New York City

‘Should Have Died': NYC WWE Wrestler Given a Fighting Chance After Silent Heart Attack

81-year-old NYC WWE wrestler John Rodriguez, or the "Unpredictable" Johnny Rodz, suffered a silent heart attack, leaving him at a 15% heart function.

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New York City pro-wrestler John Rodriguez has fought the greats like Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper, but his latest opponent caught him off-guard fighting for his life outside the arena.

Nicknamed "The Unpredictable," John Rodriguez was faced with an unforeseen circumstance regarding his heart that almost knocked him out. Throughout a nearly 40-year career, Rodriguez has traveled around the world and was inducted into the Hall of Fame for the World Wrestling Federation (WWE) in 1996.

Also known as Johnny Rodz, the 81-year-old first emigrated from Puerto Rico at the age of 12 and currently resides in Staten Island with his family.

After retiring in the mid-1980s, this lifelong athlete continues to spend his time in the ring at the renowned Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. He is noted for training the next generation of wrestlers like Cowboy Bad Billy Walker, Damien Demento, D-von Dudley, Tazz and Tommy Dreamer.

The former heavyweight champ was unstoppable until late 2021. At the time, Rodriguez was visiting an Ohio rest stop during a family road trip when, without warning, he found himself gasping for air.

"All of a sudden, I got this feeling about breathing that - wow - I could not breathe," Rodriguez told NBC New York.

He knew to prop himself up as best as he could before promptly beginning quick, repeated breathing exercises for ten minutes before returning to the car.

Unknown to him, the longtime competitor was suffering from silent ischemia, a lack of adequate and oxygenated blood flowing to the heart. That episode was just one example of the events to follow with his stamina slowly depleting.

“The Unpredictable” Johnny Rodz

A silent heart attack with class four congestive heart failure had Rodriguez on the ropes with a heart function at a mere 15%. In comparison, a normal heart function should be at least 50% with anything falling below 40% hinting as a sign of heart failure, according to Penn Medicine.

In the United States, over 805,000 heart attacks occur each year with 170,000 of those being silent, according to the American Heart Association. These unrecognizable attacks are more common in women and diabetics with certain ranging symptoms like indigestion, fatigue, and strain in the chest muscles.

"The fact that he was an athlete and had done so much physical work in his life, gave him a bit of an advantage, at least in some part. But he had a history of high blood pressure and history of diabetes. He was an ex-smoker," Dr. Rohit Shahani, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Staten Island University Hospital, said to News 4.

Rodriguez's heart disease was too far gone for additional coronary stents, tube-shaped devices used to open arteries. Besides surgery risk factors and old age, he decided to take a chance with Dr. Shahani, who performed the triple bypass surgery on a heart-lung machine.

"You stop the heart and you bypass the blockages. You've got blocked pipes, which bring blood to your heart by coronary arteries. We bring new blood supply, fancy plumbing," explained Dr. Shahani.

The Unpredictable made an incredible recovery doubling his heart function and still working at his corner office at Gleason's Gym.

"The guy [Dr. Shahani] beat the hell outta me, but I'm never gonna forget him because you know what? Not everybody can take a broken-down person who should have died already and bring him back to life," Rodriguez said.

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