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Health | Mary Biever | One Writing Mother
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Change and Choosing to Live with Heart Disease

There is a difference between having heart disease and choosing to live with it.

Having heart disease is passive.

Living with heart disease embraces change and celebrates life. Some causes of heart disease are related to genetics or biology, and those are the cards we are dealt at birth. My other risk factors increased because of my choices: my diet, weight gain, and lack of exercise.

It became a song that repeated itself, a verse each year, same song, different year, could be better but it got a lot worse. And finally, that song erupted like peanut butter, jelly, and a baseball bat. Except it was weight gain, lack of exercise, and a heart attack.

To choose to continue to sing that song would be having heart disease and continuing to make the mistakes that got me here.

Choosing to live with heart disease is to change those mistakes and resolve to do better. For me, those changes include:

  • Eating a lower fat, lower salt diet.
  • Drinking water instead of southern sweetened iced tea and coffee. I inhaled iced tea. And I probably drank half a pot of coffee a day. Now, I’m down to a cup of coffee a day. And each day begins with a pint of water.
  • Scheduling my diet to include fruits and vegetables. I always ate them before, but now it’s imperative. The more fruits and vegetables I eat, the less room my diet has for cheese, fried chicken, and Cheetos.
  • Logging my diet. Today is Day 26 of logging My Fitness Pal to track what I eat and measure the portions.
  • Exercising today. I can’t procrastinate till tomorrow, which I had done for years. Now it has to happen, and logging it into My Fitness Pal gives accountability for me to make sure it happens.

Those are just the steps in choosing to live with heart disease. When I follow those steps, I’m really venturing on the real path, which is is celebrating life and making the most of the time I have with family and friends.  If I stray from these steps, each step I take in the wrong direction leads me to not simply having heart disease but choosing to let heart disease have me and take me sooner.

I’ve heard that some addiction recovery programs say you have to choose to end the addiction for yourself. For me, the most powerful motivation for me to make and continue lifestyle changes is different. I want them to have more time with my husband and kids, so we can build memories together.

Then comes my challenge to you. If you don’t have heart disease, choose to live without heart disease!

Make healthier choices, starting today, RIGHT NOW, and make sure that your path never has to follow my new journey.

Going Red for a Day and Healthier for a Lifetime

In the past, on Go Red for Women, I thought it was a nice idea but had no relation to me or my life. I controlled blood pressure with medication but was convinced heart disease was something OTHER people battled.

Of course, that changed with my heart attack in December. Now, I’m one of those people – and I’m not alone. Go Red for Women raises awareness of women’s heart disease and I hope hammers home that it’s the leading killer of women.

But the real meaning of Go Red is beyond wearing my favorite color next Friday.

It’s a change in mental attitude. Diets were something that used to be optional for me. I needed to go on one, but there was time to do that – “later.”

Later never gets here. Today already is on our doorstep.

That lesson hammered home to me the day of my heart attack. When the cardiologist started the cath procedure, at the first poke, I flinched. He told me,

“If you move like that again, you will die.”

Yep, I stayed still. Now, I realize that my lifestyle habits also impact me long term. Two of my favorite foods in the world are fried chicken and Cheetos. They are gone. My outlook on food has changed such that when I see butter, margarine, or salt, my first thought is,

“If I eat foods like that, they will kill me.”

As the mom, and primary purchaser of food or selecter of restaurants, this means I control where we shop, what we buy, and what we eat. What does that mean?

  • I’m researching which restaurants have the American Heart Association Heart Check Meal Certification for heart healthy menu options. A low calorie menu item doesn’t matter much to me if it also contains 900 mg of salt per serving. Guess where our family is going to eat?
  • I’ve blogged which grocery stores in our area carry what healthier food items.
  • When festivals and fairs come along, I will only patronize those who sell products that contribute to my health instead of detract from my lifespan. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to have some vegetable packs or something lower fat available.

My next book will most likely be a cookbook of my reworked recipes of a lifetime. I’m still learning how to tweak them to preserve taste but improve their nutritional value.

The best motivation I have to make this a lifetime habit instead of a temporary fad is my family.

My desire to enjoy time with my husband and kids is more important to me than salty, fatty foods that will kill me. What about you?


3 Health Apps that Help Me

In the five weeks since my heart attack, I’ve learned a lot and changed many habits. Lowering my caffeine from half a pot of coffee per day, changing from drinking southern-style iced tea to water, and severely limiting my diet’s sodium and fat levels are still a work in process.

Today is a mini milestone. Following doctor’s orders, after my release from the hospital, I walked 2 minutes one day and started adding a minute per day to that. Today, I’ll hit the 30 minute mark, where I need to stay for the time being. To celebrate, I’m sharing 3 free apps that have helped me in the last month.:

GoodRX: If you input a prescription drug into this app, it checks your location and lists the medication’s price at pharmacies in your area. This is a good first step in determining where to fill your prescriptions.

BP Watch: When I take my blood pressure, I can input it here and keep a running history of it which can then be  emailed and exported.

My Fitness PalThis free calorie counter, diet and exercise journal is my new best friend. With it, I can log what I eat, the water I drink, and my exercise to make sure I stay on goal. Listed below are my favorite features:

  • Food nutrition info: If I log a name brand food product or basic real food item, it often already has the nutrition information listed. So I don’t have to enter it.
  • Easy food additions: If my food item is not listed, I can easily add it to use later.
  • Recipe nutrition analysis: I can input the ingredients in a recipe into it, and it will calculate the nutrition information into it.
  • Daily and weekly statistics: With the touch of a button, I can see the nutritional value of what I have eaten that day. This helps me easily monitor my calories, sodium, and fats so I can make appropriate food choices the rest of the day. I’ve learned some things from these statistics. First, it’s much easier for me to get my minimum daily protein than I realized; that makes it easier to me to stay in the 6 oz. protein limit per day for my cardio diet. Second, even eating a diet with more fruits and vegetables, I need to work harder to get my needed calcium and potassium each day. Third, if I eat a fat free processed food, it will often have high sodium. So I need to minimize those choices or adjust the rest of my daily diet if I use them. Fourth, I had one day where I ate out, and those food totals totally blew my sodium and calorie totals for the day. However, with the weekly option, I was able to make better choices the following days to stay on task.
  • Water log: I can log each glass of water each day and make sure I’m drinking enough water. Once I saw this, I started drinking a pint of water each morning first thing – before anything else. I’m amazed at how much better that has improved my outlook each morning.
  • Exercise log: Even with my simple walking on a flat surface with no resistance, I can see the calories burned and see how that impacts what I’ve eaten that day.
  • Weight loss predictor: At the end of each day, when I complete my log, I can see an estimate of how much weight I will lose in 5 weeks if I consume that many calories each of the following days. It may not be 100% accurate. However, it hammers home a daily tie in that my food choices today will impact my health long term.
  • Online access: I can access the app online via my laptop as well as on portable devices. And they sync.

When I think of getting fit, I’m old enough that my first thought is not “There’s an app for that.” However, these apps have saved me time and increased the likelihood I will continue to follow doctor’s orders to live a healthier lifestyle.

My Heart Attack – Women’s Heart Disease Symptoms Really Are Different

Part of my resting after a major life event involves writing – the story rolls in my head until I write it, and then I can rest.

Twenty years ago, Richard told a coworker, “Mary’s too stubborn to let things stop her. If she were on safari and got hit with an elephant tranquilizer, she would keep going.”

Well, this week, that ended. I had one of those weeks:

  • On Monday, my car’s radiator went out while I was driving on the Lloyd Expressway, and it overheated. It was towed and the radiator was replaced.
  • On Wednesday, I doubled over with back pain and had my son drive me to the emergency room. They diagnosed me with a 4mm kidney stone, put me on meds, and sent me home to let the stone pass. Earlier that day, I read an email from Go Red for Women – on preventing heart disease for women – I had resolved to get healthier over Christmas and start an exercise plan in 2 days On Thursdays, I was cooking a turkey and trimmings lunch for 70 people with a kitchen crew of 4-H leaders as a fundraiser.
  • On Thursday, my son went in to help cook the lunch with 4-H leaders who made a wonderful dinner without my help.
  • On Friday, those meds were making me sick.
  • Saturday, I think part of the stone passed.
  • Sunday morning, for the first time in days, I woke up first thing in the morning pain free. I wondered if the stone had dissolved and I was home free. I was still exhausted and opted not to go to church with my family.

Then, when they got home from church, I had a heart attack.

I had just taken the kidney stone meds when it hit. My first thought was I was having an allergic reaction to the medication. Suddenly, I felt pressure on my chest that radiated outwards. My arms tingled all the way down to my fingers in a way they never had before, and my jaw felt tight. I popped benadryl, as it seemed to me what I felt looked like allergic reactions to medications I had seen.

I called Richard for help and told him to phone a friend. He called the same friend I frantically called the night our home burned 11 years ago. (She also happens to be an emergency room physician.)  “Your symptoms sound like a heart attack,” she told me.

“No,” was my response. I thought – I’m too young, my blood pressure is under control, I eat my vegetables, and I’m too busy for health problems.

In case she was right, I had Richard give me a couple of aspirins to take. I rested for a moment and called her back, telling her, “This is anxiety. It will pass.”

“The only way you will know if it’s a heart attack or not is to go to the emergency room and get an EKG,” she told me.

Richard and I left to go to the emergency room. We didn’t call 911 – we both thought I would get an EKG, and they would pat me on the head and tell me it was nothing but anxiety. Richard called down to our son who was playing video games, “I’m taking your mom to go see a doctor. We’ll be back soon.”

When we got to the emergency room, he dropped me off so he could park the car, and I walked up to the desk where I had staggered in 4 days previously with kidney stone pain. I felt like a chronic emergency room over-user. “I have chest pains,” felt like a silly thing to say to the lady – just like they say in those commercials.

They quickly got me in for an EKG. As soon as the results printed from the EKG, things changed. “We’re moving you now,” the e.r. guy said as he ripped the paper reading off of the machine. A chaplain met Richard as they moved me into a different room. I didn’t know he was a chaplain – he was in a white coat, and he looked like just another medical dude to me. I happened to know the e.r. doc on duty – our kids used to swim together. They told me I was being prepped for a cath.  Richard was told to notify family.

Our daughter was due to begin her first college finals the next morning. Because the doc knew our kids, I told him that and told him I didn’t want her upset or distracted. He told us it was our decision, but if something went wrong she would be angry. I realized that word would quickly spread, and I didn’t want her to hear about it from someone else. Richard called. As they continued prepping me, I spoke with both our kids to tell them I loved them. And I told our daughter, “I will be fine. Don’t worry. Don’t let this distract you from studying tonight – stay focused. I love you, and I’m proud of you.”

This was not a slow process…everyone was working quickly. Then they ran with me on the gurney to the operating room. Richard and the chaplain followed. They told Richard, “Don’t try to keep up with us = we’re going as fast as we can – he’ll get you there.”

I heard Richard say, “watch me.” I knew he was running behind us to keep up. I think but don’t know that he walked into the operating room and they told him to step out.

During the cath, they found an artery was completely blocked, and they put in a stent. I didn’t realize people were conscious during cath procedures. During the procedure, I couldn’t think of words for a prayer, so I just prayed, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

Normally, I don’t post health issues on social media. This time, I did; we needed prayer, and I knew from past experiences the power of prayer on medical outcomes.  I’m thankful for the prayers, good wishes, and help of trusted friends who not only helped me but helped my family.

The good news is an echocardiogram the next day showed minimal if any heart damage. We still have other issues to address after first of the year. My daughter did stay focused on her finals. She spent her first night home after finals with me in the hospital. During my hospital stay, first in cardiac ICU and then on a step down unit. In addition to recruiting, my family and I were taught about the lifestyle changes that begin starting now.

Last night, I was released and am glad to be home with my family.

Starting now, my Christmas season this year will be one of Advent – spending the next few weeks in reflection, with my family. The tables will be turned – they will be taking care of me more than I take care of them. My number one priority now is getting healthier and staying that way – following doctor’s orders – so I can savor my kids’ future milestones and grow old with Richard.

That will most likely mean fewer blog updates as well. Often, a blog hits my head and I have to type it so it can leave my head and I can rest. So if God gives me something to write, I’ll do it. Other than that, this is my time to recuperate and savor my family.

This Sunday, whether I’m up to attending Mass or not, we’ll light the third, the pink candle on our Advent wreath. Traditionally, it’s Gaudete Sunday, when we rejoice that we’ve reached the halfway point with Advent and are that much closer to Christmas Day. This year, Gaudete’s meaning will be more poignant for me as I rejoice that we can enjoy another Sunday together.

If we sing the traditional Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” the refrain – “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel” will have a special meaning.



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