As he approaches the seventh edition of StocktonCon, the pop culture celebration he created in 2012, Mike Millerick does so with a full heart.


Beset by a failing mitral valve in his heart — a condition first diagnose eight or nine years ago — that caused constant coughing and drained him of the energy to fully enjoy the 2017 extravaganza, Millerick underwent open-heart surgery in October to replace the valve.

With his heart at full capacity and feeling better now, he said, than he has in 20 years, the 50-year-old is excited about the return of StocktonCon on Saturday and Sunday to Stockton Arena, as well as his own return to it.

“I wasn’t very visible during the event (last year),” Millerick said. “I was in the office most of the time. I’m hoping this year to be able to walk around the floor a little bit and be able to see the folks and smiling faces.”

For Millerick, StocktonCon never has been about him, even though he’s the one who came up with the idea, having always been a comic book fan and a frequent visitor to San Diego’s Comic Con.

“The whole idea was I looked around and said, ‘I haven’t done enough for my community,’ ” Millerick said. “I want to raise money, do something and I started the event. If it takes off great, if it doesn’t, OK. But we’ve raised over $130,000 for charity in six years.”

He always had a big heart. It’s just that last year it wasn’t working properly.

The coughing began in June and he was diagnosed with walking pneumonia. The coughing never let up through the summer and into September.

In addition to the persistent cough, he started having stomach problems.

“Once or twice I called my primary doctor and said, ‘I can’t live like this anymore,’ ” Millerick said. “I couldn’t lay down. I couldn’t sleep. In retrospect, I should have gone to the emergency room and cut out the last two weeks of torturing myself.”

Instead, he went to a pulmonary specialist, who told him his coughing was heart related, and that Millerick needed to see his cardiologist immediately.

“You have four valves and when one stops working, the other three have to work harder. My body started showing symptoms of other things, the cough, the stomach issues. I had no idea what was going on. It didn’t dawn on me when I had stomach issues I should go to a cardiologist.”

His cardiologist ran tests and called him to come in the next day.

“When I went in that day I knew it wasn’t going to be a pleasant situation,” Millerick said. “He came in and was very disappointed. You don’t want to tell somebody, ‘we have to cut you open.’ He came in and said, ‘I’m sorry. We’ve got to do this now,’ meaning they had to replace the valve.

“I was happy. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I didn’t want to have to deal with the issues I was having anymore.”

He was admitted to St. Joseph’s Medical Center the next day and on Oct. 11 had the procedure.

He doesn’t know how long the surgery took. He doesn’t know exactly what was done. Doctors offered to provide details, but he declined. He knows doctors cracked open his breastbone to perform the replacement procedure because his sternum is still healing. When he woke up in intensive care, he said, he was covered with tubes. He kept waiting for the urge to cough, but it never came. Slowly, all the tubes were removed. He doesn’t want to remember most of that time, he said.

He spent 10 post-surgical days in the hospital and the day before his 50th birthday, Oct. 22, went to a rehab facility where he was bored out of his mind. Walking was the only exercise he could do and reruns of “Friends,” “Seinfeld” and “Family Guy” kept him occupied until he got his PlayStation and he could play video games and watch movies from Netflix. He also planned most of Central Valley Con, an annual event in Modesto.

He went home two days before Thanksgiving, appropriate timing given his state of mind.

“I’m so grateful,” Millerick said. “I’m so thankful, so blessed everything went as well as it could. I’m trying to do things that will help me last a little longer.”

He walks at least two miles a day and tried to get others to walk. He started a Geek Walk to encourage his fellow comic buffs to join him on a weekly one-mile trek. Twenty-five people showed up the first time. By the fifth walk, there was only one other person.

“I hope they get out. What I wanted to do was encourage people get out and do things, be active,” he said.

He’s even running a bit, quite a change from a guy who thought the only time one needed to run was if one was being chased.

And, of course, he’s thrown himself back into his beloved Stockton Con.

“I’ve always tried to live the best I could, helping others, trying to do things,” Millerick said, “to treat people as you want to be treated, be there for people when they need you. (The surgery) makes you want to do more.”

StocktonCon will have its usual impressive lineup of comic book artists, entertainers, cosplay and all the other elements that appeal to fans of pop culture. Part of the proceeds will go to charity, including, this year, the American Heart Association.

Contact reporter Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284 or Follow her on Twitter @lorigrecord.