Mike Matarazzo
December 21, 2004

Mike Matarazzo, IFBB pro bodybuilder, had the scariest moment of his life when on December 5th, 2004, after shortness of breath and coughing up fluid, he went to the doctor and found out he needed open heart surgery. At age 39. With so many rumors going on, we went to find out the exact story. Here is the complete story, but lets get a few things straight. Mike did not have a heart attack, Mike's dad did not have heart problems when he passed away, and steroids was not the major factor in what happened. Here is what occurred.

Mike Matarazzo, notes by Ron Avidan

  • Mike Matarazzo: Notes on his open heart surgery, the truth behind the rumors, what happened, the factor that caused this at age 39.

      Mike Matarazzo never saw this coming. In the past few months before the night of December 5th, 2004, Mike was feeling a shortness of breath, and hadn't felt like himself in the gym, but he though it was because of the change in his diet, and he wasn't really training the way he used to train. Around November 15th, Mike started to feel sick, under the weather, and he thought he had caught a flu or something like that. Mike went to the doctor, who put him on medication, and that was that. Mike got better, went back to the gym, and started back on his cardio.

      On the night of of December 4th, Saturday night, Mike felt great. He worked out, ate a good dinner, and went to sleep around 11pm with his fiancée. Nothing exciting nor stressful. Then around 3am, Sunday morning, Mike felt terrible. He got up and saw that water and blood was coming out from his nose and his mouth. He got up, ran outside, and spit it up. He then realized that it was coming out from his lungs, not his stomach. Mike originally thought it was from the food, so he took some Tylenol Night-time medicine. But every minute he felt better standing up, when he started to lie back down, it kept getting worse, and he couldn't breathe. Mike kept spitting it out, trying to get everything out. From 3am to 11am, Mike tried to relax, but it didn't work. Mike didn't want to go to the hospital because he felt like he was going to shake it off, but it finally got so bad that he felt his heart beating really, really hard, and he couldn't catch his breath. Finally, with his fiancée very worried by his side, he told her to take him to the hospital.

      Mike then went to the hospital around 11:30am Sundaay morning. Mike went to the emergency room, and like others, he didn't have to wait because as soon as he wrote down on the form 'possible heart problems', they took his blood pressure, and took him right away into intensive care. Mike's resting heart rate was 177 beat a minute, double what it should have been. The doctor told him he should of come in immediately instead of waiting. They started to plug him into everything, a heart monitor, a couple of iv's. They checked his lungs, and found out that they were still filled with fluids. They then gave him Nitroglycerin, and put him on Lasix to help him get the fluid out. A few hours later, Mike was more relaxed, and able to get his breathe again. Sunday night, Mike stayed in the hospital, on a lot of medication, and was being monitored.

      Monday afternoon at 1pm, Mike went for an Angiogram. It was after the exam that Mike heard the news. Three blocked arteries, one was 75% blocked, two were 100% blocked, and nothing was getting through. The only reason that Mike did not drop was because he was in such good physical condition that his body had built minor blood vessels around his heart to get around the clogged arteries. The doctor also confirmed that Mike did not have a heart attack, he just wasn't getting enough blood to the heart, so the heart wasn't working to capacity.

      When the surgeon said to Mike 'You need open heart surgery', Mike just looked at him and said 'You sure you have the right guy?'. He looked back at Mike and said 'There is no question about it. You need triple heart bypass surgery and soon.' This was Monday afternoon. Surgery was set to begin Wednesday morning.

      Tuesday was a tough day for Mike. It was a very depressing day. His fiancée was scared. Mike just lay down in the bed, contemplating about his life, thing 'Why me. I am an athlete in great physical shape'. Thinking about that he could check out of this world at age 39. Mike was thinking of his dad, who had passed away a few years back, and he thought he may be going to meet him. Oh yes, lets get some thing straight. Mike's dad did not die of any heart complications at all. He did from complications from Parkinson's disease. Mike couldn't eat anything after noon on Tuesday, not that he felt like eating with his mind filled with thoughts.

      Wednesday morning, around 10am, the doctors came to the hospital room, and started the process. The plugged Mike with all sorts of iv's. One in the neck, two in the arms, one in the quad, hooked him up to various electrical machines. Shaved all of the hair off him. Since Mike was nervous, they give him some things to calm him down. Mike went to the operating room at noon. Mike actually said to the anethesioligist "Make sure I get enough so I don't wake up and see my chest split open'. Soon after that, Mike was out.

      The operation took 6 ½ hours. They took the veins from his left leg. They were able to use it for all three arteries, and the surgeon said that Mike had the biggest artery he had ever seen. When Mike woke up in the ICU on a breathing machine, he couldn't talk, he couldn't have, as he was strapped down to the bed. He was aware enough to look down and see 150 staples going down his chest. Four hours after the operation, they took the breathing apparatus out from Mike. Mike was definitely in pain, but the medication from the 5 different iv's would click on, and make him feel better. For the first two days, Mike had tubes going everywhere. He had tubes coming out of his chest that were draining blood and fluid, and more.

      After two days in the IC, Mike felt and was better enough to go to a regular room. Mike started feeling better, and check out of the hospital Monday evening.

      A week after the operation, Mike is doing fine. He is on a strict eating regiment, practicing with his breathing machine to get his lungs stronger every day, and goes around for walks. It will take a minimum of six weeks for Mike to get back to full strength, plus more time for his breast plate to heal. Mike's chest hurts, because Mike was a special patient, since they needed to cut a lot more muscle than the average person. Mike can definitely feely the tightening in his chest, and he can't move his arms above his head too much at the moment, so it is tough. Even if Mike climbs the stairs too fast, he gets winded. Mike right now is not thinking of Mike the bodybuilders. Mike right now is in survival mode.

      Reactions from friends and family was mostly astonishment. Anyone that knew Mike saw him as a hardcore guy. Sick or hurt? No way. Obviously, Mike's competition days are over. His immediate plans. To get better. Everything else is just step by step.

      To those that say Mike has not competed in the last two years before this, they are right. Two years ago, Mike was going to compete in an IFBB pro show, but it was cancelled 4 weeks before the show. Mike was in great shape leading into that contest. Last year, three weeks before the Night of Champions, Mike was he blew his right shoulder out. Mike has no regrets about bodybuilding. He was a great bodybuilder, he competed with the best in the world. He beat some, he lost some. What will be tough for Mike is knowing that he can't be competitive anymore in the sport. In his life, he has never had to put physical limitations on himself before this.

      So the big question is did steroids play a factor in this?

      Of course they did. If you have even been to a seminar that Mike answers questions, he was said that any time you put anything artificial into your body, you are taking a risk. But drugs was a factor, but not the only factor. Mike always used steroids mildly, and was always off them during non-contest prep time. Each year, 360,000 people have heart bypass surgery. Are all of them on drugs? But for Mike, at his age, yes, they were a factor.

      Another factor was that Mike has bad cholesterol, and has been on a cholesterol lowering drug, Lipitor, since 1997. At times, his good cholesterol was zero (anabolic drugs can do that to you), which was a big risk. Mike thinks that the cholesterol was the biggest factor. You need to watch your cholesterol.

      Another factor was Mike's diet in the 1990's. From 1991 to 1996, Mike used to eat 5 ½ pounds of red meat in a day. Mike's died was out of control back then. Another factor was stress. Mike is a very stressful guy, and having lots of stress is quite terrible for your arteries. All of these four factors - steroids, stress, cholesterol and out of control diet contributed to the blockage.

      Mike would love to put something together with Flex Magazine about his overall view as a pro bodybuilder for the past 15 years, and hopefully, an honest look from the inside out. Maybe he can try to educate some of these guys to go for checkups. Not only to go for blood tests every six months (which Mike showed no problems), and stress tests (which Mike showed no problems there either), but to go for a very serious checkup test (Mike didn't do that.)

      We wish Mike the very best in his recovery, and no doubt, we will see Mike very soon at a show, hopefully at a seminar at the 2005 Ironman Pro, or at one of Shawn Ray's Muscle Camps, or All Star Seminar's in the future.

You can contact Ron Avidan at ron@getbig.com.