Former NBA player and ESPN analyst and long-time Bay Area radio host Tom Tolbert had quite the health scare last year, undergoing emergency heart surgery in late August. As Bruce Jenkins of The San Francisco Chronicle writes, Tolbert returned to his job as an afternoon co-host on KNBR (something he’s been doing for 21 years) on Oct. 9, and has been able to drive himself to work for the last two months. But he’s still faced plenty of challenges; he had three follow-up procedures after the initial surgery, he’s more limited in the physical activity he can do (with even walking being difficult at times), he has to be on a stricter diet now, and he’s lost 40 pounds.
Co-host John Lund and Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr both told Jenkins Tolbert’s been upbeat through the whole thing, however, even joking about heart surgery as a way to lose weight:
“That’s the first thing that jumped out, like, whoa!” Lund said, recalling the sight of a slimmed-down Tolbert. “A few things were different. We had to make sure he had a convenient parking place, and sometimes he has to get up during the show to keep the blood circulating. But, basically, it’s like he never left. We’ve quit asking about his energy, because it’s always high. That great sense of humor never left him.
“I mean, about two weeks in, he was sitting there making death jokes. That’s Tom. He made death funny.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr, a longtime friend dating to their playing days at Arizona, recalled their first conversation after the surgery: “He said, ‘Yeah, I was looking for ways to lose weight. I thought about diet. I thought about exercise. Then I just settled on heart surgery. It’s worked out really well.’ Typical Tom. Incredible outlook. Most of his life is based on sports and humor and people and friends. He’s just a beautiful human being.”
It’s good to hear that Tolbert has been able to keep positive through this, as this was certainly a frightening moment. He was watching a Giants’ game on his couch Aug. 29 when he felt pain in his temples, chest and throat, shivered with cold and wound up drenched in sweat. The symptoms didn’t match those of a heart attack, but they didn’t go away after several hours, so he got his wife to drive him to the hospital. It’s fortunate he went there so quickly, as doctors had to rush him into emergency surgery (a thoracic aortic dissection) with bad odds of survival that night.
But that surgery went well for Tolbert, and while there have been some challenges in his recovery (he couldn’t walk more than a few steps at first thanks to poor blood flow to his legs, which was part of why he needed the follow-up procedures), he’s pushed through that and can now walk up to five miles at a stretch. He still has to maintain a healthy diet low in sodium and monitor his blood pressure, but he’s staying positive about that, joking to Jenkins that “And beer is OK, thank God.” Perhaps his most notable comment in the piece is what he says about how his family and friends have helped him through this, though.
“I’m so grateful to have my kids, my friends and my wife taking care of every little thing,” he said. “I really believe it helps the healing process when you have those types of vibes coursing through your body. I mean, I don’t get through any of this without Lorrie. She’s the best. I just love her to death.”