Straight from the heart

Dateline: Sun 06 Dec 2009

A few years ago, when I was still knocking out a metro/state column for the Indianapolis Star, a wonderful woman named Reyna Dodds came into my life.

Reyna works for Eli Lilly and Co. She is elegant, kind and vivacious. It was hard, initially, to comprehend that this successful researcher from Carmel, dressed in a coral-red suit, had undergone such tragedy -- her beautiful daughter Jenny had died at age 21 of heart disease. The kicker was that Jenny, seemingly healthy, was being seen by a cardiologist for high blood pressure. But nobody, including her doctor, guessed the extent of damage to her young heart...simply because she did not fit the "profile."

Reyna describes the last hours of Jenny's life: "Her visit to the Emergency Room where she presented with palpitations, nausea, bilateral arm pain and jaw pain were dismissed as symptons of anxiety. She was released without further testing. She died at home the next morning. Further studies revealed that two of her major arteries were completely ocluded."

Jenny's story --- which Reyna Dodds was determined to share -- deeply affected readers. It also became part of the fabric of my day, as much as drinking half a dozen cups of coffee and bitching about editors. Until I retired in 2006, I kept Jenny's photo on my desk -- a vibrant, slender, blonde with her mother's dark eyes and million-dollar smile. Always, this "picture of health" was difficult to reconcile with the fact that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, but reconcile and tell truth, one must.

Thanks to Reyna, I later attended a luncheon event of the American Heart Association, which had begun a national  campaign to educate women about their risks. Called Go Red for Women, it featured speakers who had heart disease -- and were beating it.

At one level, this was inspirational stuff. But for me, with a long family history of vascular woes and a well-developed fatalistic streak -- "momento mori," "remember you must die," was my motto -- it was a bit of a bummer.

An East Coast cardiologist was the headliner. She warned us about the "apple body shape" -- any woman with a waist span of 35 inches or more was asking for trouble, she explained.

Oops. So what does one do when one is feeling more like an apple and less like a pear? Have a drink and a cigarette, of course. Relax. Fuggitabout it.

But no more.

A month or so ago, The Star (can't get away from that paper) ran a small article in the Thursday health pages: Go Red for Women in Indianapolis was looking for "challengers" -- five women would be chosen to participate in a heart healthy "makeover" and share their stories at the Feb. 26 Go Red for Women luncheon.

All you had to do was apply.

I did.

Up until now, the only thing I've ever won was a silk-lined blue jewelry box in third grade. But wonderous tho it was, winning it required no skill and no effort; it was just part of a daily drawing held during a school magazine sales drive.

This contest took some skill: I had to write a short essay descrbing why I wanted to be chosen. I had to take a risk and admit how imperfect I am (and how high my cholesterol is, even with medication). I had to be willing to work.

Through some miracle of fate, or blessing, or just plain luck, I was one of the five chosen.

Next, after the high wears off, will come the effort -- cholesterol has to decrease and weight drop. This means exercise must become a priority, along with good nutrition (goodbye wine in excess and Oberweis ice cream...sigh...). Bad habits must be replaced with good ones.

Can you teach an old dog new tricks? I know so. Of the five challengers, I am, at 62, the senior member, and I'm not about to set an old-lady bad example. The others are Kimila Brown, 50; Jessica Woodson, 49; Amy Magan, 39, and Dee Leonard, 26. What we share, so far, is varying degrees of heart-related issues -- obesity, BMI, high cholesterol, hypertension, high blood sugar, smoking, etc. etc. etc. -- and enthusiasm for this project. I know we will share a great deal more as the weeks progress.

Part of the deal is that we all will blog about our successes as well as our setbacks on the AMA website. As soon as that is up and running, I'll holler. Then, you can also read about all the challengers, and our ups and downs.

In the meantime, Amy Magan, also a writer, has posted an entry on her mommy blog, the Fourth Frog:

Next, I hope to write about how much time, effort and money the American Heart Association is putting into this project.

But for now, I'll enjoy a quiet moment of thanks for Reyna Dodds. She was brave enough to share, under the most difficult of circumstances. May each of us, whatever our stories, take a page from her book of courage.





Amy Magan [unverified] said:

Wow, Ruth, did you ever consider that Jenny had a hand in your selection -- as a thanks for keeping her story alive? I am excited -- and anxious -- to get started. Who knows where we'll be come February 26? Or better yet, this time next year!

2009-12-06 22:43:24

ruthholl [Member] said:

That's a mystical thought, Amy, one Catholic to another...honestly, I had not thought of that, but now that you've stated it, there's probably some spiritual poetry afoot.
I hope we all have a good week. My fear is getting all pumped up (as is my nature) and then crashing...hope to keep an even keel, which is what I liked best about the breakfast. Dr. B said, "take responsibility...and if you fall off for one day, just start fresh the next." That is some good medicine.
So here's to the future!

2009-12-06 22:57:38

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

All the best to you, Ruth, and to the other participants.

I have lost 80 pounds and have kept it off due to a combination of a vegetarian and low-carb diet.

I became a vegetarian back in the 1980s and still kept weight on, but when I added a low-carb approach a couple of years ago the weight loss was remarkable.

I am a vegetarian for two reasons: I believe it's best for overall health and also because I am an animal lover and I don't want to eat my animal friends.

2009-12-07 01:16:31

ruthholl [Member] said:

Thank you, Whitebeard. It's always helpful to hear what has worked for others....I agree with you about going vegetarian.
Read recently that a strict low-carb diet (Atkins and South Beach were cited) can leave people grumpy, because carbs do contribute to seritonin levels in the brain. (Hence the more carbs, the happier the dieter). But you don't seem to have experienced that, right?
Do you have a particular diet you follow or do you count carbs?

2009-12-07 06:23:35

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Here's an approach I developed on my own in March,and it works for me:

Veggies Monday through Friday. Lots of fruit juices and water. Not a drop of dairy except yogurt.

Weekends--mild levels of red meat, all the chicken you want, all the fish you want. Turkey too.

Sweets are weekends only, and in moderation. Damn it.

All week: vitamins, Biotin, Cinnamon capsules, fish oil capsules.

All week: walk briskly every other day for 45 minutes.

All the bad numbers got good, I lost 20 lbs., inches, and yeah, I was grumpy when it started. But now the veggie thing is a pleasant challenge. It's a lot more fun in the summer, to be sure, because those sorry-ass things they call tomatoes at Marsh are surely lemons in disguise. But there are some fantastic frozen veggies and the fresh selection, while limited, is good, albeit expensive.

We all have reasons for doing this. Mine is a 2-year-old grandchild who thinks I walk on water.

Which, for him, I do.

2009-12-07 07:03:02

hendy [Member] said:

My weight loss was just portion control, no booze, pop, desserts, and fewer visits to Trader Joe's.

Forty lbs later, I struggle with holiday foods.

The threat of cardiovascular disease is one reason, diabetes another. But my health is better overall.

Quitting cigarettes will be the top of the mountain. Stopping my rants against the haters will be the other crest.

2009-12-07 07:43:20

BigPoppa [Member] said:

About 4 years ago I was able to drop about 50+ pounds following a strict diet of no more than 12-15g of total fat a day, including no more than 4g saturated fat. Otherwise, just be mindful of what you are eating but taking fat out of the equation you learn you're pretty much left with fruits and veggies. I combined that with a bit of walking and had good results (280-ish to 230-ish). I will admit that I did play hockey once a week from Sept through March, but that mostly helped with maintaining my weight loss as the bulk of that drop was over the summer. That diet was recommended by the dietician I was working with due to high cholesterol, screwy triglycerides, and generaly high BP.

I maintained that weight loss for the last few years, but found it harder to try to keep on that diet while traveling for work. This year my brother passed away at 49 of a heart attack. The same age my father and uncle died for the same reason. None of them were terribly unhealthy, but all three smoked. My other brother (48) and I are non smokers but immediately scheduled stress tests and appointments with cardiologists. My brother had to undergo triple bypass in September. I came out pretty much unscathed other than a slightly enlarged heart.

Since August, when my brother passed, I've been working to make additional changes to try to lose more weight and get in better shape. The diet that works best is simple: burn more calories than you take in and you'll lose weight. It's the only guaranteed weight loss technique. How you do that is up to you. You can focus on that daily or over the course of the week.

A high protein, low carb diet can help with that as protein and fiber can help you feel fuller longer. I also recommend, if possible, eating 5 smaller meals instead of your normal three. If, like me, work makes that difficult, toss in healthy snacks between your regular three meals. We've introduced more vegetarian meals but still occasionally eat meat.

I've also started running and biking regularly. In August when I started, I couldn't run more than a quarter mile without having to stop to walk. In October I ran my first 10k in just over an hour and I'm gearing up for the Mini in May. I have another goal of at least one sprint triathlon in 2010. When the weather was a touch warmer, I was trying to run at least 35-45 min, 2-3 days a week with longer runs on the weekends. On days I wasn't running I might go for a bike ride or play hockey. I never set foot in a gym!

From August until November, I lost another 25 pounds. I've been able to maintain that following calories in vs. calories out despite a break in training until now. Don't focus on a specific diet or you'll drive yourself insane. Just focus on calories in vs. calories out and try to get 30 min of exercise at least 5 days a week to help with the calories out. You'll be surprised at how easy it is and happy with the results!

2009-12-07 07:56:28

ruthholl [Member] said:

This is all TERRIFIC info and I appreciate all the details you all have offered.
The cardiologist for this project is Dr. Nancy Branyas of The Care Group, and she had a very common-sense approach at our initial breakfast meeting last week: "take responsibility" for yourself, and if you do have a slip, get over it and move on.
Sounds like all of you are in that groove. Big Poppa's specifics and amount of exercise are very inspiring and concrete; I also like the TTT weekly formula, with a little weekend break, and Hendy's acknowledgment of portion control, no booze, etc.
Clearly, each person sets his/her own course, and we can only hope to meet down the road, lighter, healthier, etc.
But again, I am so impressed that each of you take your own health seriously, and it is wonderful to have role models.

2009-12-07 08:58:04

kaballah38 [Member] said:

I had a open heart surgery 28 months ago.

It was a piece of cake.

I went to the right place : St.Vincent Heart Center of Indiana.

My surgeon was Peter Andrew Philip Walts.

Dr. Walts replaced my Aorta Valve on Friday morning, three days later, I was shopping at O'malias Downtown.

Vegetarian diet and a lot of sex.....

Everyone knows sex is a secret key for a happy and health life.

2009-12-07 10:56:04

ruthholl [Member] said:

I am sure the Go RED for Women campaign is going to be thrilled to hear that Rx -- sex and vegetarian meals.
The Heart Center (St Vincent) is behind this project; that was where our introductory breakfast was held last week.
I am so glad you recovered with flying colors! As in face is...blushing...(not)
Seriously, it's all very happy news, kaballah33.

2009-12-07 12:22:45

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

Hi Ruth,

Answering your questions you posed to me:

1. Like other people wrote here, I eat several times a day to keep my blood sugar steadier, but small amounts of food each time. The American version of THREE BIG MEALS is a killer, really. It's a bad tradition for most people: causes peaks and valleys in blood sugar and contributes to carbohydrate craving.

2. You asked about crankiness from faddish low-carb diets. I imagine that is because many people on these hyper-strict carb diets are having periods of low blood sugar and that is what makes them cranky. I am not on a carb-less diet, but a diet that has carbs at the bottom of the list of things I eat. Also, when I do eat foods with carbs, I eat complex carb foods (you can check that out on an internet search).

3. Pay attention to your body and to your bathroom scale because everyone loses weight differently. I am not enthusiastic about these "one-way-fits-all" diets. The human body is very complex and what is good for one person won't be good for another. To come up with a plan that works for you, I would advise experimenting a bit until you find a regimen that doesn't keep you hungry and thinking about food all of the time. That's where the small, multiple mini-meal approach has really helped me.

4. I take chromium picolynate supplement capsules because chromium helps regulate blood sugar and metabolism. You can read about that on the net.

5. Yogurt is a really good food for weight loss. There is a lot of research out that yogurt is a great aid in digestion and weight loss. It also helps the immune system. It's a filling food that is good for me.

6. A vegetarian diet (I still do eat some milk products such as yogurt and cheese) has worked well for me.
Some people may need a B-12 supplement and perhaps supplemental iron (especially women) if they stop eating meat products. My doc tests these in me from time to time.

7. When carb cravings start to diminish, food becomes less of a factor in a person's focus. I "eat to live" now, I don't live to eat. Plus, now I find a plate of cucumbers and low-fat salad dressing as much of a treat as I used to think I could only experience from a Taco Bell burrito or a big slab of cheesecake.

8. I'm close to 60 and I had to decide whether I wanted to keep eating harmful foods at the sacrifice of longevity or, if I wanted to change my diet to try to live for another decade or two. I don't have any grandchildren as yet, but I can see that this would most certainly be a big motivator for anyone.

9. From the Bible: "Taste and see, the goodness of the Lord."

2009-12-07 12:46:07

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

The heart thing can catch the best of us. Just found out today that my favorite City Council member, Angie Mansfield, had a mild heart attack a couple of weeks ago.

She's one of the good ones. Young, too. Non-smoker par excellence, she's the author of the current and proposed smoking bans, God love her.

She had no signals, either. A complete shock.

Sadly, that's true of too many.

If you watched NBC News tonight, their health reporter, a female doctor whose name now escapes me, reported on the annual Cancer Statistics, released today. It seems we're beating cancer of nearly every kind with early detection. More cancer survivors live today than at any other time in history--about 11 million of us.

The number-one cause of cancer, and number two of heart disease is smoking. The plaque buildup in your arteries is amazing.

Nothing good comes from it.

2009-12-07 19:35:40

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