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John Hiller--heart attack at 27 and recovery

John Hiller was a professional baseball player for the Detroit Tigers.

"By 1971, I weighed 215 pounds, which was for me about thirty pounds overweight, and was smoking two packs of Marlboro “high test” cigarettes per day. I was living in Northern Minnesota, and on January 11, I had just gotten back from a snowmobile trip. I lit a cigarette and was having a coffee when I experienced pain running down each arm, as well as high on the shoulder and through the neck.

I grabbed my chest. At first, I thought I was having lung problems. It hurt more each time I inhaled the cigarette. So in my anger, I grabbed the package and nailed it to the rafters in the basement because I knew there was some relation between the cigarettes and the pain I was feeling.

After my third incident in an hour, I called the doctor and he said to come into the hospital. I was huffing, puffing, and sweating like crazy as I unhitched the snowmobile to get there. At the hospital, they took one look at me and put me flat on my back for three weeks. I had had a heart attack at age 27. The problem was at the back of the heart and two arteries were blocked. Although my cholesterol was high, I had no family history of heart disease. It made no sense as to why this happened to me.

I owe my recovery to a number of people.  The understanding and assistance of the Goldfines played a big part in helping me get back to a position where I could pitch again and I will be forever grateful for their help.  The Tiger team physician, Dr. Livingood, was always in my corner, and my wife was very supportive too.  My father was a man of few words, but when he said something it was important.  I will always remember the confidence it gave me when my father said, “You will be back in baseball and I know you will be better than ever.”

I do not view myself as courageous, because I knew I had to play baseball to make a living.  Many people said I could not do it,  but that pissed me off and made me more determined, so that I focused on proving them all wrong. Don’t let anyone change your dreams regardless of what the circumstances are.  It will be if it is meant to be, and if it is not then something else will take its place."

In 1971, John's life nearly ended when he had a heart attack at the age of 27.  He returned to baseball in 1972 and pitched until 1980. He is a member of the all-time Tiger team, and is also an inductee of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.