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So Many Questions: Howie Mandel wants people to get the AFib facts

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Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, 2:25 p.m.

We can transplant hearts, repair or replace valves and even implant a pacemaker to ensure the heart keeps beating. But cardiac problems can still bring panic.

No one knows this better than comedian Howie Mandel. By happenstance, a doctor discovered that he had an irregular heartbeat — AFib. Although his wasn't the kind that is caused by a heart-valve problem, left untreated it would have increased his chance of experiencing a stroke by five times.

Never one to keep his private life from the public, Mandel became adamant about helping others discover if they have the disease or properly manage it.

Accepting his diagnosis and arming himself with as much knowledge as possible was the only thing that kept Mandel's fear in check, he says.

For each person who takes a quiz on, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer will donate $1 to the National Stroke Association — up to $35,000.

Question: Do you get the sense the audience sees someone like you as being invincible?

Answer: I never thought about it that way because I am so neurotic to begin with ... and I'm not like an action star, and I don't know if that is my image.

Truth be told, I did think I was invincible in this area — I was relatively healthy and always maintained a very good exercise regimen, as well. And yet, I felt really tired, so when I got diagnosed, it was more of a surprise to me than anybody else. And the way I got diagnosed, I wasn't even going to a doctor. I was just getting checked for insurance reasons because we were starting a show, and I was 3,000 miles from home, and I was in Toronto, and I was in a hotel room just getting a very surface-y checkup, stethoscope to the chest. And I hear an “Uh oh,” from the guy. And an “uh oh” when you have a stethoscope on your chest is never a great sign.

I had no idea what AFib was, and he said, “You need to go to a hospital right now, because you're in it right now.” But I don't know what “it” is, I don't how long I've been in “it.” I'm not feeling anything ... and that's why I'm doing this campaign. Apparently, this is a rampant issue, and if not taken care of, it can be incredibly dangerous. ... The scary thing about it is that you may not know you have it.

Q: What was the first thing that ran through your head when you got your diagnosis?

A: Well, I didn't even know what he was saying. I didn't even know what AFib was. And he said I had an irregular heartbeat, and I thought, “Well, everything about me is irregular, so my heart is just part of that.”

And then when they explained to me what the issue is and what it can cause, I'll be honest with you, I panicked. Because I didn't know. Ignorance is not bliss.

Now that I've learned about it and know what the signs are and can feel it and can manage it, I feel healthy, and that's what this campaign is about — teaching people and educating people.

Q: Did you ever consider not going public with your diagnosis?

A: No. You know, I've made a big choice in life to be a public figure, and everything about me, especially as a comedian, I've been really vocal about my OCD, my mental-health issues and everything that goes on in my life. So, no. And there's no reason to keep this to myself. ... It's all about going public. If somebody reads this and goes to and is able to find out if they have AFib, and they end up managing it, it's a lifesaver. Knowledge is the best tool we have.

Q: Despite the advancement of medicine, why are we so afraid?

A: I think that we have the fear of the unknown, and you don't know what's going to happen to you, and you don't know how it's going to happen to you. And what's more fear-inducing than that? So, if we can take away some of that fear in giving you some knowledge, that's what this is about.

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