Love your heart

Ross and Susie Miles fly fishing on a drift boat with a guide.

Love your heart

February is heart month

The following story is one of heart, health and happiness about the life of long-time Southern Oregon resident Ross Miles. It was shared with Asante as an inspiration to others who, no matter their age, can live a full life after heart surgery.

100 Miles

Story and photos by Ken Morrish, Fly Water Travel, Ashland, Oregon

Ross and Susie Miles are a unique and charming couple, and with all due respect to Susie, Ross is, by so many measures, truly extraordinary. In June of 2021, my business partner Brian Gies and I followed Ross and Susie down Southern Oregon’s Upper Rogue as they cast adult salmon flies from the drift boat of one of our favorite guides. Why? Well in part because 2021 marked the 70th anniversary of Ross’ first fly-fishing trip to the Rogue, and more significantly, in 1951 Ross was already 30 years old. Do the math.

It seems probable there have been, and currently are, other active fly-fishing centenarians, but aside from Ross, I have never met or even heard of one. Brian and I have known Ross and Susie for half our lives, and for the past 20 years in the fly-fishing travel business they earned the moniker of “Fly Water Travel’s favorite clients” as our team actively worked to help them quench their thirst for fly-fishing and travel.

All who have met Ross cannot help but wonder what makes such longevity, drive and vibrance possible. In the words of Ross, “It isn’t some tonic I drink every day, but I do feel that a good dry gin martini or two fingers of a single malt helps.” And it has. His feisty, charismatic and caring wife 24 years his junior has certainly helped, as has genetic good fortune and a general attitude and philosophy about what a well-lived life entails.

Ross was born in San Francisco in 1921, and three years later his family moved to Santa Cruz, California. According to Ross, “It was a great small place to live where about everyone knew everybody. My father worked at the local newspaper and was particularly well-connected. When I was about nine, Prohibition was in full swing, and my father would occasionally get a call from his informants that a shipment had come in and had been discreetly sunk in the rearing ponds of our local fish hatchery. My father would reach out to his inner circle and take their orders. Then we would head to the ponds, and I would get to fish while the adults would do their business. As Ross recalls, “It wasn’t hard, but it was fun and those were always great days when all involved got something they really wanted. It helped set me on a lifelong path of fishing, for which, I must in part, thank those responsible for sinking the booze.”

At age 15, Ross decided to concentrate on learning the finer points of fly-fishing and the San Lorenzo River provided many opportunities to land his first steelhead — a dime-bright 8-pound hen in tidewater using a cane rod, a silk line and a gray hackle peacock fastened to a gut leader.

That type of thrill proved addictive, and for a while, problematic in terms of school attendance. Principal Walter Elmer had strong words with Ross, but the two reached an understanding when Ross brokered a deal to deliver Mr. Elmer a fresh filet each morning he arrived late from the river.

When Ross was 54, he was diagnosed with a heart murmur. Later in life, he came to know Southern Oregon cardiologist Brian Morrison, MD, who diagnosed him with aortic stenosis. He said the condition would not be an issue until it became an issue and Ross’s body would clearly let him know when that time had come.

That time proved to be 40 years later on June 23, 2015, while walking up from their pond toward the barn. A pacemaker followed as did some related complications. By July 11, a serious infection known as bacterial endocarditis took hold and a good portion of the Asante cardiology team went into high gear. Ross had two blood transfusions, and it became clear that his only chance to live additional fruitful years boiled down to open heart surgery.

He needed a new valve, or the show was over.

Now for most 94-year-olds, this would not be an entirely wise or productive option, but Ross was not “most” 94-year-olds. Both Dr. Morrison and fellow fly-angler and Asante heart surgeon Charles Carmeci, MD, agreed that Ross’ overall health, vibrance and attitude made him a viable candidate.

On July 31, Dr. Carmeci performed an urgent open-heart surgical valve replacement with a bovine pericardial valve and Ross recovered without event. After a month of cardiac rehabilitation under the supervision of Asante’s Laura Imperia, Ross was back to fishing and enjoying his life and retirement with Susie.

The morning we fished, Susie confessed Ross had been getting his gear together two days prior and had set his “mental alarm clock” extra early on game day because he was so excited. He hit it hard that day, fishing every moment with intent and anticipation, and fired some loops that the finest would be proud of. He and Susie both landed some dandy fish, and we enjoyed a shore lunch that I will always cherish. It was a perfect June day in Southern Oregon, the fish were willing, and we were all in exceptional company.

When asked about the key to a long and vibrant life, Ross spoke only for himself. “I just love to live. I never sleep in, and I always have a purpose be it as simple as a to-do list.  From my time as a Marine, I believe profoundly in myself, I willingly accept all forms of challenge, and I have a hard time accepting defeat. I never look back because the past cannot be changed, but I always look forward and try to see all that lies before me through a lens of purpose and profound positivity.”

Ross and Susie Miles

Ross and Susie Miles

Join our upcoming webinar

Man in a state of self-reflection.

If you’re experiencing shortness of breath, a racing heartbeat, chest pain or swelling in your extremities, your heart might be telling you something. Learn the signs of heart disease, the latest treatments, prevention tips and how to live with heart failure–it’s not a death sentence anymore. There’ll be time for questions, too.

  • Presenters: Featuring cardiologists Timo Dygert, MD, and Nathan Funk, MD, Southern Oregon Cardiology
  • When: 11 a.m.-Noon, Feb. 14
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