Guest post by Larry Wagner
When I had my emergency triple by-pass surgery 10 years ago I had just 1 percent blood flow in my two main coronary arteries, plus 80 percent blockage of the third coronary main, the circumflex, and two dozen other blockages and aneurysms throughout the artery branches. Thankfully, I survived. Nursing and OR staff wondered if I would survive. Three weeks before my surgery I was an active 53 year old working in an office setting. I had a few minor incidents the prior three years but was well recovered and I had no warning of what was about to happen.
I was very active, using a rowing machine 2-3 times a week, did weight training, swam occasionally, and played a little basketball. Two weeks after my surgery I could barely walk across a room every few hours. After another two weeks, I could walk slowly on a treadmill for five minutes with my heart rate barely over 100. To try more was too tiring. Elderly people with walkers could walk faster and farther than me.
I immersed myself in research to find information about my condition and how to improve my hope to survive. I found excellent research articles on the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) website on important functional foods for my diet, exercise methods to improve recovery from heart disease, and other articles to guide and monitor my physical recovery. There were thousands of articles from dozens of research journals from all over the world, but I focused on valid, but lesser known information that could make a bigger difference. I came across the Finnish manufacturer SUUNTO which produced a fitness computer/heart rate monitor that could guide my progress and identify the intensity and recovery period of every workout.
My doctor keeps me up-to-date on my cholesterol numbers. The first few years it was checked every six months, then later it was done just once a year. I checked my blood pressure daily for a while. I became accustomed to my energy as a function of my blood pressure. If I had too much energy, I knew my blood pressure was high. If I was drowsy, I knew my blood pressure was too low. Long-term improvements in blood pressure allowed my doctors to reduce my medications which eventually led to me taking one sixth of the original dose.
I worked on increasing my strength and endurance. My diet was modified to include minimal salt, no dairy, no beef, no fat, and no fried foods. I created a consistent diet included healthy proteins (no red meats), no dairy, whole grains, and lots of fruits and veggies. I was able to keep to my healthy diet even at my work cafeteria. My consistent health diet instigated many conversations that influenced other employees. Many foods became flat tasting due to these dietary restrictions so I began to use more spices and started to eat tart/bitter foods, such as very intense dark chocolate and tart cherries. To help you understand how tart, after I sharing some of my treats with a co-worker he commented, “How do you eat that stuff?” I told him that it has become my new candy and what makes it even better is that it is good for me. Strong flavors make it wonderful.
I have not lost any weight on my new diet but am maintaining it since I was already at my ideal weight. I also learned how to use foods that were high in antioxidants, niacin, thiamine to boost my endothelial progenitor cell and HDL levels that leads to reducing coronary artery blockage.
I feel better, have more energy, and have more strength for everyday living now than I did before my heart attack. I exercise 5-7 times a week for 45 minutes or more with parts at high intensity, yet well tolerated, and no shortness of breath or fatigue. I tolerate a heart rate with intense exercise as if I was 40 years old, or younger. Other athletes think I am 10 or 15 younger because of my energy level. It is all due to the purposeful changes that I have made in my life that make this possible. Incidents of angina or shortness of breath are rare and minor.
After five years of sharing what I was learning with others, including the WebMD website forum on heart disease, WebMD profiled me in a 2012 WebMD magazine on my amazing story of cardiac recovery.
Today, I row 3 to 4 times a week, for 30 to 90 minutes. Sculling, really, as on a rowing machine. My boat is 17 feet long, 45 inches wide, with two sculling position. It is much heavier to row than most sculling shells, however that suits me just fine as I stay strong at age 63 and plan to stay that way for many years to come.