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Published: Sunday, 4/10/2005

Ford, Finkbeiner contend with chronic health issues

BY STEVE EDER
AND FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

Jack Ford and Carty Finkbeiner face more than each other as potential opponents in this year's mayor's race. They each also face serious health challenges.

Mr. Finkbeiner, 65, underwent quadruple bypass surgery last year and struggles with heart disease. Mr. Ford, 57, suffers from chronic diabetes and was hospitalized last year with flu-like symptoms.

Mr. Finkbeiner, known for his fiery personality during his eight years as mayor, said he has grown calmer since leaving office - a change forced by heart trouble. On March 8, 2004, Mr. Finkbeiner underwent quadruple bypass surgery at the Cleveland Clinic for artery blockages.

Bypass surgery, which allows blood to flow around blocked coronary arteries, requires a doctor to open a patient's chest, temporarily stop the heart, and transplant blood vessels from the leg or chest. Artery blockages result from plaque build-up, which can cause heart attacks.

"I have a rebuilt body, so to speak," said Mr. Finkbeiner, whose father-in-law's more recent bout with heart surgery has stirred memories of his own battle. "It isn't a lot of fun to watch him or observe him and remember back a year and a month ago. But now that it is done, you don't want to abuse the newfound cardiovascular system, and I am not going to do that."

Even though his blocked coronary arteries have been bypassed, Mr. Finkbeiner's underlying heart disease remains, a fact that has him watching his diet and exercising like never before.

After discovering in 2000 that heart problems might be on the horizon, he said he changed his eating habits and began losing weight. By the time he left office on Dec. 31, 2001, he had dropped from 200 pounds to 185, and, in the last year, has lost another 15. He said that, if he runs for mayor and wins, he will continue his one-hour daily workout.

"Anybody who tries to take that [workout] away from me, if I do become the mayor, I'll have my first loss in terms of the newer, wiser Finkbeiner, because that 60 minutes a day is a lifesaver for people," said Mr. Finkbeiner, who is exploring daily meditation as a stress management technique. "In addition to that workout, my diet is much better and much more disciplined. I follow my doctor's recommendations to a 'T.' "

Amid rumors about his health in 1994, Mr. Finkbeiner shared his medical records with The Blade. The records at the time showed he had last seen a physician six years earlier after discovering a benign growth on his left breast. His heart function and blood pressure were normal during that 1988 visit. Now, he said, he sees his physician for checkups every quarter and has received clearance to pursue his aggressive exercise regimen.

A year ago, Mr. Ford was hospitalized for three days to cope with the "flulike symptoms" and dehydration. People with chronic diseases, like diabetes, are typically more susceptible to contracting viral illnesses like the flu.

"That turned out to be a bad case of the flu," Mr. Ford said. "But I think I was either wore down or something. Actually, I was sick in bed at home for a day and a half before, and normally I can shake stuff off, and that just wouldn't shake. I started throwing up, and it was the repeated throwing up that disturbed me, because, one, I didn't want to get dehydrated, and neither did I want to lose too much potassium."

During the 2001 mayoral campaign, Mr. Ford gave health information to The Blade, which showed he had two major risk factors for a heart attack or stroke: obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Those records revealed that Mr. Ford was 298 pounds, nearly 60 pounds above his target weight, and his cholesterol readings were considered "borderline high." He declined to disclose his weight when asked last week, but a mayoral assistant said recently the mayor has lost "about 40 pounds."

He complains of a bum right knee injured 40 years ago playing football, which causes him problems, especially when descending stairs. He also has trouble with his right foot that causes him to wear special shoes. He does not work out because, he said, he does not have the time.

The Blade requested clearance from both men to speak with their doctors, but both declined, saying they want to wait until Mr. Finkbeiner makes a decision about entering the race.

"When Carty announces, we'll do the comparisons," Mr. Ford said.

"If I am a candidate for mayor of the city of Toledo, you'll have my permission to review any and all medical records and discuss with my cardiologist and my general practitioner anything you want to discuss at that time," said Mr. Finkbeiner. Until then, he said, he remains a private citizen.

Contact Steve Eder at: seder@theblade.com or 419-724-6728.



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