Alan is something of a miracle man. At the age of 32, he had a massive
heart attack. But more than 40 years, 4 bypass surgeries, 30 angioplasties, and
a combined pacemaker/defibrillator later, he’s still thriving. He learned how
to cope with heart disease the hard way.
Alan had always been
healthy and athletic. Except for the occasional cold, he was never sick. So the
heart attack came as a shock.
But he was a smoker. And when he
had his first bypass surgery a few years later, Alan learned that he was born
with very small heart arteries. The combination proved too much for his heart
"At some point in my life, I was going to have a heart
attack. Smoking just sped it up," says Alan, 73. "It happened while I was
playing basketball with some guys from work. I started getting pains in my
chest. The next thing I knew, I was on the floor."
Lessons learned about heart disease
heart attack, Alan quit smoking immediately. He didn't have much choice. At
that time, treatment for a heart attack was total bed rest for 3 weeks.
"That’s how they thought the heart would heal in those days-with
complete rest, no excitement. Now we know that if you can get up, get up. You
have to move around at least a little."
During those weeks in the
hospital and the months of recovery that followed, Alan taught himself a lot
about heart disease. He read everything on the topic that he could find.
"I learned how to take care of myself. Those lessons have stayed
One of those lessons is the importance of a healthy
diet. But putting what he knows into daily practice is an ongoing challenge.
Alan leans on his wife, Cloris, for help.
"I've had to work at
keeping my weight under control, and that has really helped my cholesterol," he
says. "When you have heart disease, you learn to eat better for the rest of
your life. And if you don't, you're asking for trouble."
longer drinks alcohol or eats red meat. His daily meals include fruit and
vegetables. Fish is often on the menu at home. The portions are a little
smaller than what he'd like. Since his diagnosis of type 2 diabetes a few years
ago, he’s also had to limit sweets.
"That’s a tough one," he
Making these changes hasn't prevented the need for major
surgeries and other procedures. But they have helped Alan stay active and enjoy
life. "Heart care isn't a one-time fix. Exercise, eating, and medical care all
have to work together," he says.
Support groups make a difference