Bob Jett was already trying to come to terms with a series of stunners when the surgeon dropped the biggest shocker of them all as he wheeled Jett into the operating room.
“You’re going to have to become a vegan,” the surgeon said.
Jett grew up in Oklahoma with his father, who worked cattle for Swift and Company for nearly 50 years.
Jett, who lives in rural Kersey, Colo., then worked in the cattle business himself. He was married to a woman, Terri, whose father worked in the cattle business, and that man, Willie Burbach, was now his business partner.
Beef was his life, and his diet reflected that.
He was the cook in the house, and he loved making huge meals, T-bone steaks either grilled or chicken-fried.
“I ate like a Viking,” Jett said.
The surgeon couldn’t have mentioned a larger life-altering move if he suggested a sex-change operation.
Perhaps it was just a psychological ploy on the surgeon’s part.
Nearly two years after he went in North Colorado Medical Center for open-heart surgery to repair seven blockages, Jett’s lifestyle is indeed drastically different than it was before he began feeling the hammering pain in his right hand and the tightness in his chest.
He eats much better, painfully better, actually.
He was named the honorary chairman for this year’s Turkey Trot — a Thanksgiving Day event that stands as Greeley’s largest 5K of the year, and one that benefits the cardiac rehab center at NCMC.
He is a changed man for sure.
Jett noticed the problems in the winter of 2012. A walk to the mailbox, a quarter-mile at best, was the first time he felt the symptoms.
He ignored them. He was busy. His job, buying and feeding cattle and other parts of the beef business, kept him going in his basement office. He had two kids in Platte Valley High School, and they ran cross-country, among other things.
Then, during a car ride back from watching their sons in a meet, he admitted to Terri that he hadn’t been feeling right.
“Yes,” Terri said as she listened to Bob’s story. “He still hadn’t told me yet.”
Terri took over from there.
She wanted him in the hospital. Bob, in a compromise, agreed to Urgent Care the next day.
The doctor told him he was calling an ambulance after some tests.
Bob said he could walk across the street.
When he was admitted to the hospital, doctors told him they believed he would need some stents. Most people needed stents.
He had a scope in his chest, but the mood was light. It is not a serious operation. Bob was friends with one of the staff. There was music and laughter.
Then a doctor looked at the monitor, and the music and laughter stopped almost immediately.
We can’t fix this today, he said.
Bob would need open-heart surgery.
That was serious.
Two days later, it took nine hours.
They approached him the day after surgery and asked if he would like to be placed in the rehabilitation program.
Bob said he didn’t think so.
You’ve probably guessed by now what Terri said.
He went three times a week, from February to May, and learned how to change his diet. He worked up to an hour a day of exercise. He kept track of both in a log book. He limits his diet to 15 grams of saturated fat a day. He tries to keep it under 10.
Even though his sons ran cross-country, and he used to play basketball, he hadn’t exercised in years. He walked with Terri, who changed her diet as well, in Greeley’s parks and rode a bike with her. He put an elliptical and an exercise bike in his basement office.
He found himself enjoying it.
“The exercise component is really rewarding,” Bob said. “The diet component is less than rewarding.”
No, the new diet, even two years later, means reading labels, planning out road trips to find a place that serves healthy food and pushing through awkward moments at parties when he has to turn down snacks or a potluck dish.
“We seem to spend every day talking about our diets,” Bob said.
His two teenage boys don’t make it easier, even if R.W. is a freshman at Illinois University. Clark is now a junior at Platte Valley.
“They — we — used to love Bob’s meals. He would just make these great meals,” Terri said. “Now they just say, ‘This sucks.’”
That’s Bob’s life now, and after a short stint with depression, where he mourned his former lifestyle and faced his mortality, he’s accepted it.
He enjoys parts of it and wishes he had part of it back.
He does not, however, have to give up all of it.
He can eat pizza. He just has to limit it to once a month.
He can’t eat huge steaks, and he spreads out the hamburger in his casseroles.
But he can continue to eat beef.
He’s not a vegan.
“Lean cuts,” Bob said and laughed. “They can go a long way.” ❖