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Life After a Heart Attack : Former Steroid User Aims for a Comeback in Football

September 10, 1987|STEVE KRESAL | Times Staff Writer

Tim Gibbons is trying to put sports in proper perspective these days.

He is the first to admit that he lost sight of what was important in life, but it took a heart attack to teach him.

Gibbons, a 1984 graduate of Righetti High School in Santa Maria, got into body building in the Fullerton area after high school. And for more than 2 1/2 years, he took anabolic steroids, a synthetic derivative of the male hormone testosterone that stimulates the buildup of muscle mass tissue and protein in the body.

Such steroids are illegal without a doctor's prescription, yet Gibbons said he could get them by just being around a gym.

But on Jan. 1 of this year, he suffered a mild heart attack at age 21.

"There was only small damage to his heart and there was not blockage of his arteries," said Aloysius Choe, Gibbons' doctor. "It is not really clear as to what caused his heart attack, but then you have to go back to what he was doing with the taking of anabolic steroids and consider that."

Serious, long-term side effects from steroid use include heart disease, liver and prostate tumors, kidney disorders and stunting of growth, according to the "Physician's Desk Reference," a doctor's guide to pharmacology.

Now, when Gibbons talks about steroid use and his mild heart attack, there is a quiet, distant tone in his voice, which drifts off to near silence in mid-sentence at times.

"I ignored the heart pains for months," Gibbons said. "I knew for a fact that sooner or later I was going to die, but it seemed like I didn't care. I just wanted to win. I wanted to be one of the best. I wanted to be big and would do it at all costs.

"I really didn't want to die; that's just the way I felt. I don't think anyone really wants to die, but I was willing to take the chance and hope I could survive."

Now, nearly nine months later, Gibbons is trying to make a comeback in sports--this time as a football player at Orange Coast College.

Gibbons, who was an all-Northern League running back in high school as a junior and senior, has been cleared by Choe to play. Gibbons will be able to practice as soon as a letter written by Choe has been received by the OCC team doctor.

Choe said he sent the letter Tuesday.

After Gibbons left high school in 1984, he moved to Fullerton to live with his best friend, Ron McLean, a former Cal State Fullerton defensive lineman who was drafted by the New York Jets in the ninth round this year but was cut last week. Gibbons refers to him as his brother.

Gibbons then went to work in a gym and became more interested in body building than football. He gradually started to take body building more seriously and began to enter a few contests, but didn't have any real success.

He already had had some experience with steroids before going to Fullerton. He took Dianabol in high school but only toward the end of his senior year.

Dianabol was the first synthetic steroid but is no longer available by prescription in the United States. It's considered a strong steroid that helps increase aggressiveness.

"It was just an experiment at first, and I had no idea of what was going to happen," Gibbons said. "I saw a lot of water retention at first, but not much more."

Once he started to work out seriously, his steroid intake increased.

From to 1984 to 1986, Gibbons, who is 6-feet 1-inch, had increased his body weight from 220 to 280 pounds. He had improved his bench press from 315 pounds to 500 pounds. He was taking STH during the months leading up to his heart attack.

STH is a growth hormone released by the pituitary gland. It causes growth in body tissues and makes bones thicker. The drug was banned by the federal government in 1985.

"It's just like being a race-car driver," Gibbons said. "If he is going to race, he has to have the best motors and the best cars or he can't compete with the others. So what's he going to do? . . . He's going to buy the best to be the best.

"It's like that in body building. You have to take the best drugs and the most drugs to get on top of everybody else. If you don't, they are going to do it to you. You see gains and you think, 'Well, if I shoot myself with twice as much, then I'm going to see twice as much muscle.'

"I'm sorry to say that's the way these people think and that's the trap I fell into. I wanted to be the best."

Gibbons was getting ready for the Mr. Orange County contest when he suffered the heart attack.

He had completed a night workout and was asleep at about 2:30 a.m. when he finally decided the pain in his chest was too great to ignore any longer. Gibbons, who was home alone, drove himself to St. Jude Hospital in Fullerton.

After some tests, he was put into intensive care, where he stayed for six days. Then Choe performed a heart angiogram--in which a probe is put into the main artery to check the heart for damage--on Gibbons.

"He was very lucky to have so little damage," Choe said. "His arteries were still clear."

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