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Clyde Ross of Carmel got a new outlook on life after surviving dangerous heart surgery, and has developed a line of skin care products. (Vern Fisher - Monterey Herald)
CARMEL >> The metaphor — moving toward the light — couldn't be ignored as Clyde Ross took what felt like the longest walk of his life down the most brightly lit corridor he'd ever seen. Waiting on the other end, quite possibly, was "the Afterlife" . . . or, at least, that's how Ross felt as he listened to his lonely footsteps echo through an antiseptically white hallway.
Ross had undergone an angiogram at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, during which his doctors discovered that the left anterior descending artery to his heart — the main artery — was 100-percent blocked. The other artery was 80-percent clogged. The problem could not be remedied without a risky double-bypass surgery, his doctors said.
And now, five days later, before sunrise on Feb. 9, 2009, he was completely alone with his thoughts as he made his way toward Community Hospital's surgical center — and whatever fate awaited.
The Carmel resident had left an envelope behind for his sons. Will, 25, Walter 24, and Matt, an 18-year-old senior at Carmel High at the time. Inside were his insurance policies and bank statements, plus letters he'd written late the previous night to the three young men, and also to a few close friends, on how to proceed after he was gone.
"That was really tough because, as a single dad, I felt like my kids still needed me," he remembers.
Ross, only 53 at the time, had felt like the picture of health. He was running several days a week, even as he traveled all over the U.S. for his job as a cosmetic ingredient developer/manufacturer, selling to all the big companies: Estee Lauder, Shiseido, Revlon, Loreal, Lancome.
His symptoms were subtle. He simply was losing energy during his runs. "But my blood pressure was good, my cholesterol had never been high, and I had no real reason to suspect anything was seriously wrong," Ross says. "I just couldn't run as far, and didn't know why."
Even before his health crisis, Ross had ceased to feel good about his job. Major cosmetics companies put profit before health, Ross says, using ingredients proven to be irritating, even harmful to the skin, then shamelessly marketing products they know aren't as safe and effective as they claim.
"They'll take a new item . . . and tout it as being the next great ingredient, even though their own research and development people know the best antioxidant for the skin is Vitamin C," he says. "The problem is that Vitamin C is an old story — not very interesting — and they've discovered that their profit margins are greater if they can pitch ingredients that sound new and magical, but are actually inferior."
Ross came through the tricky surgery, but the physical and emotional aftermath was devastating, he says.
"I wasn't prepared, in my own mind, to come out of the operation so emaciated and weakened," says Ross, who dropped from 160 to 135 pounds after the surgery. "I couldn't eat. I couldn't walk. I felt like I was unable to do anything. Those first three days after the surgery were very dark for me."
On the fourth day, after Ross had been moved from the intensive care unit, he struggled out of bed and dragged his IV unit and blood-drainage cart onto the hospital veranda, which overlooks Skyline Forest. It was a beautiful winter morning.
"I closed my eyes, took the deepest breath I could, and suddenly had this moment of startling revelation that this is all we really need in life: To be able to stand on our own two feet, enjoy the sunshine, and be part of this world," he says. "Suddenly I felt this surge of determination, and I told myself that I could recover if I worked through this inch by inch."
And that is almost literally what Ross did, he says. After his release, he took a 15-second walk from his front door. Each subsequent day he tried to walk farther. After a few weeks, he began to lift light weights and jog.
In November 2009 — nine months after his surgery — Ross finished the Big Sur Half Marathon, the first 13-mile run of his life.
By then he also had resolved to purge his professional life of what he views as unscrupulous practices of the beauty industry. He began to experiment with his own line of multifunctional cosmetics, using only what he says are the safest and best ingredients in the world.
He launched his own company, AspireLife (www.aspirelife.com), just a few days after crossing the finish line at the Big Sur Half Marathon, taking a great financial risk that not only included leaving his previous job, but obtaining a small-business loan. His team includes just four employees, one of whom is his son, Will, who comes with a freshly minted degree in business administration and "works cheap," Ross says with a laugh.
"The quality of my life has improved so dramatically because of this experience that I realize that any time I have left on this earth is gravy time," says Ross, who runs and lifts weights several days a week, and also takes Tango lessons. "I'm determined not to waste it."
Dennis Taylor can be reached at 646-4344.