Dick Butkus Dodges Heart Disease

Football great Dick Butkus tells how heart disease nearly sidelined him—and what you can do to preserve your heart health. 

Dennis Murray
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Dick Butkus Heart Disease

A former football star for the Chicago Bears, Dick Butkus thought he was the picture of health. “I wasn’t in the shape I was when I was playing football, but I thought I was all right.” Plus, his cholesterol and blood pressure were fine.

But in 2001, Dick went to St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, CA, for a heart scan—a friend was getting one, so Dick, who was 58 at the time, decided to get one, too. “When they told me I flunked the test," recalls Dick, "I said, ‘C’mon, seriously? Where's the camera?’ ”

It was no joke. His arteries were spotted with calcium deposits, a risk factor for heart disease. Follow-up tests confirmed he had five clogged arteries. A few days later, Butkus had a quintuple bypass.

The Hall of Famer’s recovery went smoothly, and he’s now a heart-health advocate, sponsoring the “Dick Butkus Heart and Vascular Screening Center” at St. Joseph Hospital.

Here, Dick Butkus shares his heart-healthy lessons.

Keep up your guard! You can have diseased arteries even if you don’t have risk factors like smoking, high cholesterol and diabetes. So get regular checkups!

Get a good coach. Dick, now 70, says the surgery gave him a new lease on life—and a new friend in his heart surgeon, Lawrence Santora, MD, whom he sees twice a year for follow-ups at St. Joseph’s.

Fight back—hard. If you’re overweight, get serious about slimming down. After his surgery, Dick cut back on saturated fat and added more veggies and lean protein. He’s now lost 40 pounds. “I’m at 236, which is the lowest I’ve been since my sophomore year in college,” he says proudly. “My daughter got me into juicing fruits with things like collard greens and kale. It’s the first time I’ve ever been able to eat the stuff!”


September 2013