Neil Cavuto Details His Grueling Recovery From Open-Heart Surgery: ‘This Was a Bitch’ (Exclusive)

“I didn’t think I would be able to return,” the host of “Coast to Coast” tells TheWrap

Neil Cavuto Fox News
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Neil Cavuto hosts three shows between Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network, and is also the senior vice president and managing editor of business news for both. The man wears a lot of hats, but for a moment this summer he thought he would have to relinquish them all.

“I didn’t think I would be able to return, especially when new complications would arise,” Cavuto told TheWrap.

He was talking about complications associated with the “widow maker” diagnosis he received last spring that, combined with multiple sclerosis and a cancer in remission, completed a dreaded “hat trick” that nearly ended his distinguished career.

Initially the veteran broadcaster had chest pains, fatigue and trouble breathing, but assumed it was his multiple sclerosis advancing. A routine stress test revealed he needed bypass surgery.

“I had low cholesterol if you can believe it, because my food pyramid consists of Italian sausage and cannolis,” Cavuto joked. “As I was doing the stress test, I noticed all these guys in white lab coats descending on me. I though, ‘This is weird.’”

The doctors flagged something and checked Cavuto into the hospital immediately. In fact, doctors wanted to perform the bypass the very same day, delaying the procedure only when it became apparent how sick Cavuto actually was.

“You can go at any minute,” Cavuto said as he snapped his fingers for effect. “It was a scary time.”

Cavuto was diagnosed with the “widow maker,” which is a scary way of describing complete closure of the left anterior descending (LAD) coronary artery. Having beaten cancer and endured multiple sclerosis, he’s no stranger to health issues, but recovery from open-heart surgery was a months-long ordeal he wasn’t prepared for.

“This was the most pain I’ve ever felt. I’ve developed a pretty high threshold for pain. Before I had cancer, I was a wuss with needles. Once you have chemo you get over the needle thing. With the M.S., I got used to constant fatigue, but this, this was a bitch,” Cavuto said.

“Once they rip your chest open, stop your heart and have you on a machine for four hours as they’re operating on you … you come out of that just writhing in pain.”

Cavuto calls having cancer, M.S. and open-heart surgery the “hat trick,” and said doctors don’t believe the illnesses are related. However, radiation that he received during treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma years ago could have contributed to his heart issues.

“I must have been a stormtrooper for the Nazis in a prior life,” Cavuto joked.

The medical “hat trick” would be enough to prompt a pity party for most people, and Cavuto was no exception. He admits to initially acting like a “baby” each time he’s diagnosed with a new illness.

“I started being angry, I started out being a whiny, self-absorbed idiot,” Cavuto said before joking that his wife got the short end of the stick when it comes to the health and sickness portion of their marriage vows.

With her support, Cavuto resolved to put all of his energy into beating the illness and making sure the “widow maker” didn’t claim another victim. Cavuto’s surgery was a success, but forced him off the air from May 31 to Sept. 6, costing him three months of work and two presidential conventions.

“It was very tough for me to be out during this election year,” he said. “It was the first time in 20 years I wasn’t covering the conventions … [Doctors] told me I would have complications, but I did come back sooner than they wanted.”

Not without first experiencing complications, however, including a bout with pneumonia, fluid buildup in his lungs and suspension of his M.S. meds. But Cavuto returned to air on Sept. 6 and set his alarm 20 minutes earlier than usual because he admittedly moves a little slower these days.

A few things also changed at Fox News while Cavuto was away.

The network’s now-former chairman and CEO Roger Ailes resigned in disgrace after ex-host Gretchen Carlson accused him of sexual harassment and several other women came forward with similar allegations.

“I had just gotten out of the hospital when all the [Ailes] stuff was hitting and I thought it was a side effect of the medication. I couldn’t believe it. I think it gave me heart palpitations,” Cavuto said. “People have told me it was a good thing you were [out] at the time.”

When Cavuto returned to air last Tuesday, he had two new bosses; longtime Fox executives Jack Abernethy and Bill Shine were named co-presidents of the network.

“Talk about a good way to provide stability. You’re always concerned when there is a management upheaval that we might lose our DNA. Their selection and the fact that it was important enough to Rupert [Murdoch] to move into Roger’s office to show that stability and how important this place was … that was very reassuring,” Cavuto said.

Cavuto received thousands of letters and emails while he was recovering, calling illness “a great uniter.”

“I was getting emails from liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, the rich and the not-so-rich. We’re all joined at the hip in that human condition.”

In his first week back, Cavuto posted record weekly ratings for his midday show, “Cavuto: Coast to Coast.” It was the highest-rated week ever for the program, averaging 170,000 viewers and 21,000 viewers in the key demo of adults age 25-54, up double digits in both categories.

“I did have a Sally Field moment there: ‘They like me, they really like me,’” Cavuto joked.