Andy Lopez went from recovering heart-surgery patient to old-school baseball coach in one phone call.
Five wins away from pitching in a World Series, Pittsburgh Pirates reliever and former Arizona Wildcats standout Mark Melancon called his former coach during the National League Division Series. He wanted to know how the man Melancon and all former players call “Lopes” was feeling after quadruple-bypass heart surgery.
“I jumped on him when he called; I was all over him,” Lopez told the Star on Wednesday. “He’s trying to get to the World Series, and he’s thinking about me? I told him I was going to be fine, and he shouldn’t worry about me. Mark Ellis, with the Dodgers, and David Ross, with the Red Sox — who both played for me at Florida — are in the same boat and have called me in the last few days.
“It’s been unbelievable how many people have been reaching out to me to see how I’m doing. It really means a lot to me.”
Lopez underwent open-heart surgery earlier this month, and no time-
table was put on his return. On Wednesday, the UA announced the coach will resume his duties Jan. 15.
He will miss the rest of fall practice. Assistants Shaun Cole and Matt Siegel will direct the team in Lopez’s absence.
“I want to be very clear about this,” Lopez said. “I did not have a heart attack and there’s no damage to my heart. I’m strong as an ox.”
Lopez had four clogged arteries in his heart that led to his surgery Oct. 7. The coach, who led the UA to the 2012 College World Series championship, returned home four days later.
He’ll begin rehabilitation next week at Tucson Medical Center.
“We are so pleased to hear of the great progress Coach Lopez has already made since his surgery,” UA athletic director Greg Byrne said in a news release. “He is one of the best baseball coaches in the country, and we are glad that he will be our coach for many years to come.”
Lopez took us through what led to the surgery and what’s ahead for the 59-year-old coach. Here’s a look at what happened, in Lopez’s own words:
“This all started for me on Tuesday, Oct. 1. I shared with my wife, Linda, that I hadn’t been feeling great. I jog every day for 30 minutes and had been feeling very fatigued. I had taken six weeks off after my mom passed away on June 30th, and since I had gotten back into it, I hadn’t felt great. But I just figured I was really out of shape, and I kept pushing through it.
“Someone will read this article and they’ll say, ‘What an idiot,’ and they’re right. But I really just thought I was out of shape and could push through it all. But I finally reached a point where I talked to my wife and decided that I was going to call my doctor the next morning and make an appointment.
“The next morning I woke up to an e-mail from one of my old players at Pepperdine that a former reliever of mine at Pepperdine, Randy Doerges, died of a heart attack. He was only 40. That really rocked me. I went to work that day really down. So I was already going to call my doctor that morning, but after I heard about Randy, I called right away.
“I went in and met with my primary physician, and it went well. We scheduled a stress echo test for the next day. I went back, and they had to ramp up the treadmill to really get my heart rate going. I did that for a while, and the doctor said he saw something a bit abnormal. That really got my attention. I came back the next day for an angiogram (an imaging test that uses X-rays to view blood vessels). I was all drugged up, and the doctor came out and told Linda that I wasn’t going home because I had (three) arteries that were clogged. My main left artery was the one they couldn’t put a stent into and told her that they were going to perform heart surgery on Monday. So he said, ‘We’ll do it Monday morning and go from there.’
“When I met with him the night before, I was joking with him and said, ‘Please tell me you’ve done more than one of these things before.’ He told me no, but he was going to go home and watch some videos. I said, ‘Well at least tell me you’re staying at a Holiday Inn.’
“About halfway through the surgery, the doctor came out and told my family they found one more clogged artery, and they wanted to get it while they were in there, so that’s how it turned into a quadruple-bypass.
“Since the surgery, it’s just been a lot of down time, a lot of napping and a lot of recovery. I was out of the hospital four days later and back home. I’ve been watching a lot of baseball and college football and answering text messages from all of my players. I’ve started going for seven-minute walks outside with my wife. I do that four times a day, and then I’ll start rehabilitation next week. I’m very excited for that. I’ll be in great hands at Tucson Medical Center. They’ve done a phenomenal job with me, and I’m ready to get working with them.
“I’ve come to the realization that I’ve had open-heart surgery, and I need to take things slow and be careful going forward. They caught all of this before a lot worse could have occurred. I feel good. I really do. I’m excited about what’s ahead.”