Tanner is President and CEO of Tanner Research, Inc., a 100% employee-owned company that develops and markets Electronic Design Automation (EDA) software tools to designers of integrated circuits. Tanner Research is among a handful of companies to be named to the "LA Fast 50" five years in a row. John founded the company more than 25 years ago. Tanner Research currently employs about 50 people. The largest division creates and markets EDA software tools for the design of integrated circuits.
Tanner has also created a business unit dedicated to sharing calendars and contact information among multiple PC, Mac, and smartphone users. Tanner Research acquired base technology from Palm in 2004 and is advancing it under the name ClearSync. In addition, Tanner has licensed a new pogo stick design from Carnegie Melon University to Razor (the folding scooter company) and helped Razor get it into production. He is now developing an autonomous agriculture robot for intra-field produce transport.
Tanner earned his BA degree from Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, in 1979, his MS in Electrical Engineering from Caltech, in 1980, and his Ph.D. in Computer Science from Caltech, in 1986. He lives in Pasadena with his wife, Linda. Their three children are in college.
I Almost Lost It All
By John Tanner, PhD
I had a great life, a wonderful wife of over 25 years, three great kids, two in high school and one in college. I loved my job running a high tech company. And then disaster struck.
But my story begins five years before, when my sister, three years older than I, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. My parents both had type 2 diabetes, at the time labeled adult diabetes or late onset diabetes. I was under the impression that diabetes was genetic in nature because it tended to run in families. It turns out to have very little to do with genetics, but I didn't know.
I had also heard that type 2 diabetes was heavily influenced by being overweight. It turns out there is a correlation, so I had a right to be concerned. At 6' 0" in height, as a young adult I weighed a healthy 150 pounds. As I approached my late 40s, my weight had crept up to 205 pounds. I decided to try to get off some of these extra pounds and did so by eliminating sodas and other sugary drinks, consuming more salads, and exercising.
Other than these changes though, I continued to eat a standard American diet, including cheeseburgers and pizza. But with this small change in diet and exercise, I was able to drop 30 pounds and reduce my glucose blood sugar readings from 111 to 104. I was tracking my glucose due to my concern about diabetes. Over 100 mg/dL is considered prediabetic, so I wasn't into the normal range yet, but at least headed in the right direction.
Checking My Cholesterol
On October 11, 2009, I was running in my neighborhood, as I had done every morning for the previous five years. I was 52 years old and believed myself to be in good condition. My doctor had no concerns at my last checkup a few months earlier, and I had no history of heart disease in my family.
But this morning, I was running fine, then staggered a couple of steps and hit the ground unconscious, under full cardiac arrest. About half of all heart attacks are of this type and for cardiac arrest outside of a hospital, the survival rate is about 3%. You probably know friends or relatives who just suddenly keeled over and died.
My Life Savers
When my wife caught up to me in the hospital, I woke up long enough to ask, "Where am I?" and "What happened?" My wife told me I was in the hospital and had had a heart attack. I nodded, drifted off, and a few minutes later woke again and asked,"Where am I?" and "What happened?" I was clearly suffering from oxygen deprivation, and it wasn't clear how much of me was going to come back. But after a couple days, my short-term memory returned, although I never regained a memory of what happened that day. Instead, I pieced together the sequence of events and the contributions of my lifesavers on that day.
Chest Compressions Were Important
Alan came out and immediately started giving me chest compressions. As a former lifeguard, he had learned CPR, which starts with the airways. But he had recently seen on the Oprah Winfrey show that the best procedure is to start with chest compressions. After all, air in the lungs doesn't get to the brain if the blood isn't circulating. And we have about 10 minutes of oxygen in our blood which can sustain us if it is kept circulating. So Alan's actions and knowledge was a link in the chain that saved my life that day. I guess you can say that I also owe my life to Oprah.
911 to the Rescue
So in 4 minutes, Christine saw me go down, called to Jodie, Jodie called 911, the dispatch routed it to the fire station, and the firemen arrived. The fire station is right near my kid's grammar school where I drove my three kids for 16 years. Despite often being in a rush to get to school, we never once made it in only 4 minutes, so the fire crew must have been moving mighty fast. Thanks, guys!
Survival Odds Low for Cardiac Arrest
In most cases of cardiac arrest, the firemen find the victim in a location or position difficult to treat. They may first have to carry the victim out of the bathroom and down the stairs before they can work on him/her. On this day, they were pleasantly surprised to find me conveniently lying on the grass near the sidewalk. They immediately took over chest compressions from Alan and deployed their AED, automatic electronic defibrillator. This device has sticky pads they attached to my chest. It determines automatically if a shock is warranted. If the heart is beating, it doesn't shock. And if there is no heart activity, it doesn't shock. But if the heart is fibrillating, that is quivering, but without a consistent heartbeat, it does shock. This machine determined that I needed a shock and delivered it. After that, my heart had a weak heartbeat. The original problem was still there, but at least my heart was beating.
With the field diagnosis, Mark called the nearest hospital equipped to handle STEMI cases. In this country, only about 25% of hospitals are so equipped. I had the good fortune of going down about midway between Arcadia Methodist Hospital and Huntington Hospital, both of which have STEMI centers. Just three or four blocks away was the former St. Luke's Hospital, which had closed just a few years before. Good thing, as often time is wasted by a STEMI patient being taken to a hospital not equipped to handle it. Then the patient has to be further transported to another hospital, wasting critical time. The survival rate is highly correlated to the time it takes to get the victim to a STEMI center.
Taking the Ambulance to Huntington Hospital
My ER Experience
I was in the hospital for only five days. And after another week off, I went back to work. So in two weeks I went from heart stopped on the street to back to work. I was very lucky. In another week, I went back in for a perfusion test that measures the amount of damage to the heart muscle. The test results indicated that the damage was minimal, so my cardiologist said I could go back to my life the way it was.
What My Doctor Didn't Tell Me
Enough with the suspense, already. How can we prevent and reverse heart disease if drugs and surgeries don't work? In a single word: NUTRITION.
You've probably heard people say that fruits and vegetables are good for you. You've probably also heard that red meat can be harmful. I'd heard these things also but didn't pay much attention. So let me be really blunt:
I've spent the years since my heart attack reading professional journals, scouring the Internet, reading books, attending conferences and talking to experts. At first it was very confusing, with a lot of contradictory information. But as I tracked various claims back to carefully constructed scientific studies, it became clear to me that there is a core of solid, self-consistent science, but there are also a lot of people making statements with no solid science behind them that are intended to mislead the public into buying various food products, drugs, procedures, and services.
Falling Down the Rabbit Hole
I started by talking with my family, friends, and co-workers. Then I moved on to schools, civic clubs, and churches. A year ago, I developed a 3-hour workshop where I share the most relevant nutrition science research results and include a meal that is both tasty and prepared using only the ingredients that research has shown to be most healthful. I've also created a non-profit organization, NuSci, The Nutrition Science Foundation, and its web site, www.nusci.org, where you can find book reviews, links to nutrition science research articles, recipes, and an archive of my electronic newsletter on nutrition science topics.
This time, my heart problem was gradual. After my cardiac arrest and recovery, my cardiologist recommended high-heart-rate workouts of longer than just my 7 minute mile. So I had increased my running to two miles per day. After about three months, I found that before my run was done, I felt this very strong urge to stop running. It wasn't chest pain, and it didn't feel like fatigue in the usual running sense. I would just get to the point in my run where I knew I just had to stop running and slow down to a walk. In less than a week, it got to where this stopping point progressed from 11/2 miles to 1 mile, and then to a 1/2 mile.
The Stent Was Failing
At this point, I called Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr., author of Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, and to my surprise, he took my call. I said I had been on his diet for a couple months, and so how could I need another stent? He explained to me that I had fixed the original problem of my clogged arteries, but the new problem was caused by my body's reaction to the stent. No diet could prevent my artery walls scarring in response to metal mesh being mashed into them. So he confirmed that I needed another stent in my LAD artery. As for the RCA, he said he didn't believe it had gotten worse and he pointed out that it was difficult to compare two angiograms taken at different angles at different times and in my case by different people and different pieces of equipment in two different hospitals. So it was highly likely that I did not need a stent in my RCA.
Back to the Hospital
They wheeled me into the catheter room and began. During my initial catheterization three months before, I was unconscious, but this time they gave me the choice, and I elected to remain conscious throughout. The doctor proceeded to insert the catheter and the two of us could watch its progress on the monitors. Shortly, the doctor terminated the process, wheeled me out to where my family was waiting, and informed us that I had a big cholesterol deposit near where my left coronary artery branched off from my aorta and that this was in a location that could not be stented. My only recourse was open-heart surgery, and he would immediately schedule it.
The Doctors Disagree
On the other hand, if it were just a normal variant of branch from my aorta, then they would proceed with the stenting as planned. Needless to say, I was nervous as I watched them perform the exploratory catheterization. When they told me I would not need open-heart surgery, I was very relieved, and frankly didn't pay much attention to what followed. When I was done, they said I had three more stents. I still don't know if the downstream LAD stent was warranted. And I'm quite sure that the RCA stent was not needed. But it's too late now. Stents can never be removed.
Stents May Fail in Three Months
After my heart attack, I was put on the following medications: Plavix (Blood thinner). simvastatin (generic name of Zocor), Metoprolol (Beta blocker), Lisinopril (ACE inhibitor), and 320 mg/day of aspirin. I was on these medications for about a year. At that point I had done enough research to conclude that the risk of these medications was greater than their benefit, so I informed my cardiologist that I was going off these medications. He said he didn't recommend that course of action, but if I was committed to doing it, I should discontinue them one at a time so that if I had a problem, we would know which drug I needed to start taking again. I agreed.
Dropping Drugs One at a Time
I was looking forward to getting off my blood thinner. I was told that I should not participate in any sport where I could get a head or internal injury, as the blood thinner could cause me to die of internal bleeding. I like to ski and ski fast, but I had put this on hold while on blood thinners. I did notice that when taking Plavix, I would bruise easily, and if I got a little cut, it took a long time to stop bleeding. When I discontinued the Plavix, I no longer bruised easily, cuts stop bleeding quickly, and I'm skiing again. Yay!
Cutting Back on Simvastatin
But I told my cardiologist that I would not go back on the statins and I just stuck with my diet. At my next checkup, my cholesterol was under 150, where it has remained to this day. My doctor called and left me a message saying congratulations and keep up the good work with the diet. At this time, my LDL was also right at 80, and has gradually dropped to about 70 more recently.
Next to Go Were Blood Pressure Drugs
As I researched these drugs, I found that many experts would never prescribe either of them, as their benefits are doubtful. One of the drugs was thought to be somewhat beneficial in the case where the heart muscle was damaged and was in the process of rebuilding itself. This situation didn't apply to me, so I discontinued both Metoprolol and Lisinopril. The result: I can now stand up without feeling faint, and my blood pressure is well within the normal range.
Just One Small Negative Reaction
For three years, I took the baby aspirin daily. Then I read about a study indicating long-term exposure to aspirin could result in damage to the digestive system. I tried but was unable to quantify the risks of taking the aspirin vs. not taking the aspirin, but all indicators were that the mortality rates were low for either case. So I decided to drop even the baby aspirin. This time I tapered off slowly to avoid the backlash. Now I am completely drug free and loving it.
Please Join Me
If you know a group of people that would like to hear a presentation about extending life and health, please call me at (626) 872-4050.
John Tanner, PhD