Larry’s story: Unbreakable spirit in the face of adversity

Heart Health

by Baylor Scott & White Health

Apr 15, 2024

Lawrence “Larry” Gambone’s life has been defined by resilience.

With the odds stacked against him, Larry's positive mindset, energy and remarkable will to survive have allowed him to overcome health issues that could have stopped him in his tracks.

Now 75, Larry's first major health scare came in his early 40s. And in the years since, Larry’s fighting spirit never wavered.

The beginning of a heart journey

Three decades ago, prompt medical intervention saved Larry’s life after he experienced a heart attack  — a health event his own father had passed away from at age 35.

“My doctor sent me to a cardiologist who immediately put me in the hospital for bypass surgery,” Larry said. “He told me that only one person in a million could have survived that heart attack.”

A rare quintuple bypass surgery saved Larry’s life. But that didn’t slow him down for long. His determination to stay healthy and active led him back to his energetic lifestyle.

“I believe that the reason I survived is because I was in good physical shape,” he said. “I have never smoked, I certainly wasn’t overweight, and I was running and biking all the time. I kept myself physically fit.”

Larry then experienced a second heart attack in 2004 while playing soccer with friends. This event added further damage to his heart and resulted in three stents placed inside of his clogged arteries to improve blood flow to his heart. But, after a brief recuperation, Larry was back to his normal routine of running and biking each day.

Later surgeries implanted six additional stents in his heart, and he received a diagnosis of mitral valve regurgitation—a condition where the mitral valve in the heart doesn't close all the way.

“I’ve never considered myself a victim,” Larry said. “I’ve never felt sorry for myself. I’ve never wanted anyone to pity me and feel bad for me. I just keep going.”

An unexpected turn of events

Larry’s journey took an unexpected turn during a vacation in Hawaii in 2018 when he suffered another heart-related incident while snorkeling. Lifeguards found him floating lifelessly in the ocean. When they got him to shore, his heart wasn’t beating and his lungs were filled with saltwater.

Skilled emergency medical professionals were able to resuscitate him and get him immediately to a nearby medical center.

“My poor wife didn’t know what happened,” Larry said. “I’m a big snorkeler and I’m often in the water all day, so she wasn’t concerned. But when they were closing the park, she went to the lifeguard to find me. That’s when she found out I had been taken to a hospital.”

Larry’s wife traveled to the hospital, where she located Larry, who was in a coma. He remained in that coma for three days before he woke up to make a miraculous recovery.

Larry Gambone playing guitar 

More health challenges to face 

Larry’s health challenges didn’t end there. Following his return to Texas, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. And following several procedures, his medical team decided to perform a colon resection.

Then there are what Larry calls the “minor” events: surgeries for kidney stones, a herniated disc in his back and a diagnosis of Trigeminal Neuralgia, a condition affecting the trigeminal nerve in his face.

Refusing to let his health issues define him, Larry maintains a positive outlook. Though he no longer runs, he does walk miles each day and approaches life with youthful energy. He has been under the care of Vijay Divakaran, MD, a cardiologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Round Rock, for the past 15 years.

“I always joke that I’m the healthiest sick person you’re ever going to meet,” Larry said. “I have a pacemaker, a defibrillator implanted in my chest and a valve that doesn’t close properly. But I don’t let that stop me. I'm not in pain, and I’m thankful for that.”

A message of strength and resilience

Larry's story serves as a beacon of hope for others facing similar struggles.

“You have to face adversity head-on,” he said. “Life will knock you down again and again. But with resilience and a positive attitude, you can always get back up. Then, anything is possible.”

How’s your heart doing? Take this quiz and find out if you’re at risk for heart disease.

Better tools make it easier

We all have different healthcare needs. Handle them your way with the MyBSWHealth app. Download the app today and take a hands-on approach to your healthcare.

Text Better to 88408