updated 11/07/2011 AT 9:00 AM ET
•originally published 11/14/2011 AT 7:15 AM ET
Bret Michaels has been through a lot in the past two years – and knows he’s one of the lucky ones.
Sitting backstage with PEOPLE at the Orlando Hard Rock Cafe, a thin but energetic Michaels, discussing his health scare and his fortunes both good and bad, says: “It has been rough. But I’m feeling pretty damn good. I’m really blessed to be here.”
In April 2010, the Poison frontman and reality star, 48, underwent an emergency appendectomy. A few days later, he was struck by a subarachnoid hemorrhage – bleeding in his brain stem that could have proved fatal.
After surgery, he was hospitalized again, this time with a small stroke. And in January, he had surgery to repair a hole in his heart. “It was one thing after another,” says Michaels. “It was like, ‘What next?’ ”
Michaels resolved to fight his way back to health but concedes he got some help. “I thank a higher power that I am alive today,” he says, pointing skyward. “It just wasn’t my time to go. I know I’m still here for a reason. So, working with charities and helping others has become really important to me.”
Case in point: a concert he did last week in Orlando to benefit the Down Syndrome Foundation of Florida. “What’s important is doing what you can to to help others,” he says.
His advice to anyone who is diagnosed with a life-threatening disease? “Fight like hell,” he says. “I’m not going to say it will be easy, because it won’t. I won’t say you won’t go through times that you want to give up, because you will. Half of the battle is mental, just having an attitude that you can beat the disease. But life is worth fighting for.”
When told he’s sounding like a nice guy, Michaels laughs. “Shhh. Don’t tell anyone,” he jokes. “I need to keep up the mystique. I may be a nice guy, but I still like to rock.”