DETROIT – He was what some would refer to as a pro’s pro.
Fred McLeod was a broadcaster first and foremost. He spent many years here in Detroit and more specifically here at WDIV-Local 4. He also was the Detroit Pistons TV voice for 22 years. Then in 2006, his friend Dan Gilbert made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. McLeod and his wife Beth headed to Cleveland where he became the voice of the Cavaliers.
In a video shared in 2016, Fred is shown celebrating the Cavaliers’ NBA title win. He screams “the 52-year drought is over!” as he announces Cleveland’s first pro sports championship since 1964. He was overcome with emotion, and by the end of the video he is crying with his head in his hands.
That video was shot by Beth, his wife of 28 years. Beth and Fred were inseparable. You never referred to one without the other. They had it all.
But on Sept. 9, 2019, after hitting some golf balls on a beautiful day in Cleveland, Fred didn’t feel right. So he called Beth, and she knew something was wrong.
“So I answered the phone and I say, ‘Hey, are you coming home early?’ and he goes, ‘No, I don’t feel well.' I go, ‘What does that mean?’ he said, ‘I have indigestion,’" Beth said. “He goes, ‘No I’m taking myself to the ER,’ and that is where the conversation changed. I didn’t realize, even think it through, until he said he was taking himself to the ER, and that is where I said you can’t do that so I said you have to pull over. But you know my husband, he was a pretty determined guy, kind of a fast driver. He was like, ‘I’m taking myself.’ So I made him pull over, and I am calling 911 and I am yelling at him to pull over and yelling at 911, and that was last time I talked to him.”
Take that into account for a moment. These two, who were glued together for the past 28 years, could feel it coming apart. Fred was a health nut. He exercised every day and he ate very well. He took care of himself. If something bothered him he was at the doctor’s office.
So how did this happen? Fred McLeod, 67, died of a massive heart attack that day. His numbers put him in what could be termed extremely healthy. But there’s one thing everyone must take into account when this happens:
“So his grandfather died at 51. His uncle died at 54. So the doctor said you cannot outrun your DNA. And because of Freddy’s healthy lifestyle and healthy eating and exercising every day, it extended his life 10 to 16 years,” said Beth. “And in that amount of time he watched his kids grow up and graduate and have grandkids. He watched the city of Cleveland celebrate a championship, and I think in 16 years ... I think how important that was.”
But after it happened she was still lost. Still looking for answers. So she asked for an autopsy so that Fred’s three kids from a previous marriage could know what might lie ahead. The autopsy showed there was a problem with his coronary artery.
“The main supply was the one that was blocked, so with a fairly good size of plaque," said Beth.
That piece of plaque broke off eventually.
“They said after the autopsy, the one doctor said he may have had 5 minutes to get help, so those 4-5 minutes were spent putting his golf clubs away, putting his cart in front ... and calling me,” Beth said.
But those moments are critical. Fred complained of indigestion but it was different and he decided to drive himself to the hospital. But his attempt was futile. Could he have survived if he had stayed at the golf course? Perhaps?
Our own Dr. Frank McGeorge said roughly 40 percent of people who have a heart attack do not call an ambulance. That’s the biggest mistake.
“I understand people’s reluctance to call an ambulance, but No. 1: they have life-saving equipment if your condition changed; No. 2, they can get you to the hospital faster and safer; and No. 3, they can do an EKG on the way to get a much faster diagnosis,” said McGeorge.
That’s the biggest reason that Beth is speaking out now: So others can become aware. Driving yourself is the last thing you should do. And also remember that your DNA has as much to do with your health as anything.
It’s been five months since Beth’s life changed in an instant. She speaks out now and tells Fred’s story for the American Heart Association.
“If I can just get one of you to go to the doctor, or maybe get your spouse to go to the doctor, or maybe get your neighbor to go to the doctor, then I feel like me telling my husband’s story will help,” she said.
She struggles every day with her loss and the loneliness can be mind boggling. Beth has returned to work as a meteorologist at the local Fox station in Cleveland, but the pain is still evident:
“There is a hole in my heart."