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San Diego comedian turns heart attack into a punchline

Scripps Health patient, Mark Whitney, wants people to laugh and learn about his widow maker heart attack.

SAN DIEGO — February is American Heart Month and a San Diego heart attack victim is sharing a near-death experience that he wants people to laugh about. In this Zevely Zone, I visited Scripps Health where a comedian has a lifesaving message that's no joke. 

"November 9th was National Fried Chicken Sandwich Day, I died from a heart attack on National Fried Chicken Sandwich Day, that's when I knew the universe was winking at me," said Mark Whitney.

The Sorrento Valley resident who has appeared in comedy clubs across the country over the past 20 years never imagined that a widow maker heart attack and sudden brush with death would breathe new life into his career. But that's just what happened after he landed in the trauma unit at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla three months ago. 

Mark is sharing some fresh humor-laced material inspired by his near-death experience.

Credit: Mark Whitney

"I called 911 and she says to me what seems to be the problem and I said what seems to be the problem? I said it seems to me I'm dying but I'm no doctor," said Mark. 

If laughter really is the best medicine, Scripps Health found the perfect patient. I asked Scripps Clinic cardiologist Chris Suhar if he has ever had a patient like Mark? "Ha, that's a loaded question," said Dr. Suhar who told the 63-year-old funny man in November that he probably suffered the episode because of a bad diet. 

"Why can't you tell a lie to a cardiologist? He goes I don't know why? I said a cardiologist can detect A-fib, ha, ha, ha," said Dr. Suhar with a joke of his own. 

What's not a laughing matter? Heart disease kills 5,000 San Diego County residents a year. "It's heart awareness month and I think people need to realize that they play a big role in saving their own life," said Dr. Suhar.

Credit: CBS 8

"I was dead as your third-grade grandmother," said Mark. His new comedy act already includes a bit about when the Scripps Health medical staff brought him back to life. "I looked up and there were 12 sets of eyes looking down on me and just to prove being a comic is like is in my DNA I said how many of you are here for the first time? Ha, ha," laughed Mark. 

The first line of his second life got a laugh. "I'm thinking this is going to make a great five minutes," said Mark who told me he's never been drunk, never smoked a cigarette and never used drugs. I asked him how he thinks he suffered the widow maker heart attack. "Thousands and thousands of bad decisions," he said with no smile this time. Mark now jokes about what he calls the death diet. "Sugar, salt, saturated fat," he told me. "I have completely changed how I do business."

Credit: Mark Whitney

A total block in his artery led to a change of heart and diet. "Grass and leaves and sticks that's it and occasionally some dirt now and then, yeah wash it down with water that's it, that is my diet," said Mark. Leave it to stand-up comic to turn a near death experience into a lifesaving punchline. "If you have crushing pain in your chest and cold sweat call 911 and tell them to come and get you," said Mark.

Mark and his wife have been married for forty-one years. They have two sons. He wants to thank Scripps Health professionals for saving his life.

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