice! My blood was being drawn by a visiting
nurse for my Cumadin dosing, and I was so short of
breathe, and weak....Id lost over 45 lbs...!

As time went on...I could see that I was getting a
little bit better every day.... I was still taking
Percosets for pain every 4 hours, but the incision
going down my sternum was healing nicely....(I called
it the "surgeons necktie"~) I was starting to be
encouraged slowly that I was on my way to a new life
....all done with the medical world !

As the days went by I noticed pain in my lower
back...especially when I layed down flat on my back
and took any kind of really hurt! I
started to think I had a kidney stone, or a clot
again, and I went to the Dr...who sent me to get a
full torso CAT Scan.

It was a Saturday, and I went home, only to get a
message on the phone from the Emergency room Dr. I
returned his call to find out that I had no stone or
clot, but that my aorta below the repair I just had
enlarged too rapidly.... and that due to the fact that
the walls had stretched thin thy could burst.... so I
had to go back to see my Surgeon and he scheduled my
second surgery that following Thursday! I was
devastated...I couldnt believe it!

Needless to say I cried myself to sleep that
night....More surgery! This time he was going to go in
on my left side between my ribs...from my shoulder
blade all the way around to my chest....It was going
to be a more painful recovery since they were going
laterally through muscle and tissue.... and there was
a risk of paralysis from dealing with the descending
aorta that low!

I seemed to resolve myself that next day that I was
going to do what I had to do to save my life.....Gosh!
I was just starting to feel stronger and feel relief
from the pain....but now I felt that this time it was
"planned", and not an emergency like the first one...

My brother Nick and my girlfriend Belinda took me in,
and we expected the surgery to take 4 to 6 hours, and
it took 15 hours! My surgeon told me afterwards that
my aorta had "incorporated" itself into my lungs, and
that he first had to separate them before he could
replace the aorta itself with more plastic pipe! He
also told my brother that his instrumentation told him
that I wasnt getting a signal to my left leg, and that
he was afraid I was going to wake up paralyzed!

The nurses couldnt believe I was back again...I'd been
with them for 47 days just 2 months before, and here I
was again. Luckily, I could move my leg, and I only
stayed in the hospital for another 7 54 days
so far, and 29 hours of surgery!

But boy...did this one hurt! I couldnt lay on my left
side at all, and every cough and sneeze was like
getting stabbed.....I was quite depressed by
now....crying at anything that made me realize I was
done with life as I knew it....even watching music
being performed on TV brought me to tears....My band
had to wait for me more Thursday night
practices for quite a while....

It was during these times that my friend Lisa, (a
regular paint customer turned friend of Belinda and I)
was always visiting me in the hospital + at home,
bringing me my favorite Reeses Peanut butter cups, and
always encouraging me and visiting me, as well as my
Brother and Belinda.... To those three people I am
Eternally Grateful for their tireless help,
compassion, expenses travelling, and patient
generosity.....Without their Love I don't think I
would've as strong during those times.

I appreciate anybody who is taking the time to read
this painful account of my past, but believe
me.....the road to recovery physically and spiritually
is quite uplifting....and it is my sincerest hope that
you'll follow this story till it "gets better"...and
even share your stories with me in the Comments box
below each post here at Smilin Daily!

If you desire to email me with more than the comment
box can hold...feel free to email me at:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

So I Woke Up In The ICU......

There I am....faux painting in a stair well in a house near Boston, 
using ladders, and daubing the wall with multiple layers of color
to make a beautiful finish....I'd been painting for 35.5 years, 
since Sept. 19, 1976 actually, starting in Skowhegan Maine.

At the time of my first attack, I was staining a house by hand
in vertical drops with a 32' ladder for a month...Good thing I wasn't
on the ladder when it happened, 'cause thats where I was headed !
I also have been playing bass & guitar since around '71, in   various             garage bands in and around Natick MA where I grew up. 

Music was and is my life, and most of my thought life in the hospital was 
imagining playing music in the current band I am in called Nexus, 
after the lyrics in a Jackson Browne tune...We play what I call 
"White Classic Rock"....I'd been in Blues bands, Zydeco Bands, 
you know, I date myself among the younger players who play 
Alternative and Punk, but I still love it, and cant imagine life without it!

Thats me in "Heaven", realizing one of my actually be playing with the Blues 
band I was in called the Wildcats, warming up for Johnny 
Winter! I had idolized Johnny's playing, and for 2.5 years I 
played his stuff quite a bit, loving every minute of it, never 
realizing that one  day I'd actually be on the same venue 
with him ! We played at  The Stadium Theater in Woonsocket
Rhode Island, next to the legendary Chans Restaurant, 
which also had many great Blues artists jam there. We 
played there as well....

So you see, Dreams Do Come True, 
sometimes by chance, sometimes by dint of hard labor and 
pushing with all your might and all you have to do is "Be There".  

Keep pursuing what you Love, and were born for, and good things can and do come !


My surgeon told me that my operation took 14 hours, that my aorta had "split" in multiple 
45% angles, and that he had to close each and every one of them, taking my heart out, 
putting it back in, and looking for leaks, taking it out, and fixing it again...he replaced my Aortic
Arch with some kind of ribbed plastic pipe, and connected my Descending Aorta to it....
he also repaired my Mitral Valve Prolapse while they were in there,a major operation in and of itself!

Amazing what they can do these days in medicine, ain't it?  He saved my life. I was told 
that they even had to use the paddles on me at one point, and that altogether I was in the 
top 5% of people who live with what happened to me...

Apparently they put me in a coma, and I woke up 2 weeks or so later in the ICU with pipes
going down my throat, and my first memories was using a pen and paper to communicate
with the nurses and my Brother Nick, My Girlfriend Belinda, and My friend Lisa...who had 
traveled an hour each way from where we lived to keep me company and wait for me to
come around! The Love they showed me was uplifting and comforting, and I am eternally 
grateful for it....It's good to have people who care in ones' life, and the healing power of it
cannot be measured, but only appreciated with Thanks.

I also realized I had various complications that I woke up to, including strong hand tremors
from a lack of oxygen to the brain....I couldn't get a spoon of soup up to my mouth when 
they finally took the pipes out of my throat....this was one of the darkest moments of my life..
wondering if I'd ever be able to play bass and guitar again! My lifes' pleasure, and my painting
that I had taken so much pride in were suddenly gone....and I was looking at a totally 
unknown future....

I also was told that I had pneumonia, and was made to gag my lungs clear on a daily basis...
multiple times a day...and given an "Incentive Sirometer" I had to suck air through to make sure
my lungs were clearing to the bottom....That completely "sucked" more ways than one!
To add insult to injury, I was the told I had a super parasite in my blood from the surgical 
field called "Serratia", and that I had to stay in the hospital for 30 more days to receive
transfusions twice a day of an antibiotic called Vancomycin (sp) to make sure it was dead!
Altogether I was in the hospital for 47 days that first time, and since I hadn't moved around 
too much, or eaten very much, I'd lost over 45 lbs! Then, they discovered Thrombosis (clots) in
both my calves, and they put me on a course of Heparin, and told me I would have to get 
the INR of my blood measured by a visiting nurse at my home and that I had to take Cumadin 
for 3 to 6 weeks.....

To say the least I was depressed, even though I didn't complain about my stay in the hospital. 
I was told that I was a good patient, and that made me feel better...but my life was so completely
interrupted that considering a life as an invalid was so awful and scary to me....I cried at the drop 
of a hat.....patients came and went in my room in the bed next to me, and I was in for the long haul.

I learned to walk with a walker up and down the hall...and finally without a walker, and then 
up and down a flight of stairs.....nevermind a ladder! They told me to figure on a year or more
of reconditioning at home....

Gosh! Would I ever play music again???? Would I ever be able to paint, or even earn a living at all?
Would I have to get a lawyer and fight the system to get SSI for the rest of my life?
Would I ever be able to do anything without totally losing my breathe? Would the pain subside to 
the point that I didn't need those dizzying pain pills? Would I ever have any fun with friends like 
I used to? So many questions.....So much time to think of 'em....

The story gets even worse before it gets better.....but this blog is about facing lifes challenges, 
seeing things that I never saw before....and realizing the amazing Power of Love through it all...
Please stay with me , and share your comments, lets get through this together ! 

Love, Smilinsteve 

P.S. I gotta live up to my "nickname", don't I?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Beginning Of My Journey Into Disability & New Life Lessons

On May 7th I was putting my paint gear in my 

car to go work, and I started to feel like something
was wrong, and I quickly put all my gear away
and drove to a local friends house, and she
asked me if I wanted her to call 911, and I
said yes, and thats the last thing I remember
for 2.5 weeks...

Apparently I was taken by ambulance to the local
hospital, and my freind and girlfriend saw me there, 
and told me I was screaming about the pain I was in, 
and how I didn't want to die...I dont remember a thing!

After strapping me down and taking X-rays of me, 
it was determined that I had a "Aortic Dissection", 
or a burst aneurysm, and that they would send the 
x-rays to Baystate Hospital in Springfield MA, approx 
40 mins away, and the heart surgery team headed by
Dr Joseph Flack, (the best) would be ready for me there....

After 14 hours of surgery, I was put in a coma,
and woke up in the ICU two weeks later with pneumonia, 
hand tremors from lack of oxygen to the brain, and they 
replaced my aortic arch, which had split and burst...and they
fixed my Mitral valve while they were in there as well.

...and I also had a blood parasite called Serratia,
which required me to stay in the hospital for 30 days to get 
an antibiotic....I stayed in the hospital altogether 50 days!

After I went home for two months, I had developed
pain in my lower back, and after another CAT Scan,
I was told I had to go right in and go through my
left side ribs, and replace more aorta with plastic pipe...
apparently my aorta below the second repair had 
enlarged too rapidly, and it had to be replaced 
before it burst as well

Another 15 hours of surgery.....

After 7 days I went home, only to wait another two months
finally going to rehab, and couldnt keep my left foot in
the bike stirrup, I called the nurse over to help me, and
when I spoke to her the left side of my mouth was drooping,
and my speech was slurred....

Before I knew it I was strapped into a gurney and off
to the emergency room, for a series of tests which revealed
that my brain remained healthy, that I had a slight stroke called
a TIA, or a Transient Ischemic Attack

That was another night ambulanced to Springfield....luckily the
cardiac rehab was on the same floor as the ER at Franklin !

Now, a week later, I find out at the cardiologist that my
aorta has swollen again below the second repair.....another

Its because I have connective tissue disease, (like Marfans but not
Marfans) and its congenital. The arteries swell and weaken because 
of high blood pressure.

You know....even though I'm home all week, Ive been getting out
every Thursday night and practicing in the band I'm in, slowly
but surely I'm still playing a matter of fact the local
musicians around here held a benefit for me...

Id been in all 4 bands one way or another that played that day...

My car is off the road, and they come and get my amp for me
to carry it to the gig....but luckily I'm still able to play music,
the love of my life.....

Ive applied for SSI, and am getting state aid, though paltry,
not enough to live on at all...

I just cant imagine more pain, just as this is finally subsiding,
more hospital, more needles, and more crying for 2 to 4 weeks
of post op depression.....Im seeing a counselor to process all
that Ive been through..

Hopefully, this blog will be a repository of  hope, life lessons, 
and sharing with others who have similar experiences, especially 
those with heart and connective tissue disease...although I 
want to hear from anybody that is suffering, to share my 
consolation and encouragement along the way!