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Winkler to undergo bypass surgery

School Superintendent Harold Winkler will undergo heart bypass surgery and will be away from work for six weeks while he recuperates.

After suffering pain late last week, Winkler was admitted to HCA/Oak Hill Hospital in Spring Hill and was told that the arteries that carry blood from his heart have narrowed.

Winkler, who became Hernando County's first appointed superintendent in November 1992 and who turns 49 today, did not suffer a heart attack. He is in the critical care unit at Oak Hill and is in good shape, hospital spokesman Vince Vanni said.

"He is very alert," Vanni said. "I say the best quote you would get from him is what he has been constantly saying: "I don't have time for this.' That's been his attitude the entire time he's been here."

Winkler will be transferred to the Heart Institute at HCA Bayonet Point/Hudson Medical Center in the next day or two and have the bypass surgery there, Vanni said.

"What basically has happened is that he caught (the problem with the arteries) in time," Vanni said. "He was in a lot of discomfort (Friday), and he got it checked out, which is what you're supposed to do, and a lot of people don't. They wait until something critical happens to get here."

Vanni said bypass surgeries are not "as dangerous as one would think they are." He said 1,000 such surgeries were performed at the institute in Bayonet Point last year, so Winkler's situation is not unusual.

Assistant superintendents Wendy Tellone and Tom Maher called a news conference Tuesday afternoon to announce Winkler's condition to school administrators and the local news media.

"I think the most important thing that he wants us to talk with you about is that whenever a situation like this occurs, now more than ever we need to draw upon the strength of all of us as a family and as an organization . . . to carry on the day-to-day routine of the school system," Maher said. "He is truly asking for everyone's cooperation to pull together and work as cooperatively as possible."

According to Tellone, Winkler experienced chest pains Friday afternoon and decided to go to Oak Hill Hospital's emergency room.

Cardiologists ran tests on Winkler over the weekend and decided he should would undergo a cardiac catheterization, a process in which a catheter is used to explore the arteries. That procedure took place Monday afternoon.

When test results showed Winkler's arteries were narrowing, his physician decided bypass surgery was the best option, Tellone said.

Maher stressed that Winkler is not in poor health. He said Winkler's heart is in excellent condition and that the superintendent kept in shape by boxing, jogging and playing basketball.

Tellone said Winkler will not be able to have visitors or take phone calls during the coming days, but that letters and notes are welcomed.

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