LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - Hundreds of East Texans flocked to the Angelina County Expo Center on Wednesday for the kickoff of the 2014 Angelina Benefit Rodeo.
But, as people kicked up their boots, Mr. Rodeo, Mike Mathis, had a lot to be thankful for.
"All of us feel somewhat invincible. It is pretty eye-opening and you realize your own mortality and whether you want to think about it or not; that's an if, not a when," said Mathis.
For 30 years, Mathis has lent his face and voice to rodeos all over the country, but his story almost ended back in 2012.
"I knew during the course of the year something wasn't exactly right. I didn't have the energy levels I should; breathing was also a problem. I went to a pulmonologist, first hoping that it was something very simple and easy," Mathis said.
But, it wasn't. After being referred to a cardiologist, Mathis discovered he had a blockage in his heart. His doctor recommended he get several stints.
"They worked in getting the stints in and that didn't go well and in fact, one of the stints caused a knick in my artery and from there it required an immediate open heart surgery and so they did that with three bypasses," Mathis said. "Then, at night, it was determined that a vein had been cut and I had a bleeder; I bled out."
Mathis says he doesn't remember a thing. The first thing he does remember is waking up in the hospital seven days later.
"I noticed that I had a fresh bandage and things sticking out of me from every direction and they informed me if I knew where I was, and what day it was and I told them 'I'm in the hospital, I guess, but I don't really know what day it is,'" Mathis said. "And he said 'it's Tuesday.' And I said 'that don't make any sense because I came in on Monday,' and they said 'no, that was Monday a week ago.'"
He says waking up in a hospital room was traumatizing and the first thing he felt was "fear."
"I've never—that was the first surgery I ever had other than broken bones and to wake up—I think I had five chest tubes, I'm not sure. And I literally could not move. I didn't have the energy to basically move," Mathis said.
He said the hardest thing was starting rehabilitation.
"I had never, ever been in that position and it took some time to kind of build your strength back up and that was, I guess, one of the very first or second weeks of October," Mathis said.
Mathis was unsure if he was ever going to return to working rodeos, but was able to get doctor approval to go to a rodeo in Las Vegas that December.
"That was a great feeling to get through that and for everything to go well because I had some real concerns about whether I could do that," Mathis said.
Mathis is known for riding into the arena on horseback, but he said, he wasn't sure if his body would even be able to handle trying to continue on that tradition.
"It really never concerned me to do that, but it was really different to step up on that horse again and think about, and worry about this and how secure it is and how secure I am and what I couldn't do," Mathis said.
Now, Mathis is back in the rodeo arena with 40-plus rodeos under his belt during the 2013 year. He says he's booked until November 2014, but is living life healthier.
"I really don't want to be in the hospital for another 17 days. I don't want to wake up in the hospital and have them tell me what happened the last 7 days that I don't remember," Mathis said. "I would much rather be out here and not in the hospital."
Mathis can be seen and heard at this week's rodeo. The rodeo will be Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m.
For more information visit angelinabenefitrodeo.com.
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