Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

Townspeople

September 5, 2013

Side by side; Local man credits his pal Cocoa for heart health

Local man credits his pal Cocoa for heart health

Harvey Harrison calls his dog, Cocoa, his lifesaver.

The 72-year-old, Hall of Fame tennis player said if the pug-chihuahua mix hadn’t come into his life three years ago, he’s not quite sure he’d still be around to enjoy it.

Harrison credits his daily, 25-minute walks with Cocoa as the key to helping him eliminate his chronic problems with chest pain known as angina, which used to haunt him months after each of his heart surgeries. And he’s had plenty.

Since his 40s, Harrison has undergone 24 heart procedures, including triple bypass surgery.

“I call it plumbing problems inside me,” the engineer and inventor who lives on Standish Circle said. “I like to fix things and this time I couldn’t.”

Even though heart disease runs in his family — his father died at 26 while his mother had angina at 30, Harrison, who went to George Washington University on a tennis scholarship, said he was “absolutely shocked” when the pain from what felt like a brick on his chest brought him to the doctor’s office for the first time in 1985.

He had triple bypass surgery within three days. He was just 43 years old.

“I remember looking at a clock in my hospital room and every second was so slow. ... I thought, ‘I don’t have time for this.’ ... I mean, I was 43, working and a father with three kids ...., he said. “Ah ... real life was happening.”

And so, his heart saga officially began. He’s got 13 stents now, put in over the course of eight surgeries.

Three years ago, one of his best prescriptions for health came into his life. And he has his wife, Janis Baron, who runs the popular Kaleidoscope summer program in town, to thank for it.

“I didn’t really want a dog. Janis had just lost her mother and I thought the dog would be good for her,” Harrison said of Cocoa, who they adopted when he was a puppy.

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