M&F: Were you always into lifting?

HJ: I’ve always been into bodybuilding, I’ve always been into working out—my Dad bought me a weight set when I first went to my freshman year at Gordon Tech High School in Chicago. But never to the extent that I am right now. Four years ago, on June 16, I had brain surgery and heart surgery all within one week and that pretty much stopped me in my tracks. The only thing that kept me going was the fact that I was so physically strong—I knew that I was going to get better, I had to believe it. I was working three jobs trying to support my family. In the midst of three jobs I would go to the gym maybe 30 minutes thinking I was doing something. Back then I thought I was in great.

What happened? What went wrong?

Long story short, one night I came home one day and went to bed. Hours later the EMT is waking me up telling me I had a seizure. My first reaction was, “What are you talking about?” I’m not epileptic. But both sides of my tongue are shredded, blood everywhere. The table, the desk was broken. I go to the hospital, they tell me what I have is AVM: Arteriovenous malformation. They said what it is a bunch of clogged-up blood vessels in my brain that takes all the good blood and makes it bad and it causes headaches… one can die. It had grown with me as I got older, so I would get headaches and think it was nothing. So I had the seizure, I go to the hospital they tell me I have two options. Option A, you take this out and you live. Option B, you’re living on borrowed time. I told them to take it out. From August 16 of 2008 till June 16 of 2009, I had to have brain surgery every single month for a year. 

That’s incredible. How did you cope?

Something in me said, “Harry, keep fighting it.” So I said I want to follow Arnold [Schwarzenegger], Kai [Greene], Jay [Cutler], all them. I know the names but I didn’t know what they actually did. I’m looking in magazines because I’m in the hospital, for my last surgery. They tell me you might need a blood transfusion, you might have a stroke. Fifteen brain surgeries prior to this one, I came out okay. Maybe sick a couple times. Double vision. But nothing to the extent of the last one. The last one, June 16, I wake up and go to the hospital, I get the brain surgery at 6 AM. I didn’t wake up until 7 that evening. And the reason I didn’t wake up was because I had a stroke during the surgery. The stroke took out my entire left side from the bottom of my left foot all the way up to the top of my shoulder. I had less than 10% strength in that entire side of my body. Instead of this stuff making me bitter, it’s going to make me better. So I said nurse, can you give me a squeeze ball? She said sure, she gave me a squeeze ball and I started squeezing my left hand, using my right hand to help it out. 

So you started working out again?

I started working out in the hospital gym the on June 19th. I’m moving my feet up and down trying to work out. Slowly getting better, I come home. But I can’t work any more because the stroke has destroyed any kind of eyesight I may have had on my left side so I have to wait for that to come back so I’m like okay what am I going to do? So what I did was I went to the local YMCA and I was like, you know I don’t want a PT, I just want to go into the gym by myself when I can. I was going from barely walking to running, jogging on the treadmill. People were looking at me like I’m crazy, they said, “You just had brain surgery!” I’m like, “What’s your point?” I’m not going to sit there and not do anything—I mean I gotta do something, and I was just in the gym. Thirty minutes, an hour, two hours, three hours, I was five hours in the gym at a time. Trying to get somewhat healthy again and get my weight down—I was 297. As I stand here today, I’m 250 of muscle. No one recognizes me, because no one saw that coming. 

See Harry Jordan’s full story in the September issue of Muscle & Fitness >>