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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Happy Basketball Report, and Reflections of Heart Disease Symptoms, and Spousal Care

Last night was a red letter night.  DH was able to sustain an hour of running up and down the basketball court with his boys. He was so excited, he encouraged me to write this post so that others could have hope in the CTO procedure in bringing back energy and vitality.

 It could have been Christmas for him, as he looked like the happiest guy on earth, realizing that his vitality has returned after his CTO revascularization procedure two weeks ago.  He noted there was no sweating, no pain, only a slight bit of dizziness when he pushed too hard, but we blame that on the blood thinners he's on to protect his new stent.

We have a YMCA membership and we go as a family frequently to play basketball together.  I noticed over a year ago that he was getting sweatier than usual when he played.  I also noticed this sweaty-ness when I hugged him good-bye in the mornings.

That is why I changed our diets to the Reverse Heart Disease diet of Caldwell Esselstyn's back last January 2012.  I now believe that diet saved him from having a heart attack, and I now believe that he was a ticking time bomb some months before we got serious in changing the diet.

Based on his symptoms and the timing of symptom increase, I would have to say that he probably had 70 - 80% blockage in his LCX artery back in January, and probably about the same in the RCA.  I would like to also note that from 2009 to the beginning of 2012 I had strayed from a low-fat plant based diet as I experiment with the Specific Carbohydrate Diet to treat my celiac's disase.

I believe this straying away from being low-fat vegetarians, which we have been off and on, but mostly on for the last 15 years, is when DH's arteries became more clogged.  The SCD is a low carb and extremely high fat diet.  While on this diet both of us had high cholesterol, which we have regularly kept tabs on for many years.  It's also interesting to note that the biggest advocate for the SCD diet died this year, in his fifties, of a heart attack.

I have been told that in regards to heart disease, symptoms aren't usually noticeable until there is a 70% blockage in the arteries.  In women, who can develop microvascular heart disease the symptoms can start sooner.

DH has 40% disease in his LAD, which we are trying to reverse, but his surgeon didn't intervene with the LAD because 40% would not cause symptoms, unless he continued to eat foods that destroys nitric oxide, causing a new and potentially deadly clot.  This is why we have to be so strict with his diet which has some social consequences.

I have been amazed at the the jeering, and skepticism we have gotten from quite a few people.   We are not really even worried about the RCA but both the LCX and LAD could develop quickly from 40% to 100% blockage with just one fatty meal.

So I have to shut my ears when people say, "How can you give up meat, and dairy?  What about nuts?  You can't eat nuts either?  How about olive oil?  No olive oil!  Isn't that heart healthy?  And you're giving up sugar?  Oh, I could never eat like that!"

People don't realize how uncaring it is to talk like that to someone who has just gone through the scariest experience of their lives and is trying to avoid that situation again.

 I sat in the foyer at church the other day and listened to two friends talk about how my kids were gorging on the the sugar and rolls at the Christmas Party because I am so strict at home.  They had a good chuckle over that, but what they don't realize is that my children, due to family history, are candidates for heart disease and, also, if they eat that stuff in front of their dad, it's not fair to him.

To talk that way to me in front of my children is destructive and undermines what we have to accomplish to keep them healthy for the rest of their lives. It's essential that we follow the advice of our three cardiologists who are in agreement that he stay on a low-fat based diet, despite other's expert opinions and judgments.

I believe that his arteries closed up to their lethal levels in the summertime when scouting activities made it hard for him to stay 100% on the diet, although, he did the best he could, and that is when the disabling symptoms began.  But!!!! Despite that, he still did not have a heart attack nor did he sustain heart damage.

How can a spouse help a heart patient recognize they have a problem in the first place?  I really think that sweating is a huge clue.

Now that DH's arteries are all fully open, sweating does not happen, even when he is running up and down the court for an hour.  There was not a bit of sweat under his arms or anywhere on his solid blue dress shirt after the game.

For DH, sweating and breathlessness was an early sign.  If sweating and breathlessness is a problem, why not just have a conversation with a cardiologist as a preventive measure?  It's  much better than winding up in the ER with an emergency angiogram.

The statistics for men are grim.  50% of men don't know they have heart disease until they either find out through a heart attack, or die suddenly.  I don't remember the percentages of those men that die of that 50%, but isn't any number too high?  And of those who don't die, and wind up in the ER with the first heart attack, the pain is one of the worst there is.  Why not prevent such an event?

DH prevented such an event because he listens to his wife, he listens to his body, and he listen's to the Lord's still small voice.  It took some swallowing of his pride to do so, but his confidence in himself in taking charge of his health and having some control over his future was boosted when he realized that he had taken an essential and urgent action to prevent an event that was sure to happen, which would have crippled him and disabled him from being able to support his family for life.

Another sign, and I won't say early sign, because the first signs happen when the disease is already way established, is fatigue.  For a very long time, DH was tired.  Last January, we were on the beach in Florida.  As a kid he surfed a lot in California, and when we go to the beach, he can't wait to get in the water.  When we went to the beach in Florida, he didn't have the energy to swim. He just stayed on the beach and watched the kids.  He thought he was suffering from the flu.

Well, this "flu" lasted for many months, and he just pushed himself through the fatigue day in and day out, thinking this was a new normal for him.  Well, it was.  It was a new normal, setting up to be an acute situation!

The third sign developed in July, in the middle of his High Adventure week in Colorado.  He noticed that he was having numbness in the tricep of his left arm.  Not the bicep which Rosie O'Donell had felt when she had her heart attack pain, but the tricep.  He felt it when he was walking, and even when he was just sitting with his arm around me on the couch.

Eventually, the symptoms progressed to pretty strong angina pain in the upper left corner of his chest where the arm and shoulder meet.  This pain radiated from that point and drew across his upper chest toward his heart.  It is said that heart pain will begin at the center of the chest and radiate to the arm, but his was the opposite, starting at the arm and radiating toward the heart.

This should serve as a reminder that not all people feel the typical heart symptoms.

For a while, we really tried to figure out, was this a back or neck problem, or a heart problem?  I encouraged him to get the heart checked out first, but he went the back and neck route first, which put us at greater risk, and put off the inevitable.  I know he wishes he had gone the other route sooner.

Back and shoulder problems can cause the tricep and chest pain we describe here, but the triad of symptoms that screamed out, "heart disease", was the sweat, fatigue, and dizziness, and shortness of breath combined with the pain.  Pain alone should still be checked out, but the more I read, the more I realize that usually there is another symptom along with the pain, and usually one or all of the symptoms listed above.

For instance, with my GERD, I have chest pain, right behind my heart and when it's acting up, it feels like a heart attack, but I never have sweaty-ness, or fatigue.  Sometimes I have shortness of breath IF the chest pain triggers an anxiety attack, but for me activity will often make the pain go away, and always make the shortness of breath go away.  Exertional symptoms are a big clue!

I knew these warning signs, and had seen them, and I had been trying to push for a cardiology appointment early on, but I learned that nagging didn't help.  What I did say that made a difference was, "Earlier this year, I had chest pain, and you didn't have to ask me to go get it checked out.  I wouldn't ask you to do what I wasn't willing to do myself."  After I said that, he consented to go.

Not everyone reads medical studies for a hobby like I do, and don't have a grasp of the internal organs like I do.  DH is a numbers expert.  Lots of times he has to explain a financial plan over and over to me again until I understand what he's saying, and I'm sure it's the same with me explaining to him the cause of his chest pain, and even though I kept expressing information to him so he could agree to see the cardiologist, this information and conviction was not owned by him, it was owned by me.  Until he owned the information through his own concerted focus, no nagging in the world would help.

We have to focus on informational material and own it before we take action.  I had to be patient while this process was going on. But, I knew the signs of a heart attack and that gave me comfort in knowing, at least I would know when to call 911.  I also have four scouts living in my house that know CPR and that was also a comfort, and I'm glad we didn't have to use it.

I'm hoping that by writing these thoughts down on this blog, other spouses can know how to encourage their heart patient to go see the doctor, and those who are having symptoms of heart disease can realize that it's not a pride issue to go see the doctor.

There is not one cardiologist that I know of, nor one ER doctor that thinks you are wasting his/her time by being cautious. These specialized doctors know the structure of the heart like a best friend, and they know how easily just one fatty meal can totally block an artery, and they know that it's best to get it checked out, even if the patient were to end up with a test as invasive as an angiogram, which really isn't that hard of a test to go through compared to the alternative of suffering a heart attack.

I, myself, suffer from a conditions that cause scary chest pains that mimic heart disease.  I have an inherited motility problem that makes my esophagus hurt much of the time, especially in the middle of the night, and I have been to the ER several times to get my heart checked out, even though this pain is being caused by a disease of another structure in the chest.

 I have never received anything but concern and respect from all of the doctors and nurses I have encountered.  A couple of them blamed anxiety for my problem and prescribed anxiety meds, which I never took, but they were still concerned and respectful.

I might note, that heart disease was ruled out in every case before anxiety was diagnosed, and it took an endoscopy from my gastroenterologist to diagnose the gastroesophageal problem.  In any case, I  have never been treated like I was wasting anyone's time, or that I was a "weenie" for showing up there.

Medical bills are another problem, but if you are or your spouse is experiencing those heart symptoms, a doctor appointment, a stress test, or an ER visit, and even an angiogram, or two in our case, is going to save you a lot more money than a bypass, or long term heart damage caused by a heart attack.  That is one fact we had to keep reminding ourselves as the bills started to pile up.

So if you have chest pain, sweatiness, dizziness, shortness of breath, especially if these occur on exertion, get it checked out, and then deal with the outcome.  It can be a comfort to know there are great people out there that know how to help you deal with the outcome.  Cardiology professionals are the best and most caring that I have encountered in the medical field.

They are good at lifting the burden of worry, and "we are really good at fixing hearts", as I was told by a very good friend of mine from church who works on a cardiac floor.

And she is right.  I know a man, who I met in the "cath lab" who has had three bypass surgeries and three stents.  He was in his eighties and tolerated the angiogram very well.  The point I'd like to make is he knew when to get in for that angiogram and have the stents placed before he put his family through emergency of a heart attack or his sudden death.  Even my own dad, who did have a massive heart attack, that fortunately did not take his life, has had a quintuple bypass, and in his 70's built a 3500 square foot house, practically by himself.

Now, I'm not saying that because we have gone through intervention, my husband won't have a heart attack tomorrow, but we know, because of his two angiograms and his intervention that he has equal or less of a chance that any neighbor down the street has of having a heart attack, because he's on top of it, taking his heart protective medications, and eating a heart disease reversing diet.  He is also being closely monitored by cardiac rehab, his cardiologists, and the stent company researchers.

I feel more confidence in the condition of his heart than I have had for ten years, because I have seen the videos of his angiogram and I know what each of his arteries looks like.  I also have read all of the material about the stent he has, and the medications he is taking, and I know of the chances he has of improving his heart health through this nutritional and medical therapy.

When we lived in Colorado twelve years ago, I attended a meeting which is held in our church twice a year called Stake Conference.  Our "parishes" which are called wards, like the city districts are called in Manhattan, are grouped into about ten to 15 wards called stakes.  The stake leader is called the Stake President.  At that meeting, a new Stake President had been put in place, and he had two counselors to serve in his aid.

One of the counselors had told a story that his wife was concerned about his heart health and had asked him to go see a cardiologist.  He did not give her any argument, he immediately self-referred himself to a cardiologist.  He was in his mid-30's.  He was active and skinny.   He had no symptoms of heart disease.  However, he lovingly did as his wife asked and went to get his heart checked out.  For a fellow, this takes a lot of humility.  Most men would not do this.

I was very impressed by this man's love for his wife and his humility.  It was found that his heart was very healthy.  She must have been concerned from a family history perspective to be so aggressive in her encouragement of him, but kudos to the both of them!

In that same meeting, she was also asked to speak, and she said, "I love that my husband wants to serve the Lord, and I vow to you that I will make nutritious meals for my husband everyday, so that he can have the health and strength to serve the Lord."  I was mightily impressed by this couple, and have referred to them from time to time.

Well, I think I've hashed this topic over quite enough now.  It is a fact that married people live longer than single people, studies show that mortality for single people is 60% higher than it is for married people.

DH and I were talking about the health benefits of marriage.  First being, that a happily married are not lonely, so they avoid the health consequences that come from being lonely.  Secondly, they can help each other out.  He goes to work and earns a living to support me, and I cook for our family and nurture our children.  I would be far more tired and sick if I had to do both of our jobs.  It would be hard for him to do both of our jobs too!

Thirdly, and very important, spouses can sometimes see changes occurring in their partner that the partner may not notice.  This is where I feel I have played a very important role in my husband's extended life.  I know that my encouragement of him, my study of heart disease, my preparation of healthy meals, and my support in giving up personal time with him so he can exercise saved his life, and will probably extend his life.

It makes me feel that I have fulfilled and am fulfilling an extremely important mission in his eyes and the Lord's eyes.  If I never accomplish another good thing in this life, I will still feel that I have made a valuable contribution to society for my efforts because he is such a good man and does so much for so many.

So husbands, (and wives, but usually wives go before husbands have to say something), if you love your wife go to the doctor if she is expressing worry in your health.  If the doctor finds something terribly wrong, you two can muster up the strength to deal with it together with the Lord's help.

If he finds nothing wrong, then you can sleep easier, and move on with the plans you make together.  Of course, my purpose is only to talk about heart problems.  I have no experience with other health challenges, so I'm not weighing on that, but if you have heart symptoms, go ahead and get it checked because as my wise nurse friend said, "We have become very good at fixing hearts."

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