Dick Butkus, NFL Monster Who Brought the Pain, Helps Others Avoid It at St. Joe's

Chuck Norris, Robert "Knock the Battery From My Shoulder" Conrad and The Most Interesting Man in the World have nothing on Dick Butkus. The Chicago Bears Hall of Fame linebacker (1965-73) would eat all three of those pussies for breakfast. Even his last name sounds like the punishment he can dish out: Butkus.

Fortunately, Dr. Lawrence Santora is on the best side of Butkus, who credits the St. Joseph's Hospital of Orange heart surgeon with saving his life.

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After football, Butkus dabbled in acting, philanthropy and pitching and/or licensing his name for various products. More than a decade ago, Santora, medical director of St. Joseph's Center for Heart and Vascular Wellness and Prevention, detected an alarming calcium buildup in the walls of Butkus' coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart, during a routine check.

Though the hulk of a man felt fine and had no history of heart disease in his family, Butkus turned out to have atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. The dangerous build-up put him at high risk for a heart attack, prompting immediate coronary bypass surgery at St. Joseph's that saved his life.

Now, Butkus is paying it forward, lending his time, support and name to St. Joseph's new Dick Butkus Heart and Vascular Screening Center and the Women's Heart Center, which feature the kind of comprehensive advanced technology that helped save his life.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday, Butkus said, "Protecting your heart is the single most important thing you can do. Educate yourself and be aware if you're at risk for developing heart and vascular disease. It saved my life, and it could save yours."

Added his pal for life, who hosts the PBS/SoCal show Health Matters with Dr. Larry Santora, "The Dick Butkus Heart and Vascular Screening Center is on the leading edge of medical care, and Dick's experience shows that EBCT is the gold standard when screening for heart disease." (EBCT stands for Electron Beam Computed Tomography, the heart scan that tipped Santora something was wrong with the perennial Pro Bowler.)

Santora and Butkus will next team up for a Yahoo Sports Outside the Game segment aimed at increasing the awareness about the benefits of preventative screening. This coming March, the Butkus center will partner with the NFL Players Association to offer comprehensive screenings to retired NFL players. The Butkus Foundation also funds free heart scans to a limited number of military veterans.

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