Farmington Hills resident, ‘Dean of Detroit Radio’, shares health crisis story

“Dean of Detroit Radio” Kevin O’Neill, 66, — DJ on 96.3 FM WDVD, crew member of “The Mitch Albom Show” on 760 AM WJR, and a Farmington Hills resident — works out four times a week at his favorite gym to boost his stamina, so he can be entertaining on the air. 

He hasn’t always been this health conscious, though. Eleven years ago O’Neill had open-heart surgery at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak because of dangerous blockages in his heart.

Kevin O'Neill
Kevin O’Neill (Beaumont Health)

Sedentary job and lifestyle

In January 2007, O’Neill resolved to improve his health by dieting and exercising. He dropped 25 pounds and felt good. In June of that year though, his long-term sedentary lifestyle caught up with him when he started feeling dizzy and vomited. He thought he was having a stroke and struggled to get to the phone to call 911.

Paramedics came to O’Neill’s home, strapped him to a stretcher, and brought him to the Emergency Center at Beaumont, Royal Oak. Interventional cardiologist Steven Timmis, M.D., performed an emergency heart catheterization.

“Dr. Timmis explained the blockages he found in my coronary arteries,” O’Neill said. “One was almost 100 percent clogged, another was 80 percent.”

Timmis said O’Neill “is one of the lucky ones. He was smart to take his symptoms seriously; otherwise, he could have died from a heart attack. I admitted him for observation over the weekend and scheduled him for bypass surgery on Monday morning with cardiac surgeon Frank Shannon, M.D.”

Shannon redirected blood around sections of blocked and partially blocked arteries in Kevin’s heart to improve blood flow. The procedure involved taking healthy blood vessels from O’Neill’s leg and connecting them beyond the blocked arteries in his heart.

Surgery did not cure his heart disease, but it improved O’Neill’s heart function and reduced his risk of dying of heart disease. After recuperating, O’Neill was prescribed a 12-week course of cardiac rehabilitation that included exercise therapy, heart disease risk factor modification and heart-healthy nutrition counseling.

Round tripping Royal Oak three times a week would be difficult for O’Neill, so Timmons suggested he attend Cardiac Rehab at Beaumont Hospital, Farmington Hills, which is four miles from O’Neill’s home.

Building stronger hearts and lasting friendships

The Cardiac Rehab staff took O’Neill under their wing.

“It took no time at all to discover how caring and motivating the staff is,” he said. “When my 12-week program was up, I didn’t want to leave.”

So, he stayed on, and on and on. For the past 11 years, O’Neill has paid out of pocket every month to continuously attend cardiac rehab.

Fellow patients and the staff are always entertained by O’Neill, Beth Crocker, RN, said.  “He sings funny parody songs, does these amazing voice characters and is a walking encyclopedia of popular music.”

Being there for 11 years has moved these relationships beyond mere acquaintance. O’Neill has lasting friendships with staff and fellow patients who exercise on the same schedule. They enjoy each other’s company, tell jokes, attend each other’s family celebrations and look out for each other.

“I’m never leaving cardiac rehab,” O’Neill said half-jokingly.

Ask anyone in the Metro Detroit radio community: they would tell you O’Neill radiates ease and professionalism on the air. “My Beaumont heart and vascular team takes care of me in that same awesome way. Except they saved my life, and I merely talk for a living,” he said.