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Published: Tuesday, 7/12/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Ex-Mayor Ford tells of brush with death, recovery

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Jack Ford, in a wheelchair in the lobby of Regency Hospital, discusses his illness. Noticeably slimmer, the 64-year-old former mayor of Toledo says he's down to 235 pounds after losing 80 pounds, and now qualifies for the eligibility list for a kidney transplant. Jack Ford, in a wheelchair in the lobby of Regency Hospital, discusses his illness. Noticeably slimmer, the 64-year-old former mayor of Toledo says he's down to 235 pounds after losing 80 pounds, and now qualifies for the eligibility list for a kidney transplant.
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They were questions Jack Ford never thought he'd have to ask.

How to convince a surgeon not to amputate his hand? How many times will doctors use a defibrillator before they quit?

Just weeks ago, Mr. Ford, 64, was clinging to life. He couldn't speak or hear for weeks, breathed through a tracheal tube, and nearly lost his right hand. But now, the Toledo Board of Education member, former mayor, four-term Toledo councilman, and state representative is back home after more than two months in the hospital.

He's even healthy enough to joke about his brush with death.

"God said, 'I'm not ready for him yet,' " Mr. Ford said. "And the devil said, 'Hell, I don't want him down here.' "

For weeks, Mr. Ford noticed he was slowing down, getting tired easily. His blood pressure was incredibly high. On a Friday, his wife Cynthia noticed he looked ill and called a family friend, who took Mr. Ford to Toledo Hospital.

The culprit, Mr. Ford said, was a "perfect storm" of ailments: sleep apnea, high blood pressure, bad kidneys. Combined, they caused a buildup of fluid, which sent him into a downward spiral, causing complication after complication. Without treatment, Mr. Ford said, he would have died.

Doctor's intubated Mr. Ford. Heavy drugs left him out of it for weeks. He doesn't recall those early days, only gathering bits and pieces from doctors and family.

He stopped breathing, forcing doctors to perform a tracheotomy. The water retention and constant intravenous lines badly damaged his right hand, and surgeons strongly considered amputation.

Mr. Ford recounted his health scare and recovery yesterday while in a wheelchair in the lobby of Regency Hospital on Alexis Road, just hours before he would be released. He matter-of-factly described how close he came to death.

Doctors revived him three times, he said, once using a defibrillator nine times.

"That was scary," Mr. Ford said.

Mr. Ford has long struggled with his health. He has Type 2 diabetes and a history of high blood pressure. He announced in 2007 on a Sunday-morning television program he and his wife hosted that he was undergoing kidney dialysis.

He said he made his illness public because he wanted to raise awareness about Type 2 diabetes.

But never before has he been in such a precarious state. After six weeks at Toledo Hospital, he moved to Regency, starting a regimen of physical therapy. He can walk now, but his gait needs work and he needs to regain strength in his limbs.

Now his weight, blood pressure, and sugar levels are the best they've been in three decades, he said. Noticeably slimmer, he said he's down to 235 pounds after losing 80 pounds, and now qualifies for the eligibility list for a kidney transplant.

"But I don't recommend this as a diet to anybody," he said with a laugh.

Mr. Ford had high compliments for both Toledo and Regency hospitals, crediting doctors with saving his life and for his strong recovery. Despite his slim new look, his voice and energy seem stronger than they have in months, evidence of a health rebound that seemed doubtful mere weeks ago.

"Jack is back," former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said.

Mr. Finkbeiner was among many who visited Mr. Ford in the hospital. Friends who lost contact decades ago came by to wish him well. Get-well cards abounded.

Knowing that his friend and fellow board member was so ill was tough for Bob Vasquez. The Board of Education president was Mr. Ford's best man at his first wedding, and the pair have known each other for decades.

"To see Jack down -- for me and my family, it was very difficult," Mr. Vasquez said. "I am just so glad that he is doing better."

After surviving one health scare, Mr. Ford vows to keep the weight off, exercise, eat better, and simply live a more healthy life. He plans to walk regularly with friends, and eventually work up to light jogs. He even wants to restart regular tennis matches with his fellow former mayor, Mr. Finkbeiner.

For now though, it's small goals for Mr. Ford. He hopes to make at least part of a Toledo Public Schools board meeting today and plans to finish the rest of his term, which expires at the end of this year.

He's undecided about a run for reelection. He retired from a position at Bowling Green State University just days before he was admitted to the hospital and plans to prioritize his health above all else.

"It's time for me to sit down," Mr. Ford said, then paused. "Just, sit down."

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086.


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