i2eye with broadcaster Mike Duffy

i2eye with broadcaster Mike Duffy

Science and prevention are key to solving heart health issues
May 22, 2007
One of Canada’s greatest and best-known broadcast journalists, Mike Duffy, is no stranger to tackling tough subjects in front of millions of viewers. Off the air, he’s had to do the same, battling with heart disease—both his father’s and his own. His father suffered his first heart attack at age 48.

In 1992, minutes before going on air and three days prior to his wedding, Duffy suffered a minor heart attack. While still recovering at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, he proceeded to marry nurse Heather Collins as planned. This past year, Duffy, now 60, underwent open-heart surgery after bouts of exhaustion and shortness of breath. The award-winning reporter has since returned to television as the host of Mike Duffy Live on CTV Newsnet. He has almost fully recovered, for which he credits the skilled staff at the Heart Institute. InnovationCanada.ca asked Duffy to share his personal experience and his thoughts about heart health.

InnovationCanada.ca (IC): How was your experience in the hospital?

Mike Duffy (MD): My experience was fantastic, positive in every way. We are lucky to have the system that we’ve got.

IC: You lost more than 40 pounds after your surgery. What kind of lifestyle changes have you had to make?

MD: I walk more. I pace myself more. I don’t work as hard. I’ve reduced my intake of alcohol and I get more rest. I’d been working very late in 1992. I’d only had four hours of sleep before the first heart attack. I’ve come to the realization that you can’t do it all. You’re getting older. You can’t do everything. It’s just being responsible.

IC: How has the surgery changed your outlook on life?

MD: I find myself emotionally tender when I’m seeing things that are important, anything from a sunrise, sunset, or an important development in public life. I love politics and I think, “My God, I was so close to not being here.” I know three guys who all died from the exact same thing I had. They dropped dead, boom. I feel I’ve been given a second chance. Only a fool would abuse that.

IC: How has your life changed since you’ve been back to work?

MD: I’ve never smoked but I’ve worked too hard because I love what I do and I don’t consider it work. Now I work at home in the mornings. I’m up early, around 5:30–6:00. I check all the papers; I shoot out a couple of emails. That takes me 40 minutes or so. Then I go back to bed. About 9:00, I get up again. I’ve been watching my diet. I’ll have a little breakfast and take my medication. At 10 a.m, we’ll have our conference call. Then I go downstairs, scrape the barnacles, shower and shave, and leave home about lunchtime.

IC: Do you read a lot about heart health?

MD: All the time. Every time there’s a headline in the paper or on the Internet. We’re a fully networked house here: two of us with three computers. We’re not obsessive or anything (laughs). But one of us is always watching for stuff we’re interested in.

IC: How have your views of Canadian science and technology changed since your surgery?

MD: The technology in 1972 when my father died and today—the changes have been dramatic. We need to continue to fund research and support our researchers. But we’ve got to do our bit as patients, too, and to help doctors by minimizing our risk. You have science on one hand and prevention on the other—a two-pronged approach, which could be pretty fantastic.

IC: How do you see Canada’s role internationally, when it comes to heart health research and issues?

MD: America’s kind of like an elephant; you’re busy working on one corner of the problem, but there’s a lot of other stuff you never get to see or reach. But because we share a similar diet to the U.S., with our targeted research, we’ll be able to make breakthroughs in a way that will be very important and have a wide application.

Americans have the muscle, and the horsepower in terms of dollars, there’s no question about it. But I think we’re able to look at the horizon a little more, to be more selective in terms of what we do. Also, when you look at the patient population, Canadians are pretty open to helping and are perhaps not as suspicious or fearful or reluctant to be involved. When it comes to research, most Canadians are more than willing to help out, without any idea of “What am I going to be paid?”

IC: Do you believe investing in Canadian heart research is important?

MD: I attend a fair number of fundraisers. I tell these guys, “Trust me, I’m 60. Some of you guys and gals are half my age, but you’re sitting on piles of cash. This is a great investment. Some of you will one day be my age, and you’ll be bald, too. This is preventive investing. Invest in heart research now, because it will help prevent you from going through what I went through. And before I went through it, my father died of it. If it’s in your family, and it’s in so many families, you’re going to have to face it.”

IC: If you were starting your life over again, would you do anything different in regards to your heart health? If so, what?

MD: Some of us are genetically predisposed to heart problems. I should have paid attention to that when I was 18, 19, or 20, when I first started putting on weight. I was an emotional eater. I ate when I was happy. I ate when I was sad. I didn’t think much about it. If I had to go back again, I’d say to young people reading this article, “Look in the mirror, not for vanity reasons. When you get to a certain age, understand your weight is a lifetime battle.”

Some people have millions of dollars. Some people have modest amounts of money, but some have the opportunity to speak. It’s hard to believe, but I’m usually a shy person who doesn’t like to talk about these things. But I feel I owe it. If something I say can help someone else, it’s worth it.