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Alan's Story: Coping With Change After a Heart Attack - Alan's story

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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 to take.

"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

After the 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 with me."

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."

Alan no 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 says.

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

As a lifelong athlete, Alan didn't need much coaching to add more exercise to his daily routine. For more than 30 years, he's been an enthusiastic member of a local walking program for people with heart problems.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 13, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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