On perhaps the last night of his life, Brian Curin was told he needed to get some rest for the big day ahead. If he couldn’t drift off to sleep on his own, a nurse would be back soon with medicine to help speed the process.
Brian, however, had something he needed to do. So when the nurse returned, he pretended to be asleep. Once she left, he pulled out his laptop, launched the built-in video camera and clicked record.
The 38-year-old entrepreneur looked into the lens and spoke as if looking at the women in his life: the wife and three daughters he’d been cuddling with just an hour before. He told them “things you should say every day,” like how much he loved them and his hopes and dreams for their future. Emotions started to overwhelm him several times, but he somehow remain composed.
After about eight minutes, he stopped the recording and clicked save. The program asked for a file name. He typed, “My Life,” closed the machine and eventually got a little bit of sleep.
In the morning – shortly before being wheeled to a risky quadruple-bypass operation – Curin called his younger sister and asked a favor. If he didn’t survive, please make sure his wife and girls got the video.
Curin’s condition didn’t make sense. Him?
The lifelong swimmer? The motocross racer? The guy always on a board in the water or zooming across land on wheels? The non-smoker who always ate healthy?
Sure, his mom had stents put into her heart, her sister had a quadruple bypass and their mom had heart problems before dying of heart failure. But those women all had different eating habits, weren’t active and smoked at some point in their lives. Plus, all were in their 60s when those problems began.
That’s why he had such a cavalier attitude when his body started sending signs of trouble after starting a new workout program. Still, just to be safe, he went for a check-up. Initial tests showed no problems. A stress test did.
“Do you have any travel coming up?” the technician said. “If so, you should cancel it.”
The next morning he was to have an angiogram, a procedure in which a thin tube is placed into an artery and up into the heart. Special fluid is injected, allowing an X-ray to show what’s happening inside the blood vessels of the heart. Curin was so sure it would prove his good health that he sent his wife off to school while he drove to the hospital dressed for recess: a pair of flip flops, shorts, a T-shirt and a ballcap.
As the procedure began, a nurse asked if this was his first angiogram.
“Yeah,” he said. “Is it yours?”
The jovial mood ended once the X-ray showed the fluid trying to get through his heart. Curin saw fear in the faces of everyone looking at the screen.
They were staring at the kind of blockages found during autopsies.
His main artery was fully blocked. Three others almost were. If Curin wasn’t so young and so fit, he’d already be dead.
He needed a quadruple bypass. Yet his body had to first recover from the angiogram, and that would take about a week. An excruciating, frightening week.
“The first two days,” he said, “I was afraid to blink.”
Caregivers in the cardiac ward had never seen someone so healthy outside and so ill inside.
He expected more comfort from his surgeon. Knowing that this skilled doctor had performed hundreds of bypasses, Curin essentially asked her to say how easy the operation would be.“They’d come in to see me and there’d be shock in their face,” he said.
“Is it routine? Sure,” the surgeon said. “But yours isn’t routine, Brian. We don’t get a lot of young, healthy guys with three beautiful girls and a family they need to be around for. That’s why we’re doing it on a teaching day with 20 people around. We’re going to take as much time as we need.”
They did. And all went according to plan.
Everyone who knew Curin processed the news in waves.
First, they had to grasp that their vibrant pal had been cheating death and was still fighting for his life.
Next, they feared for their own lives. If Brian Curin’s heart was a mess, what did that mean for them? That’s how his condition became a call to action.
One pal rode his bicycle to the hospital. Another buddy began riding his bike to work. Curin’s brother-in-law joined a gym and started working out regularly. Other friends went for check-ups, some getting prescriptions to battle conditions they didn’t know about, some getting reassuring clean bills of health.
“Dude, if this can happen to you, it should happen to me,” a friend wrote. “You took the bullet for us.”
This is a good time to note just how many people know Curin.
He’s a visionary and innovative business leader who has founded, led and transformed several Inc. 500 companies. He’s built some of the most notable brands including Cold Stone Creamery, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Planet Smoothie, OfficeZilla and Joe’s Jeans … but his passion lies with his latest venture, co-founding and being president of Flip Flop Shops, North America’s authentic retail chain exclusively dedicated to flip flops and casual footwear.
At every company, Curin partnered with a charity, something he believes every company should do. It just so happened that he was trying to find the right partnership for the Flip Flop Shops when his heart problems were discovered. So it only made sense that he and his company began working with the American Heart Association, the nation’s oldest and largest cardiovascular health organization that focuses on conditions like his. He’s become a member of the Consumer Health & Quality Coordinating Committee and just accepted to also serve as a liaison from this Committee to the Volunteer Oversight Group.
“My No. 1 message is listen to your body,” he said. “Heart disease is scary … If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. So get all your tests done. You just never know.”
Curin believes the chronic stress from his career was an underlying cause in his problems, and he’s fascinated by upcoming research in that area. The opposite of too much stress is chronic happiness, and he’s exploring that subject on his own.
“I don’t go a day without laughing,” he said. “I’m also a big believer in simplicity. Take breaks. Stop for five minutes, put your phone down and go feel the sun on your face. … Little things don’t bug me anymore. I have a whole different outlook on life, and it’s a good one.”
Flip Flop Shops has declared June as Stress-Free America month, and is urging companies to sign an online pledge to hold “Flip Flop Fridays” at their workplace in June. Employees are asked to donate $5 each day they participate (with a $5 merchandise credit to the stores as a reward), and companies are encouraged to match the donation.
“I’m surfing, stand up paddle boarding, doing the elliptical every night,” he said. “I don’t feel any limitations.”
Because of his already model lifestyle, his doctor didn’t recommend any changes.
“It would’ve been easier if you were fat and a cigarette smoker,” his cardiologist said, laughing. “What can I tell you to do?”
There are differences, though.
The most noticeable are the fleshy zigzags on his arms, legs, chest and stomach. They mark where the surgeon harvested fresh arteries and veins to place into his heart, even if he tells people they were caused by a shark bite (unless he gives them the tale about an alligator getting him in Florida).
Then there are the reminders that can’t be seen, but felt.
“My chest is wired up, so every day it still hurts,” he said. “After a meal, you stand up and your chest doesn’t want to stretch. Even hugging people – they give you a big hug and in the spots where the wires are, it still hurts. There’s also a numbness in some spots.”
There’s also another new thing. A tradition.
It started last Sept. 22, the one-year anniversary of his operation. He plans to do it again this Sept. 22, and every one that follows.
It involves watching a certain 8-minute video on his computer.
“Last year, I watched it by myself with a lump in my throat,” he said. “I watched it to remind myself of how things can go away very quickly. It helps me refocus, reset.”
After his first viewing, Brian Curin did a very Brian Curin-like thing – the Grouse Grind, a 1.8-mile hike up a 2,800-foot mountain, a challenge he’d never tried, but one that he’d set as a goal for his first year post-quadruple bypass.
“It’s called the Grind for a reason; you’re not supposed to enjoy it,” he said.
Images courtesy of Brian Curin