EAGLE COUNTY — Like Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), rumors of fellow Missourian Michael Cacioppo’s death are greatly exaggerated.
“Rumors of his death were inaccurate, as are rumors of mine,” said the local political watchdog.
Cacioppo survived triple bypass surgery at Valley View Medical Center. Before that he survived a series of a dozen or so small heart attacks, but he was on vacation in Mexico so he was at least getting a tan.
He didn’t die of a heart attack before surgery because his body grew a new artery, to deliver blood and oxygen to his heart. His body knew it needed a new artery because five of his major arteries were blocked in nine places — 90 percent.
“I may have received the gift of another 20 years of life from God. To my political adversaries, I’m sorry about your bad luck.”
Doctors in Mexico then Valley View took a look at Cacioppo’s innards and answered several questions:
1. Yes, he has a heart
2. It’s broken and needs to be fixed
3. Doctors did not need a drill bit tipped with industrial diamonds to penetrate his heart.
4. His girlfriend did not break his heart, nor did his kids. He did that to himself.
But the most interesting thing they found was that he had grown a new artery.
It’s rare, but it happens, say scientists from the Yale School of Medicine and University College London, and Dr. Jerry Greenberg with The Cardiac Institute in Denver for 30 years.
The human body is a smart machine, Greenberg said. When a blockage forms slowly, it will create new channels from the area that’s blocked to create a new blood supply.
“That is one of the protective mechanisms the body has developed through evolution,” Greenberg said.
That’s what it does, but no one knows why and researchers are investing careers into trying to figure that out.
The body sends out messages, directing new avenues to be created. It is not an uncommon phenomenon, Greenberg said.
“Body parts can regenerate,” Greenberg explained. “It’s an attempt to heal up damaged areas.”
Those Yale and University of London scientists published their study last month, about the time Cacioppo was having lots of small heart attacks in Mexico.
Dr. Michael Simons, professor of medicine and cell biology, and director of the cardiovascular research center at Yale School of Medicine, helped lead that study,
Mostly, arteries form before we’re born, but can also form in adults when organs become deprived of oxygen — for example, after a heart attack or when arteries become blocked.
When organs become starved for oxygen and blood, they send a molecular signal to a signaling center inside blood vessel walls. Those blood vessels begin to create new pathways to transport blood and oxygen past the blockages and to the organs.
In Cacioppo’s case, a new artery grew from behind a blockage to his heart, and yes, the x-rays prove that he has one.
“A lot of people think ‘woe is me.’ I don’t feel that way at all,” Cacioppo said. “I feel like I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I have two fantastic kids, a girlfriend who agreed to come and stay with me for six weeks, and because God grew another artery, that kept me alive for two months.”
His fate was a matter to be decided well above his pay grade, said the former military policeman.
“I was never anxious about death. As a Christian I entrust my soul to God and I believe God. I believe God wants me alive a little longer,” he said.
His Business Briefs newspaper will return June 26, he said.
All about Michael
On May 21, Cacioppo survived a triple bypass operation of five arteries with nine blockages – 90 percent – leading to his heart.
Cacioppo is best known for holding local governments accountable. He was a hero to those who agreed with him, and a thorn in the side of public officials.
Cacioppo was born July 4, 1951, in Kansas City, Mo., and graduated the William Allen White School of Journalism graduate from the University of Kansas in 1974.
He often joked that he was the first student to ever graduate from “social promotion,” because his teachers and professors wanted him to graduate and not return to their classes.
He enlisted and served as a military policemen in the Kansas National Guard from 1970-73, and was a Naval Air Reserve from 1974-75. He served at Buckley Air Field in Denver from 1975-76.
Cacioppo moved to Vail on Oct. 7, 1975, where he began his career as the advertising manager for the now defunct Vail Trail newspaper, then Colorado’s largest weekly paper.
Around 1976 he launched his own business Vail’s first entertainment booking agency, Vail Entertainment Booking. He successfully ran the agency for 10 years, turning it over to the first of his two ex-wives.
He helped change Vail’s town charter in the 1970s, which enabled Vail voters to petition their government by initiating Charter Amendments or laws. He was spokesman for a group of local citizens who won three of four amendment changes. The fourth change would have allowed to speak as long as they like at public meetings, a change even Cacioppo refused to support.
In the late 1970s, Cacioppo became Vail’s Father of Public Access Television. He threatened a lawsuit against the Vail town council for refusing to enforce their cable television contract with the local cable provider. He also produced one of its first regular programs, “Speakout!”
If you hosted a party of event in the 1970s and 80s, chances are you hired Captain Video for the audio and video work. Cacioppo launched the first independent company of that kind in Vail.
Cacioppo has sued all kinds of governments over the years, always acting as his own attorney. He was the first to beat the Colorado State Patrol in a jury trial for an alleged speeding ticket determined by aircraft.
He sued the town of Vail several times, winning some and losing some.
He sued the Eagle County school district three times, winning twice. In one, he lost a $10,000 contract when he sued the school district after he caught the school board in what turned out to be an illegal secret meeting. He sued anyway.
The school district spent $260,000 in legal costs in those three lawsuits.
Cacioppo reinvented Speakout as a newspaper, hosted Eagle County’s first morning political talk radio program, was elected to the Vail town council, moved to Playa del Carmen, and worked 90 days in the Kansas City auto business to chase his life-long dream of writing a tell-all book about it. He says his friends thought he was crazy, but in those 90 days he finished his last month in second place in sales of both new and used cars among a sales staff of 16.
These days he’s working on another book, “You Can Beat City Hall and you Must!” and produces the Business Briefs newspaper.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.