High-powered exec, TV personality urges men to take their health seriously,
Executive physical at Cleveland Clinic Florida “Probably saved my life”
At 46, Philip Simon had it all – the Bahamian dream come true. From humble beginnings to a Master’s degree in entrepreneurship and finance, Simon earned every rung of the ladder he climbed.
The former executive director of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce, the face of civic organization We the People, chairman of Junior Achievement Bahamas, the handsome host of Bahamas@Sunrise, and for the past three years, president of one of the most powerful development companies in The Bahamas, Simon was at the peak of a stellar career. On top of that, he is the husband of an amazing and beautiful wife of 20 years, and together the parents of three brilliant children, including a daughter who was voted the top primary school student in the country, another who just barely missed that top award this year, and a son seemingly set to do even greater things than his father.
Simon had it all and nearly lost it.
If it had not been for a brief mention of a recurring pain in his back near his side, there is no telling what might have happened.
“It was my first full executive physical and I hit a home run, didn’t I?” he said, still somewhat in awe and grateful that doctors at one of Florida’s premier health care facilities probed and found a large tumour on his kidney. Worst of all, it was pressing against two arteries.
“The doctors at Cleveland Clinic in Florida probably saved my life,” said Simon.
Simon first felt the pain in the side of his back almost a year before. Because he worked out on a regular basis, including tough cross fit style routines, and because he reported that the pain was sporadic, that it came and went at random, specialists in The Bahamas put it down to a muscle pull or strain.
When he met with a physician at Cleveland Clinic for the physical, he mentioned the pain, describing it as the size of a quarter. The examining physician stopped immediately, looked up and Simon could see an expression balanced between concern and calm control.
“Why don’t you go do an ultra-sound?” the doctor suggested. Within the first hour, Simon felt someone was really paying attention. He was whisked in, and ultra-sound complete, he left the facility at Weston and “I did what all Bahamians do in Florida. I went shopping.” He was at nearby Sawgrass Mills when the phone rang. “The assistant on the other end said, ‘We’ve got the results from your ultra-sound and we would just like you to do a CAT-scan to get more clarity.” Simon changed his return flight, received and followed the instructions from the Clinic to prepare for the morning test, underwent it and flew back to Nassau. He was still on the plane when he powered the phone back on upon landing and heard it ring. It was the doctor. “I’d like to talk to you about your scans,” he said. “I told him I had just landed and was back in The Bahamas.” He could hear the urgency in the doctor’s voice who clearly did not want to elaborate over the telephone. Simon promised to return as quickly as he could.
Fast forward to early the following week. Philip and Cherry Simon flew over and when he had completed the remainder of his physical that had been interrupted by the attention to the area of pain, he and Cherry found themselves face to face with Dr. Barbara Ercole, a world-renowned kidney specialist.
“She was terrific,” said Simon.
Over the next hour, she walked the Simons through images on the light box, presenting the pictures of a normal kidney and what his looked like with the mass on it. “You could see it clear as day, just sitting there like it belonged,” he said. The mass had to come out, but because of its size and where it was located laparoscopic surgery was not an effective option. They would have to open him up. “She spent an hour with us and explained so carefully, took us through everything from A to Z, as if she were teaching and my wife and I were the only two students in the class. Because the mass was pressing against two arteries, she explained the risk with laparoscopy was if the instrument touched or punctured an artery and you were just looking at it through a monitor you wouldn’t be in there to stop the hemorrhaging immediately.”
Philip and Cherry talked over the options – leave the mass as it was and pray it was not and would not become malignant, take out the entire kidney, or attempt to remove the mass and whatever part of the kidney that would have to come with it.
Simon also knew there would be post-operative restrictions that would alter his daily life and the active lifestyle he and the family enjoyed. He was told he would not be allowed to lift anything heavier than 10 pounds for the first eight to ten weeks and the only significant exercise he would be allowed to do would be to walk.
“There was this whirlwind of emotion. The results of my physical were excellent except for this one little big thing that could have actually killed me,” he said. “I was in denial. I worked out three times a week. I don’t smoke. I am the fit one, why is this happening to me?” And then he had to think about how to tell his children. In typical fashion, he steadied himself for it by being prepared – printed out healthy kidney images and a kidney with a mass on it. He found a YouTube video to show them. He sat them down and planned to spend as long as it would take to explain what was going on inside Daddy’s body.
But, like their Daddy, Philip Simon’s children are smart and within minutes they grasped the situation and set about monitoring it themselves with the eldest taking it upon herself to keep a folder with every picture, every report, every conversation she could record between the time Daddy was diagnosed, had his surgery and was home recovering two weeks later.
“The surgery was scheduled for May 4th. My oldest daughter was graduating from 12th grade and her sister from 6th grade, and I had to tell them Daddy might be gone for weeks.” The thought of a possible absence from their lives during their milestone moments and the uncertainty about what would happen to him drove Philip into a state that bordered on despair and fear, even if he did not show it.
The doctor was disinterested in Simon’s pity party and told him when she saw him next for surgery together they were going to fix what was wrong. “I need that fighter,” she said. Her confidence and determination along with his family gave him the reboot he needed.
On May 4, Philip Simon did have surgery, a partial nephrectomy, at Cleveland Clinic Florida. The surgery lasted four and a half hours. He had an epidural, IVs, drainage tubes, all the requisite equipment to help the body function. A day later, he was walking with the help of a walker.
The mass has gone along with half a kidney, but he is back at work, thankful every day for the love his wife showed, staying with him throughout the two weeks following surgery, and his mother, who spent one of those weeks with them and for his children who kept a diary of his medical trials and triumphs. But mostly, he is grateful to God and for the medical care he received.
“Cleveland Clinic was wonderful. They were with me every step of the way. I think they found almost all of the nicest people in the whole world and put them in one place at Cleveland Clinic.”
His counsel to others – do not ignore the pain. Even a random, recurring pain that seems more nuisance than dangerous can be life-threatening.
“Real men,” says Simon, “do get physicals. One saved my life. It could save yours too.”