Howie Mandel gets the word out about atrial fibrillation.
You probably know him as the completely enthusiastic judge on the NBC hit, America’s Got Talent, which just ended its eighth season. Or as the Emmy Award-winning host of Deal or No Deal, the long-running game show famous for leggy models bearing briefcases. But Howie Mandel is even more than that. Producer of TBS’s hidden-camera show Deal With It, and creator/executive producer/voice over artist on the Fox animated children’s show, Bobby’s World, stand-up comedian who performs as many as 200 concerts a year, and author of his 2009 memoir, Here’s the Deal: Don’t Touch Me, Howie’s 30-plus year show business career is testament to his versatility and staying power. And now—25 years after ending his stint as Dr. Wayne Fiscus on TV’s hospital-based drama, St. Elsewhere—Howie again finds himself talking about health. But this time he’s working without a script, telling his own story of being diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, the most common type of irregular heartbeat, in an effort to draw attention to the silent-but-potentially deadly condition.
Atrial fibrillation (AFib)—specifically AFib not caused by a heart valve problem—affects millions of Americans, and often remains undiagnosed. People with AFib not caused by a heart valve problem have five times the risk of stroke as compared to people without the condition. As part of the Fibs or Facts campaign [link to http://www.fibsorfacts.com/index.aspx] created by Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer, Howie is encouraging people find out more by taking the quiz at Fibsorfacts.com [LINK TO http://www.fibsorfacts.com/afib-quiz.aspx]. For each person who completes the quiz, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer will donate $1 to the National Stroke Foundation (up to $25,000).
We talked to Howie about how he discovered the condition, what it’s like to live with it, and his secrets to staying healthy.
Spry Living: You found out you have AFib during a health screening for a TV show four years ago. Tell us about that.
Howie Mandel: When you sign on to do a television show, they get insurance on you to make sure you can be there for the duration of the show. Usually the insurance company will send over a medical person to give you kind of a light little physical. I was getting one in a hotel room—I didn’t even go to a doctor’s office. The doctor just came over, put a stethoscope to my chest and said, “Uh oh.” You never like hearing “Uh oh.” And I go, “What?” He said, “Well, you have atrial fibrillation.”
Spry Living: How did you react?
Howie: You know what, I’m the eternal optimist. I really didn’t feel anything much worse than maybe tired and the odd time I felt a little dizzy or out of breath, but nothing major. And I said, “OK. So what do I have to do?” He said, “You have to go see a doctor right away.” I thought, I almost never go see doctors. I realized that this is something that almost 6 million people in the U.S. have, and if you have it, you are five times more likely to have a stroke than somebody who doesn’t have it. And that scared the whatever-I-had-in-me out of me. I quickly went to a specialist and I’m managed and I get taken care of.
Spry Living: What’s the idea behind the Fibs or Facts campaign?
Howie: The campaign is just to educate people. It’s kind of like “Deal or No Deal,” but it’s FibsorFacts.com where you can take a quiz. Not only do you learn about this very common issue, but for everybody that takes the quiz, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer donate a dollar toward the National Stroke Association. It is a great cause and you learn about something that is really common but not well-known. This is probably one area where ignorance is not bliss—ignorance is danger. If I can lend my name and a couple of minutes to get a couple of people to go to this website and learn something and be able to manage an issue they may not know they have, then I’m happy to do it.
Spry Living: Has anybody in your family had the condition, or had strokes or anything like that?
Howie: No. I’m a really healthy guy. I run 7 miles a day. I didn’t know. Nobody in my family has this. You’ve just got to go get checked. I think that all this information is at Fibsorfacts.com. It’s not like you can sit there and find out all this information and self diagnose, but you should just be aware that it exists, that it’s common and that it’s manageable. When you go to a doctor, he or she can check for it.
Spry Living: You said you run seven miles a day. Is that your favorite workout?
Howie: No, that is because my wife won’t give me a lift to work and I’ve got to get there in a hurry. I like running. I just do it. It’s a creative time for me. When I’m running, that’s when I get to think. It’s like my time when I get to run.
Spry Living: Are you able to keep that up when you’re shooting? I know you have a totally busy schedule.
Howie: I can always find an hour. Whether that hour is at midnight or 5 in the morning, I can always find an hour. Health is really important to me and that’s why being ignorant of this issue scared the hell out of me. The more I learn about this, the more I found out how common this is which even makes it more scary. That’s why everybody should go take the quiz. Did you take the quiz?
Spry Living: I did take the quiz. I got a 100.
Howie: I didn’t get a 100. But I got a nine out of 10. The second time I took it, I got a nine out of 10, which made me feel bad. By the seventh time, I was getting consistently nine out of 10s. I can’t get it right and I’ve tried seven times, but the good news is that’s seven more dollars for the stroke association.
Spry Living: You’re on break from “America’s Got Talent” with a new season coming up next summer. How are you planning to keep it fresh? Are there any surprises?
Howie: It’s not up to us to keep it fresh. It’s up to each individual person who has a dream and a passion—they keep it fresh. That’s what makes it different. That’s what makes it fun. It’s always fun to watch somebody plucked from obscurity. Their life changes right in front of everybody’s eyes. It’s never tiring. I hope it goes on for years and years to come.
Spry Living: You’re sort of famous for being a germaphobe. How bad is it? Do you not shake fans’ hands when they come up to you?
Howie: No, I don’t. I’ll fist bump. It’s not about being a germaphobe—that’s just a small part of it. That’s another issue that I have. I have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the mental health issue. I found that by being open with my issues, help has come my way and it kind of educates others.
Spry Living: And you’ve also spoken about your ADHD, and that’s helped a lot of people.
Howie: Between A-fib, ADHD and OCD, I’ve almost completed the entire alphabet. I would like to buy a vowel.