On Monday, Nov. 7, rocker, reality-TV star and and past “Celebrity Apprentice” winner Bret Michaels appears on the syndicated series “The Doctors” (check local listings for time and channel) to share his remarkable survival story.
Not only has Michaels dealt with Type 1 diabetes since he was a child, the month before the “Celebrity Apprentice” finale aired — the finale was live, but the series itself had been filmed months before — Michael suffered, in quick succession, an appendectomy, a massive subarachnoid hemorrhage and a transient ischemia attack (or “warning stroke”).
The TIA led to him being diagnosed with a patent foramen ovale (PFO), a hole in his heart. After the airing of the “Apprentice” finale in May 2010 — which Michaels was able to attend, under his own power — he underwent successful surgery to correct the PFO.
Even with all he went through, Michaels says it was the PFO that knocked him flat.
“One of the best blessings in my life,” he tells Zap2it, on “The Doctors” set between tapings at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, “and I say this truthfully, is I’m such a passionate person. I try to stay upbeat. But when all this happened, what threw me for the biggest loop … I had the warning stroke, and I’m sitting there in the emergency room, and they told me I had a hole in my heart, that one almost took the wind out of my sails.
“When Dr. Zabramski, who did my brain surgery, he was in the room with me at the emergency room, and he told me I had a hole in my heart, and I was going to have to get surgery on that — that was a crossroads for me. That was a moment in my life where he saw me, physically, having the wind taken out of my sails.
“The first time, through all this, I started to lose hope. I was like, ‘Really?’ I remember that day. I lost my mojo that day. My mojo sank. I went home and thought, ‘I’ve got to get it together.’ I looked at my kids, and I said, ‘There’s a lot to live for. I’m not going to go down. I’m going to go out fighting. I’m a fighter.’
“But I gotta admit, the day they told me I had to get heart surgery, that got me. Dr. Zabramski, he watched, and he said, ‘I saw your fast lose hope.’ I’m like, ‘What do I got to do? This is going to be my life. Every time I stand up, something else is going to go.’ It was tough.”
He recalls, “I said, ‘Did you drink last night?’ He said, ‘Nope.’ I said, ‘I’m not kidding. Did you drink last night?’ He said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Are you feeling good?’ He said, ‘Great.’ I didn’t want to go under thinking of what could go wrong. I said, ‘Are you good at what you do?’ He said, ‘I’m great at what I do.’ ‘Let’s do it.'”
In a business where a lot of performers succumb to their weaknesses and die young, Michaels had to learn early on that he had to take care of himself.
“You’ve got to laugh,” he says. “When I was a diabetic at first, I had a test kit with me. You’d be at school, and you had to pee in a test tube. Drop in three drops of pee, a pill, and it bubbled up. It took, like, 45 seconds, a minute.
“You had to build some strong will not to be made fun of. Other kids are in the bathroom, I’m like, ‘Hold on!’ It was unbelievable.”
It also taught Michaels that, arenas full of screaming fans notwithstanding, he is not invincible.
“You walk on a stage,” he says, “there’s 15,000 people in an arena cheering, you could let yourself think you’re invincible. Then you end up dead. You think, ‘I can drink as much as I want. I can do as much drugs as I want. I can party, and nothing’s going to top this, because I can go on stage.’
“But in the real world, it doesn’t work like that.”
ER physician Dr. Travis Stork of “The Doctors” echoes the sentiment, saying, “When you lose your health, the tendency is to lose hope. But no matter how sick, no matter how many illnesses you’re dealing with, Bret took charge. What Bret had to do is be a part of it, like what he’s doing each and every day, managing his blood sugar, his insulin.
“The only certainty in life is that we are all going to die someday. That’s almost always from an illness. Our goal is to push that fatal illness as far along the trajectory as possible. The one thing we can do is, like Bret did, face illness head on and do everything in your power to rehabilitate, to work with your doctors to get better.”
Below are a couple of clips from the episode…