There isn’t much four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt hasn’t overcome in his legendary life from an attack by killer bees in 2005 to an overturned Bulldozer that left him submerged underwater on his ranch in 2007.
His latest foe is coronary blockages of his heart and that required a triple-bypass operation at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center on Wednesday.
The 79-year-old Foyt was admitted to the hospital last Friday after experiencing intermittent chest pains. Although initial tests were inconclusive a cardiac catherization procedure on Monday revealed blockages in the same arteries where Foyt had several stents – most recently in March 2010. Foyt is on the mend and is expected to be released next Monday.
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The triple-bypass surgery was performed by renowned cardiothoracic surgeons O.H. “Bud” Frazier, MD, Director of Cardiovascular Surgery Research at Texas Heart Institute (THI) and Chief of Transplant Service, St. Luke’s Medical Center and William Cohn, MD, Director of Minimally Invasive Surgical Technology at THI. Both men trained under artificial heart pioneer Dr. Michael DeBakey while Dr. Frazier also worked with Dr. Denton Cooley, a former partner of DeBakey’s and founder of the Texas Heart Institute.
Trips to the hospital are not unusual to Foyt, who has had a number of stays in various Houston hospitals in recent years, most of which were related to injuries stemming from his 1990 Indy car accident at Road America. In 2013, Foyt underwent back surgery and had his left hip and right knee replaced in separate surgeries and, in 2012, he battled back from a life-threatening staph infection after surgery to remove bone spurs in his artificial left knee, which had been replaced in 2006.
Foyt and his son Larry recently announced the expansion of their IndyCar team from one car to two for the 2015-2016 seasons. Jack Hawksworth was named as driver of the No. 41 ABC Supply Honda; Takuma Sato will pilot the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda for the third straight year. In October, Foyt purchased a building in Speedway, Ind., which will be used by his race team as a Midwest base during the summer.
Throughout his career as a driver and team owner, Foyt always has created a buzz. Back in 2005 on his ranch outside of Houston he nearly became the victim of one when he was was stung over 200 times by Africanized killer bees while bulldozing his property. He dug up a colony of the deadly bees, unleashing a fury that the then 70-year-old Foyt called the “scariest thing he’s ever been involved in.”
The agriculture department of Texas A&M University had to be called in to exterminate the killer bees estimated at over 60,000.
“It’s the first time I’ve been in a situation where I didn’t know what to do or how to get out of it,” Foyt said at the time. “I’ve done all the clearing on my ranch all my life. I was a little bit skeptical of what could be there – ground hornets or whatever – but I didn’t expect a breeding colony of bees.”
Foyt said 161 bee stingers were pulled out of his face and lips alone, not counting the bee stings on his arm. He still has some of the scars on his arm but refused to go to the hospital after the paramedics gave him a shot of Dramamine.
He called the experience with killer bees was the “spookiest thing I’ve ever been in.”
After repeatedly being stung, Foyt began to run towards a swamp on his property but fell down. The bees continued to sting and he ran again and the bees put him back on the ground. Foyt thought he would die on the ground.
“I fell off the bulldozer and left that thing run,” Foyt recalled back in 2005. “There was a big cloud of them like you see in the movies. The second time, I don’t know what gave me the willpower to get up but I made it to the swamp, fell into the mud and just laid there with my head in the mud until they went away.
“I’ve been stung before and it’s an experience I don’t ever want to go through again.”
An old piece of oak tree on Foyt’s property provided a breeding ground of the Africanized bees, which have migrated from South America over the decades.
The bee stings likely would have killed most people, but the bulky Foyt didn’t go down easily.
Foyt, who has a legendary appetite and often puts salt and pepper on cubes of butter at restaurants and eats them as an appetizer, was asked if he still ate honey after the bee episode.
“These bees don’t produce honey,” Foyt said. “If they had produced some honey that might have been a different story.”
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