The first time I met Dr. Oz, I was about to be his patient. It was 2013, and I was in bad shape — I couldn't walk up the stairs without stopping to catch my breath. I couldn't play with my grandchildren, who are now 2, 4, and 5, for more than a few minutes without sitting down. I'd already had eight stents put into my arteries, and now I was looking at quadruple bypass surgery.
I told Dr. Oz my whole story. I've had a checkered past, and it didn't seem to bother him. But when I was done, he looked me dead in the eye and asked if I was a smoker. I admitted that I was (2.5 packs a day). I'll never forget what he said: "I'm not going to do this surgery just to have you destroy yourself right afterward."
"Kenny, you deserve a good life," Dr. Oz said to me.
That really made me think. I spent time in Vietnam and struggled for years with PTSD and addiction. I lost my six-figure job driving a cement truck. Eventually, my wife and three daughters kicked me out of the house because I couldn't quit using drugs, and I wound up living under the West Side Highway in New York City for four months. I hit rock bottom and got help from the Veterans Administration, and I've been mostly sober since 2006. From that perspective, smoking didn't seem so bad.
But not to Dr. Oz.
"Kenny, you deserve a good life," he said to me. "You've already done really hard things. You've overcome drugs and the trauma of war. I believe in you, and I believe that you can do anything you set your mind to do."
I promised him I'd try.
And he made me want to do it. When I was telling him my whole story, I realized something: This guy really cares. He showed me the images of my heart and pointed out where the arteries were blocked. No doctor had ever showed me my test results before. As much as I didn't want heart surgery, I could see for myself that I was going to die if I didn't have it.
I've smoked almost non-stop since I was 12. I made five serious attempts at quitting, and the longest I lasted was six months. This time, I quit. I white-knuckled it — no patches or anything. When I craved a cigarette, I just said to myself, "I'm a non-smoker," like it was a simple fact. It worked.
The seven-hour surgery went well, and now I can do things I haven't been able to do in years — take my grandchildren sledding, walk upstairs with ease, even fully enjoy the flavor of food. I had no idea how much smoking was interfering with my sense of taste.
During my follow-up appointments, Dr. Oz always smelled my breath and hair to make sure I wasn't smoking, and he has called me a couple of times to check in, too. The surgery may have saved my life, but what Dr. Oz said to me changed the way I feel about myself. And that's been as important – maybe more important – to my health.