Mayor Randy Hunter, 64, of Tide Head, New Brunswick is one of those energetic and positive people you instantly like upon meeting. The former teacher (34 years of service at various schools, with the last 12 years at Sugarloaf Senior High School in Campbellton) turned mayor is a much-loved member of his community, having spent his entire life devoted to community service.
Despite a recent near death-scare and numerous health issues, Randy continues to love and thrive in his role as Mayor. Eager to share his story, he has a powerful warning about the dangers of tobacco. Randy used to be a heavy smoker, which almost cost him his life.
“I started smoking at 14 or 15 years of age,” he recalls. “It was typical peer pressure. In the 1960s, smoking was a big thing. I got hooked from that very first cigarette. I loved smoking. I loved the taste and the smell. I enjoyed every cigarette, and even though I thought of quitting a few times, I never acted on it. I was so addicted.”
Smoking was an inseparable part of Randy’s life. He would smoke one pack per day during weekdays and two packs per day on weekends. “I loved my job teaching, but the minute I had a break, I would just have to get outside and smoke. In between periods, I would rather smoke a cigarette than eat a healthy snack. I would always rush through my lunch so that I would have more time to smoke. I chain-smoked all evening once home from work.”
Randy’s love affair with cigarettes would ultimately lead to long-term health repercussions he must now live with every day.
“On March 20, 2012, I was teaching at the school, and I just did not feel well throughout the day. I ended up having a massive heart attack and was flown to the New Brunswick Heart Centre at the Saint John Regional Hospital. I needed quadruple bypass surgery. The doctors were only able to perform a triple bypass, but it was enough for the surgery to be successful, and I was set to return to work in June of that year.”
“I never got a chance to go back though. On May 11, 2012, I had a myocardial infarction causing paralysis on my left-hand side. Once again, I was flown to Saint John Regional Hospital. It’s a miracle I survived. But my health was quickly deteriorating. On May 14, while in the hospital, I suffered another massive heart attack, causing blindness. I also ended up developing type 2 diabetes and gangrene in my feet – I had to have nine of my toes amputated in December. I was in excruciating pain all the time. And of course, I was also having to adapt to life without my vision. The doctors told me I would never see again. Thankfully, they were wrong—my vision loss was temporary. I was blind for eight months and then suddenly, my vision returned. It is a bit unheard of medically. I really should not be able to see. My neurosurgeon explained that while my optic cells are completely damaged and do not function anymore, the cells around my optic cells are healthy and seem to have taken over and restored my vision, though it will never be as good as it was before.”
These days, Randy is feeling much better, despite his health issues. He has embraced a healthier lifestyle and is able to partake in his daily activities. He says he will never again touch a cigarette.
“While no doctor officially scolded me, nor told me that all my health problems were related to my chain-smoking, I just knew that the damage I had done to my body by being a heavy smoker for 45 years had a great deal to do with it. On top of the damage that the chemicals had done to my organs, smoking had encouraged many unhealthy bad habits like a poor diet and lack of exercise.”
“Nicotine is such a powerful addiction,” he adds. “Smoking was so ingrained in me that I even smoked when I experienced my first heart attack. I was being driven to the hospital with chest pain and struggling to breathe, and there I was, sticking my head out of the window of the car to inhale smoke from my cigarette to try to calm down. In the end, it took that heart attack to get me to quit. I was in a coma for a bit afterward, and when I woke up, I did not remember smoking nor being a smoker. It was only when a nurse offered me a patch that I remembered and started craving cigarettes again. But the patch and the fact that I was taking about 42 pills per day and was in a lot of pain distracted me enough not to think about cigarettes.”
“Smoking cigarettes was my crutch. I smoked when I was happy, sad, frustrated, stressed, needed a break, needed to concentrate, etc. But it also almost brought me to my grave. I am thankful and happy to be alive. It disturbs me to see young people smoking these days. It is a horrible thing to start, and people don’t realize just how powerful of an addiction it can be.”
Randy is also very grateful for the love and support he has felt from his community. “I was elected for my second term as Mayor in the midst of all my health issues, right when I had just lost my vision. I love my community, and I have always been very active in it. Having my community’s support through such a tough period of my life helped me enormously.”
Indeed, Randy is well loved and admired as a community leader not only in the Chaleur region but throughout the province. He currently sits on the Board of Directors for the Union of Municipalities of New Brunswick, the Board of Directors for the Restigouche Regional Service Commission (and is Chairman of the Recycling and Tourism Committees), and the Board of Directors of the Campbellton Nursing Home. As Mayor of Tide Head, he says he is happy to see the province take a more aggressive approach regarding legislation on tobacco and prohibiting smoking in public places.
“Especially when it comes to our children and youth, anything we can do to limit access to cigarettes and make smoking less appealing is good. Young people need to know how bad of a decision starting to smoke cigarettes is. I want to tell my story as much as possible and be honest with them—smoking can absolutely ruin your health!”
Mayor Randy Hunter is available for presentations about his story and the dangers of tobacco at schools, workplaces, health forums and other events. Please contact him at email@example.com for more information.
Story and photos used with permission from Randy Hunter.
Published in January 2018.
By Nathalie Landry – NBATC Communications Coordinator.