Brian’s Story (Heart Disease/Stroke)

Brian, age 63, grew up in Chicago and started smoking cigarettes at a young age because he thought it was cool. Although Brian’s parents found out he was smoking at age 12, he continued sneaking cigarettes and was smoking a pack of cigarettes per day by the time he reached eighth grade. Brian’s parents smoked, and he recalls that everyone around him smoked. “Smoking had become ingrained in my mind,” he said.

Brian joined the Air Force at age 19, because pursuing a military career was important to him. Although he enjoyed his job, he had many responsibilities. As a result, Brian struggled with job stress and often smoked to cope.

One day, while stationed in England, Brian had severe chest pains while walking at work. “I was out of breath and sweating, and the pain got worse,” he said. Suddenly, he collapsed. Brian was having a heart attack at age 35.

Over the years, Brian’s heart problems worsened. He had several surgeries, including one in which a defibrillator—a device that helps regulate abnormal heartbeats—was put in his chest. Eventually, Brian’s heart became so damaged that he needed a heart transplant. It wasn’t until he quit smoking that Brian was eligible to receive a donated heart.

While Brian remained smokefree, the damage caused by years of smoking continued to affect his body. At age 63, Brian was diagnosed with lung cancer and had surgery to remove part of his lung.

Brian is glad that he quit smoking for good. He’s extremely grateful that the lung cancer could be treated with surgery, and that he won’t need radiation or chemotherapy. “Every day is a gift to spend time with my wife and grandkids,” he said.

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Brian’s Tip

Brian, age 60, started smoking cigarettes at age 8. After high school, he joined the Air Force because he wanted a military career. At 35, still smoking and stationed in England, Brian had a heart attack and spent months in hospital rooms. In this ad from CDC’s Tips From Former Smokers® campaign, Brian reveals how he couldn’t serve his country because of his heart disease.

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