“Clerks” Actor’s Battle With Heart Disease
Scott Schiaffo shares his story.
With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, most health publications celebrate heart health. I figured it was a perfect time to speak with actor Scott Schiaffo, a New Jersey resident, who was more than willing to share his story of his struggles with heart disease and his battle with drugs and alcohol addiction.
Schiaffo, most known for his role as the Chewlies Gum representative in Kevin Smith’s “Clerks,” found out he had a heart arrhythmia when he was in his 20s during one of his many hospital visits. Before his acting career took off, Schiaffo was trying to break into the music business and was “off the rails” with drinking and drugs. As a result he’d been hospitalized for overdoses and put in a detox unit. “Until they told me about it, I didn’t have a clue,” he said. “I had cardio myopathy. It refers to damaged muscle. It was so horrific when it first hit, I almost died once or twice. You can’t breathe, you can’t move.”
When Schiaffo turned 42, his mother died. “It was awful. We were all we had most of our lives,” he said. “You can physically get sick from a broken heart.” During that time he was also in a long distance relationship that didn’t work out. “That was total poison,” he said. “I had been saving money to go see her in California. I took the money I saved and went on the biggest [drugs and alcohol] binge” That binge resulted in congestive heart failure. One of the doctors at the hospital told him he had one of the weakest hearts he’d ever seen.
Schiaffo spent the next three years as a full time heart patient. “It was a big mess for quite awhile,” he said. He’d only be home two or three months and then back to the hospital. But during that time, he was too sick to think about getting drugs or drinking alcohol. “My life completely changed.”
Even though Schiaffo was getting prescription drugs from his doctors, he meticulously followed doctor’s orders and did not abuse what the doctors gave him. Eventually Schiaffo noticed he hadn’t had a drink or illicit drug in three years! “This is awesome,” he said. Alcohol and illicit drugs no longer held any kind of attraction to him. “The obsession had been lifted. It sounds over simplified but it’s easier to quit something you don’t want anymore.”
Currently, Schiaffo is no longer on pain killers for his heart issues, and this summer will mark five years without a drink or an illicit drug. “I’m getting what I need from other situations in my life,” he said. “I feel really blessed. I make a joke that heart failure has been very good to me. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. I’m feeling so much better about everything. If that [heart failure] didn’t happen, I’d still be binging and eventually I would have died. I went on binges that would kill most people. Alcoholism is very sad.”
Schiaffo’s heart arrhythmia is now almost completely at bay. He used to be in arrhythmia 100 percent of the time, now he’s in arrhythmia only two percent of the time. “It’s amazing,” he said.
His heart muscle strengthened up. His heart is in a safe range and some of his myopathy is healing.
Schiaffo attributes his amazing recovery on his lifestyle change and having supportive people in his life. He also had 12 different heart procedures.
His tips for good heart health are:
1. No booze, no drugs, no smoking. “I always hated cigarettes and still do. That’s very damaging for the heart."
2. Limit salt intake. “Least amount of salt you can have in your diet, the better."
3. Develop good eating habits. “I fought the battle of the bulge. The weight came off in college because I watched what I ate and was active. Now it’s mission critical! If I started eating fatty foods, high in sodium, it would be the kiss of death for my heart.”
Nowadays Schiaffo is attending grad school, getting a master’s in professional counseling at William Paterson University. Currently he’s in a post production on a film that’s coming out next month called “Don’t Shoot.”
For more information, go to http://www.scottschiaffo.com/
Contact MaryAnne Christiano at: MaryAnneChristiano@Gmail.com