Growing up, George Zeber never thought much about the condition of his
heart. Active and athletic, he enjoyed skiing, surfing and other sports
favored by residents of Southern California.
Zeber, now a 67-year-old Tustin resident, was more than a natural athlete.
He was a gifted baseball player—gifted enough to be drafted by the
New York Yankees in the 1968 amateur draft. But service to his country
came first. After serving in Vietnam, Zeber played second base, shortstop,
and third base for the Yankees in 1977 and 1978, helping the team win
back-to-back World Series.
When Zeber was around 40, he started a health habit that would pay big
dividends: he began scheduling regular medical exams with
Warren Johnston, MD, a cardiologist at
St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group. Dr. Johnston was his neighbor and the men’s children played together.
“I started getting checkups from Dr. Johnston—stress tests,
the treadmill—because I just thought it would be a good idea,”
he said. “It turns out I was right. I wish I had started sooner.”
Zeber was 46 when he started having what seemed like nagging heartburn.
He went to Dr. Johnston, who ran a few tests. Zeber was shocked by the
findings: he had suffered a heart attack and a large part of his heart
was damaged. “As a former pro athlete who had always been healthy,
having a heart attack at a fairly young age really got my attention,”
Zeber said. “Dr. Johnston placed two stents in my arteries, and
I was put on physical restrictions. I started educating myself about heart
disease after that.”
(From L to R): Dr. Warren Johnston, Dr. Christian Lising, Dr. James DeCock,
George Zeber and Jack Southwood are honored for supporting Men's Health
Month before the Angels game, June 15, 2015.
But Zeber points out people shouldn’t wait for a health crisis before
getting simple, life-saving tests. Zeber’s sister died in 2010 from
an aortic aneurysm, a highly dangerous swelling of the blood vessels that
can be fatal if it ruptures. “Dr. Johnston told me that the risk
of aortic aneurysm can be inherited, and urged me to get an angiogram
screening. Sure enough, I had a large aneurysm too, in the same spot as
my sister,” he said. Zeber had heart surgery to replace parts of
his aorta and aortic valve. He credits that screening with saving his life.
“The loss of my sister really taught me about the importance of knowing
your family medical history and the importance of getting regular screenings.
You can look great on the outside, but be falling apart on the inside
if you’re genetically predisposed to heart disease,” he said.
“I was fortunate, because I was able to withstand a heart attack
and heart valve surgery, but if I hadn’t gone for regular examinations
and established a thorough patient history with my doctor, things could
have gone a lot worse.”
Zeber’s family learned from the experience; his relatives all have
regular checkups. “Everybody who has my blood has gotten tested,”
Zeber said. George’s son, Ryan, also a gifted athlete, and former
minor league baseball player, started angiogram screenings when he was 25.
Ryan sees Dr. Johnston regularly, out of concern for his health and because
he is near the age his father was when his heart disease was discovered.
“He doesn’t have any symptoms but getting checked is so simple
and so important that everyone in my family believes in getting it done,”
Outward appearances don’t tell the whole story, Zeber said.
“It doesn’t matter what age you are or what shape you think
you are in,” Zeber said. “The checkups and screenings that
can save your life are easy, and I’m living proof they’re
Fore more information about St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group,
click here. For more information about Dr. Johnston,