Mayor reflects on near-fatal experience in 2011, and on his current health
© Telegram file photo
Mayor Dennis O'Keefe
St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe says 2011 taught him how quickly life can change.
On March 31, O'Keefe left city hall for the Health Sciences Centre for a routine test.
But during that test he collapsed, and for a few minutes his heart stopped. Luckily he was already in a hospital with a cardiologist nearby.
O'Keefe said he found out later how lucky he was. If he hadn't got medical help within three to five minutes he could have died or suffered serious brain damage.
"I now realize how precious life is and I now realize how quickly things can change," he recently told The Telegram in a year-end interview.
"Just in a second, your whole life can change."
O'Keefe said the experience left an indelible mark on him.
"I don't get upset over things as quickly as I used to and I don't carry them around as much as I used to," he said. "You make the best of your time and you realize that the valuable things in life are your life and your friends and your family."
He said the experience has shown him you can only do your best.
As mayor, O'Keefe often has long days at work, and it isn't always fun when tough decisions need to be made.
"Sometimes you'll get a nasty phone call (about) something that happened," he said.
In the past when that's happened O'Keefe said he would carry it around with him all day.
"It would kind of make me feel lousy. ... I'd really take it to heart, or dwell on it," he said.
"Now I don't do that because I know that when I make a decision, or if I change my mind on something, that I do it for what I consider to be the best reason, and that's all any of us can do," O'Keefe said.
Even though the mayor had a long recovery in front of him, he said he was checking in at city hall about a month after having heart bypass surgery and was basically back to work full time by early June.
"I came through that experience as well as I did because I was in good shape," he said.
O'Keefe is known as an avid walker, and can often be seen strolling down Topsail Road. He credits that exercise and the fresh air with helping him recover as quickly as he did.
"I kind of figure I'm better now than I've ever been in terms of health. In fact my doctor said to me a little while ago that I could be a poster child for good health," said O'Keefe.
Even though he's back to work and feeling well, The Telegram asked if the experience has led him to evaluate his political future.
O'Keefe said with municipal elections still a year and a half away he hasn't really given it too much thought.
"I enjoy very much what I'm doing. The city is moving along and progressing very well. The economy of the city is very robust," said the mayor.
If he's still feeling as healthy as he is now this time next year, O'Keefe said he thinks he'll be raring to go when election time rolls around.
"If you enjoy what you're doing it's not a job," he said.
City council has been a large part of O'Keefe's life for 14 years as a councillor, deputy mayor and now as the top dog at The Bunker.
While he was off work, he said it wasn't easy staying away.
But he also said he had faith in his fellow council members and the city staff.
"They're a terrific bunch of people and I had every confidence (in them,)" O'Keefe said. "I didn't have any worries because I knew the affairs of the city were going to carry on and the right decisions were going to be made ... whether I was here or not."