Four years with new lungs and an attitude

Recovery: Glenn Steuerman plays golf and throws paying customers out of his Florida restaurant. People tell him that God doesn't want him.

August 16, 1999|By Patricia Meisol | Patricia Meisol,Sun Staff Writer

Four years ago this month, New Yorker Glenn Steuerman became the first double-lung transplant patient in Maryland in an operation at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Within two weeks he moved himself to a comfortable suite at the Harbor Court Hotel. He did everything his doctors told him, but he quickly tired of them. One day when they were running two hours late, he hailed a taxi to Penn Station and boarded a train home.

Aside from a ski trip a few months later to Utah, which ended with his Baltimore doctors radioing instructions to the medical team carrying him down the mountain, he's had only a minor complication. He married, moved to Florida, expanded his bagel empire, and took up golf. Now 38, he returns annually to his favorite city for checkups at Johns Hopkins Hospital and calls here frequently. Sun Staff Writer Patricia Meisol caught up with him at his bagel-deli restaurant near Palm Beach.

Q: What's it like being a double-lung transplant?

A: You get to park in a handicapped space. The cops are always asking: `Let me see your sticker!' and when they see it, they act chagrined and I ask 'em, `Don't you want to know what's wrong with me?'

Q: Can you walk?

A: Yes, but sometimes in the heat I get tired. If I have shortness of breath or start feeling bad at the seventh hole, I just go in the house. That's why I like living on the golf course. I play five rounds a week. I have a 10 handicap.

Q: Your doctor at Hopkins, Jonathan B. Orens, says that whenever you call for advice, which is frequently, you launch into a comedy schtick, like "Dr. Schmuck here says I should take such-and-such what do you think?" Dr. Orens has to compose himself to cut to the chase. He calls you Jerry Seinfeld Jr.

A: Well, we both have Porsches. I once raced Seinfeld in the Hamptons. He was wearing a baseball cap. He stopped at 120 mph. He didn't want to go anymore.

Q: So, you speed?

A: Once I was stopped by a cop and I told him I was racing because if I didn't get home in time to take my transplant medicine I would die. The case went to court, and my doctor [not Orens] wrote a letter saying I did indeed have to take my medicine at certain times. The judge dismissed the case and the cop stomped out. I never went to that well again.

Q: What's it like for such a young guy to live in Florida?

A: When I first moved here in January 1998 I went crazy. I needed something to do. Fishing, golf, it got boring. I opened my store in October 1998.

Q: Transplant patients rarely work. Where do you get the energy?

A: I sleep only about five hours a night, no naps. I take vitamins. I drink a lot of water, Gatorade, you dehydrate from all the medicines. In the morning you have your nausea. Mornings are tough.

Q: Describe your bagel-deli.

A: It's 4,500 square feet, seating for 100 people, a full deli, even matzo balls. I employ 25 people. On the wall is a picture of me three days after surgery, wearing jeans and no shirt, staples everywhere. I work five or six days a week.

Q: What do you do there?

A: I bake. I cut fish. I talk to people. I'm the owner. I do whatever needs to be done.

Q: Your wife says you were nasty and cold before your transplant but now you are patient and kind. Has your outlook changed?

A: Little things don't bother me anymore. People actually complain about my attitude. [They say] `You don't care, you don't do this, you act like a kid. '

Q: If you are so patient and kind, why do some people, including relatives, call you the Bagel Nazi?

A: When people complain, I throw them out. When I am having a bad day, I really don't want to hear people complain about a $4 breakfast -- that's $4 for two people. I tell 'em `Get out of here, go to Denny's.'

People yell and scream in my restaurant. They say, `This is the worst breakfast I ever had. An abomination.' I tell them, `Abomination is a strong word. What's going on in Kosovo is an abomination. Having your eggs cooked wrong is not an abomination.' They are healthy. They've had no problems in their life. They think their problems in life supersede everything. Their little egg orders or bagel orders I tell them, `You think it's an abomination? Next time you come in, here, here's an apron, cook your own eggs.' They don't even know what to say to me. You know what? They come back.

Q: Didn't you have the same kind of customer in New York?

A: I never had this in New York. I have 20 stores in New York. These are the same people. These are all New Yorkers coming down to Florida. They are 75 years old. They have nothing to do. They must stay up nights with my menu and say, `how can I [get] him?'

Say I have a special, a $14.99 steak with salad. They look at the price of a steak and a salad on the regular menu and ask me, `I don't want the salad. Can I have $2.99 off?'

Q: How did you meet your future wife, Paula?

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