“I was given a second chance to live,” says Mariano, who is Hispanic and lives in Illinois. He started smoking at 15, and at the age of 47, Mariano woke up feeling dizzy and sick. He also started sweating a lot. Mariano went to his doctor, who told him that he was on the verge of having a heart attack. “He told me, ‘You have a very big problem with your arteries. Your blood pressure is very high,'” says Mariano. He was hospitalized that day. Three days later, he had open heart surgery to replace blocked blood vessels in his heart. “I got lucky,” he says. “I smoked my last cigarette when I got the notice about the surgery. I should have quit smoking years ago and probably could have avoided all these problems.” He hasn’t smoked since.
Mariano started smoking when he was 15 years old because a girl asked him for a cigarette, and he wanted to impress her. His family didn’t know he smoked until he was 18 years old. Eventually, he was smoking two packs a day. Mariano says he didn’t realize the damage cigarette smoking was having on his health year after year until he faced open heart surgery. “I knew then that big problems were caused from smoking cigarettes.”
“The open-heart surgery I had in 2004 was brutal,” he recalls. “Especially when I think that if I had quit smoking years ago, I could have avoided all these problems.” Even though his recovery from the surgery was painful, Mariano realized how lucky he was not to have a heart attack that day—and that he didn’t die. He is grateful for having been given a second chance at life.
“After the surgery, the doctor told me the sooner I walked, the better.” So, Mariano walked the floor of the hospital. When he went home, he started walking around the house, then eventually around the block. A month later, he was walking 10 blocks. Without cigarettes, Mariano found he had more energy. “When I smoked, I couldn’t walk 4 blocks. Now I can walk 5 miles without a problem!” Along with having more energy, Mariano, who loves to cook, noticed that food tastes better now that he doesn’t smoke.
“Everything is different now,” he says. Following the surgery and after he quit smoking, Mariano decided to live his life in a different way. He now takes more time to enjoy family and friends, including his young child. He was able to go back to work and now he only accepts jobs in smoke-free environments. “I see the consequences of smoking and secondhand smoke,” he says. Mariano says he is paying the price for smoking. He constantly has to monitor his health and will have to take medications the rest of his life.
Mariano lifts up his shirt and points to the long scar on his chest that reminds him of his close call and says, “When I see someone who smokes, I say, ‘Look at this scar. Do you want to have this? Sooner or later, the time will come when you will likely have something like this.’ I had a wake-up call, and now I feel good.” Mariano is determined to keep it that way. He quit smoking and never looked back.
Mariano, 55, Illinois; had open heart surgery at age 47