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Wednesday, Mar 02 2011 10:00 AM

Star Jones: Open Heart Surgery Has Given Me Purpose

By Parade Magazine
It's been just one year since Star Jones had open heart surgery and she's already back in action. The former View co-host is ready to bring her legal know-how to primetime as she joins this season of Celebrity Apprentice.

The show hasn't even aired yet and there's already tabloid drama surrounding Jones and her castmate, Real Housewives of Atlanta star NeNe Leakes.

The 48-year-old told Parade.com why she refuses to go head-to-head with Leakes off screen. Plus, how her battle with heart disease has left her a new woman.

Representing the American Heart Association on Celebrity Apprentice.
"I had open heart surgery last March. It will be exactly one year when Celebrity Apprentice airs. I ended up having pretty extensive surgery and being me, the lawyer, I had to absorb ever bit of information I could and I started to learn about the American Heart Association and heart disease in general. I don't know how many people really do understand the fact that 82 million people in the United States suffer from some form of cardiovascular disease and it's the number one killer of all Americans, it's the number one killer of women, it's the number one killer of African Americans. Needless to say, when I had to choose an organization that I wanted to benefit from my work on Celebrity Apprentice, I wanted to choose something that was personal and that I thought would have a longstanding impact. The American Heart Association was perfect."

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Her alarming discovery.
"I had been in the Dominican Republic with my guy having a holiday celebration and I found myself short of breath and I was extremely tired. It's not like I had to move around and do a whole bunch of things, so when you find that you're really tired on vacation, something is wrong. So my guy said to me, 'When we get back home, you are going over to the doctor to see what's up.

"My doctor ordered an echocardiogram and my heart was in distress and he admitted me right into the hospital and we found that there was some fluid around my heart. We did a bunch of tests over the course of two days and that's when he said to me that they had found some abnormalities and that it was necessary for them to do a full open heart surgery."

Running away from reality.
"I was in shock. I had done everything right over the past five years. I had successful weight-loss surgery, I had lost 160 pounds, I had cut all kinds of things out of my diet, and I was exercising regularly, so I thought, 'Wait a minute. You're doing this to me now?' I honestly stuck my head in the sand. I got so scared and I kept saying, 'I'm not going to deal with this.' So I ran away. I got on a plane and went to hang with my girlfriends on a boat in the Caribbean. Of course my girlfriends were like, 'No missy, you get your behind back and start to deal with it.' And that's exactly what I did. Once I got back, I think the Star Jones in me took over and that's when I start running things like a military organization. I started ordering people around and saying what I'm going to do, what doctors I'm going to need, how everything should be put together. I think in some ways I wanted to take back some of the control that I was losing."

How the experience has changed her outlook on life.
"It actually has given me purpose. I don't want anybody to go through what I had to go through. I had resources and I had support. I had my faith, which really at the end of the day is what got me through this surgery. For the most part, cardiovascular disease is preventable. We can do so much to change the course of our lives if we just do a few things. I think God directed me here for lots of reasons, but one reason in particular is because I have such a big mouth and I have a big platform. I do think that when you're a public person, a so-called celebrity, you should use that platform for something other than getting a good table at a nice restaurant."

Why she decided to join Celebrity Apprentice.
"Mr. Trump had asked me to do it for the past two seasons, but I'd always declined. I wasn't interested in doing reality television, but I think my block when it came to Apprentice is that I didn't think I had a real reason to do it. This time, I had a real reason to do it. I wanted America to see what the new face of heart disease looks like. I wanted them to see that I was moving around and that I was keeping up with everybody and bringing it just like everybody else."

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Her pal Donald Trump didn't give her any special treatment.
"I love anything that Trump does. That's my boy. We've been friends for years, even though on the show he treated me like he never even knew my name, which I actually admired. I actually treated it like it was a job and he treated me like I was a potential employee."

Working with The Donald.
"I was really pleasantly surprised that I learned as much as I did about business from him. I learned a lot about the law from my friend, the late Johnnie Cochran, and obviously I learned a lot about television from my great mentor Barbara Walters. I have to honestly say, I learned the most about business from Donald Trump. I'm so impressed with Donald's business acumen. I find the way he conducts himself and his organization to be magnificent. And the thing I admire most about him is the manner in which he's raised his children. I think Ivanka and Don Jr. and Eric are tremendous young people and I got to know them even better during the shooting of this show. So I walked away from Apprentice feeling good about the money I raised, feeling great about the awareness I raised, and feeling wonderful about the experience and the lessons that I learned."

Her biggest competition on the show.
"In terms of strategic thinking, I thought Richard Hatch had great strategy. In terms of being dedicated to charity and raising awareness, John Rich and Marlee Matlin were singularly focused, so I felt very comfortable with them. I admire the work that they did. In terms of personality, I mean obviously you guys have been seeing the promos for Apprentice and have been seeing the vitriol that NeNe [Leakes] had exhibited not only towards me, but pretty much towards everybody on the show. So that was a little bit interesting. It wasn't what I had expected, nor was it something I desired."

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She won't fight back against NeNe Leakes's negative comments.
"Honestly, I refuse to be a part of it. I had no choice but to be connected to NeNe throughout the competition. Since we are not friends, we weren't before and we're very different personalities, so we won't be after, I don't feel the need to engage in a public way. It does not further my purpose and I think it ends up demeaning African American women, so I refuse to be a part of it and I won't make nasty comments about her even if she makes nasty comments about me because that's just not my style."

Why she and NeNe bumped heads while filming.
"I'm a strategic thinker, which I do think is probably what frustrated NeNe the most in the competition. I approached this like it was a job. This was my obligation to work hard and to achieve certain goals. I used intelligence, strategy, my legal background, and my vast resources in terms of who I know and how we do things in New York City. I used it to my advantage and to the advantage of my team. That's something that I brought to the table and I think that's probably what was frustrating."

How she handles the negative side of fame.
"I surround myself with people who are not toxic to me. I don't have friends that bring drama. I really don't. I've gotten rid of them quite frankly. The spotlight is very hot when it shines on you, and if you don't keep your wits about yourself, you're going to get really scorched. I have had the experience of being scorched and I have learned one major thing throughout my career: You have to know the truth. At the end of the day, it only matters what is true, and keeping that in my head is what has gotten me through this."

What viewers can expect this season on Celebrity Apprentice.

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