Gary Cooke was driving to work when he suddenly forgot where he was going. He knew something was wrong and drove straight to the doctor. Cooke later learned he was experiencing transient global amnesia due to a bicuspid aortic valve, an inherited form of heart disease resulting in two-leaflet values instead of the normal three. A rare asymptomatic condition that only effects 2% of the population. After months of screenings to monitor his condition things suddenly worsened. Cooke was faced with the decision to have open-heart surgery at the age of only 53. As an avid runner, guitar player and father of three, the thought of having open heart surgery was terrifying. “I remember what it was like to sit on the table at 53 years old and hear I had to have open heart surgery. I remember how scary it was,” Said Cooke, but he quickly changed his attitude.

Instead of dwelling on the risks and what ifs, Cooke focused on his children, wife and even his surgeon the days leading up to the big day. Writing letters to each of them and packing goody bags with his family’s favorite snacks for surgery day. In Cooke’s letter to his surgeon Dr. Nathan Bates, he thanked him for taking time away from his family that morning to give him the chance to spend many more mornings with his own family.

In May of 2016 Cooke underwent open heart surgery at Orange Park Medical Center that included four different procedures. After only a few weeks in cardiac rehabilitation at Orange Park Medical Center’s Outpatient Rehabilitation Center he was on the road to recovery.

Eight short months after the surgery Cooke ran a marathon, making his best time ever. He was back. Running, playing guitar and enjoying time with his family.

“I want people to know that they can do it, they can get through it and you can live a normal life after open heart surgery.”

On the one year anniversary of his surgery, Cooke walked back through the doors of Orange Park Medical Center to not only thank the staff and physicians that helped him that day but to help other patients through telling his story.