Quadruple Heart Bypass Patient Runs into his Surgeon 17 Years Later at Katy Triathlon

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but a photo from a recent triathlon in Katy can’t even begin to tell the story of a very special reunion 17 years in the making.

Sometimes You Can’t Outrun Genetics

Back when he was 60 years old, Joe Rivera underwent quadruple bypass surgery. He says he was having chest pain, despite being an overall healthy man.

“I was running 50 to 60 miles a week, ate right, didn’t smoke and didn’t drink. I looked healthy on the outside, but knew something was wrong,” remembers Rivera.  Rivera saw Stuart Jacobson, M.D., an interventional cardiologist affiliated with Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center, who performed a cardiac catheterization, a diagnostic procedure to look at the condition of his blood vessels and heart.

“They found several bad arteries and the next thing I know, Dr. Gibson is performing a quadruple bypass on me.” Rivera’s father passed away after a heart attack and he believes genetics may have played a role in his heart condition.

“The risk of heart disease is strongly linked to family history. While there are a lot of things people can control, like their diet, not smoking, and staying active, you can’t change your genetics. Sometimes, no matter how healthy of a lifestyle you may lead, you may still develop heart disease,” says Donald Gibson, M.D., a cardiothoracic surgeon affiliated with Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute-Memorial City.

  • Click through the photo gallery to quiz yourself on your heart health.

Beating the Odds

Rivera wouldn’t let his heart surgery stop him from returning to running.

“I was a competitor before and I was worried how much I would be able to do afterwards. I started small and before you knew it, I started doing triathlons.”

That passion for running continued over the past 17 years, with Rivera participating in half marathons and triathlons every month. This past June, he participated in the Jeff & Brede’s Triathlon in Katy. That’s when he spotted someone familiar– his heart surgeon, Dr. Gibson.

“I couldn’t believe it when I saw him, what are the odds? I went up to him and thanked him and said, “I’m a living testimony of your good work!” says Rivera.

“I was shocked, to be honest.  Surgeons don’t see their patients very often after the surgery. So to run into him nearly two decades later and see him healthy and vibrant was truly a touching moment,” says Dr. Gibson.

Both men completed the triathlon that day, and Rivera says he has no plans of slowing down his active lifestyle.

“I told my wife, as long as I’m not last, I’ll keep participating. I may be 77, but I know I’m still beating some of those young guys!”  he jokes.

Rivera also continues to encourage patients around the Memorial Hermann Health System through the Mended Hearts program at Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Hospital.

“I want to inspire people to never give up. Just because you had heart disease, or maybe had a heart attack, it’s important to get up and get exercising. I can’t say enough about how important it is to exercise and have good doctors,” says Rivera.

At Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute-Memorial City, affiliated physicians and surgeons perform more than 11,000 heart procedures annually, providing the full spectrum of heart care, from medical therapy to advanced heart surgery.  Learn more about the Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute, or call 713-CARDIAC.


  1. Dr Gibson did a triple by pass on my 57 y/old husband about 1 yr ago. Excellent surgeon and clinician. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!
    The Neidhart’s

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Tashika Varma