Nov. 14, 2001 -- In real life, Drew Carey is a lot like the character he plays on his sitcom: an average guy from Middle America who's got a horrible diet, is overweight — and, he learned this summer, at high risk for a heart attack.
The 43-year-old narrowly escaped a massive heart attack in August, and he subsequently had an angioplasty procedure to open a clogged artery in his heart.
He has since made some serious life changes.
"I feel fantastic," he said. "I've never felt better in my life."
With his new lifestyle, Carey has lost about 40 pounds, and doctors say his prognosis is good.
‘A Heart Attack Waiting to Happen’
Carey was out jogging when he had chest pains and a tingling pain in his arms and shoulders. By the time he made it home, his chest felt tight, but he said the pain had gone away.
"But I was really shaken by it … I was really upset," he said. So shaken and upset that he went to Bob's Big Boy for chili spaghetti that night, had steak and eggs for breakfast the following morning, and then didn't even mention his chest pains to his doctor during a physical that day.
He thought the pains may have just been stress-related. After a long day of rehearsal, the pain was back and more intense than ever. He went to his trailer, where he nearly collapsed. The paramedics came to his trailer on the Warner Bros. lot, and Carey knew he was in good hands when the nurse's lab coat had a picture of Bugs Bunny with a stethoscope.
"The cartoon team is taking care of me," laughed Carey, who was making jokes even when he was in dire pain. He was rushed to St. Joseph's Medical Center in Burbank, where it was discovered that he was not having a heart attack, but one of his arteries was 95 percent blocked.
"Drew was clearly a heart attack waiting to happen," said Dr. Daniel Eisenberg, a cardiac trauma specialist who treated him for acute coronary syndrome.
Carey had an angioplasty, which essentially pries open the blocked artery with a tiny balloon covered with a spring called a stent.
Most Common Disease in America
Carey has a history of heart disease in his family and was at high risk because of his high cholesterol, unhealthy eating habits, and extra weight.
"He is clearly the average American in terms of his risk," said Eisenberg. "He's the American poster child for heart disease."
But heart disease is also highly preventable.
"It's the most common disease in America, heart disease," said Carey, "which really, you want to kick yourself … Like I just suffered from the most preventable thing that nobody should have to have."
At his worst, Carey said, he'd have steak and eggs for breakfast, "chow down" on the set and drink Pepsi or coffee with sugar and cream all day, and have pizza or a cheeseburger and fries at night. Getting out of bed in the morning involved hitting "snooze" for about an hour, and the sluggishness would continue throughout his day.
Carey has since changed his ways. He's cut fat, for the most part, out of his diet, he drinks water, eats vegetables with brown rice, has cut down his sugar intake, and is exercising daily.
"It's really not a punishment for me to eat like this," said Carey, who has wanted to eat healthy and lose weight for a while, but was finally scared into it. "I could still eat a cheeseburger if I wanted to. I just can't have them every day."
Carey, who weighed about 240 pounds when he had the scare, knows he should have treated himself better over the years. "I kick myself. I go, 'Ah, you stupid, you should have done this, you know, 10 years ago,'" he said. Still, "I don't sit around like moping in regret … I don't cover myself in ashes and tear my clothes and walk around like that. That's not my style."
Not Afraid of Death
Instead, Carey has heeded the warning.
"I'm a big believer in overcoming and achieving and doing things and not feeling sorry for yourself," said Carey. "You know, you can feel sorry for yourself up to a point, but then you have to like dust yourself off and move on."
Though Carey's episode has scared him into changing his lifestyle, he said he wasn't afraid of dying.
"I'm never afraid to die. I think that's the best thing that can happen to somebody is they get to move on and do something better," he said. "Why is everybody afraid of going to heaven? You want to be here with the smog and the sin and bad people and the war? Or do you want to be in heaven, sitting next to Jesus, you know?"
With two more seasons left in his contract for The Drew Carey Show, Carey is not sure what else is in store for him.
"I'd be happy doing the show and I'd be happy not doing the show," he said. "As far as career goals and financial goals, I've done everything that I wanted to do and I have to think of new things."
And in the meantime, he continues to appreciate the life he's living.
"I'm really grateful every day," he said. "God's really blessed me in a lot of ways. It's really great."