Fitness First: Heart Attack Spurs Lifestyle Shift

Krista Howell
By Krista Howell March 15, 2010 18:27

Martha Silva (left) with Krista Howell

For the fifth day in a row, Martha Silva woke with a crushing headache. She had tried to ignore the pain, but it was unrelenting. As she entered the emergency room, her chest began to hurt.

The 49-year-old Sonora woman didn’t know that headache can be one of the many symptoms of angina – chest pain caused by lack of oxygen to the heart. As unlikely as it may seem, that trip to the ER was the beginning of a success story. But things would get worse before they got better. A battery of tests revealed that Martha had suffered a heart attack, and she underwent coronary bypass surgery.

Through it all, so many thoughts went through her mind – of her family, especially – and one persistent question: “How could this happen?” She knew her mom and several uncles had heart disease, but never thought it would happen to her. It had all come out of the blue.

Looking back, Martha realizes she was in denial. She knew her family history, but didn’t see it as a warning. She had developed Type 2 diabetes, but didn’t know it was a risk factor for coronary heart disease. Instead of caring for her health, she spent her time taking care of others, a supermom dedicated to her three children, husband, grandchildren and friends.

Her busy family life and real estate career left her little time for herself. Exercise and keeping her weight down were never a concern. Martha had belonged to a fitness club for 17 years, but seldom went. She had had asthma for years, and exercise was no fun. Making sure her children made it to an endless schedule of after-school activities took priority.

Did being a supermom put her at a risk for heart disease? On the far side of surgery, Martha has come to believe it did. “I used to think the moms who went to the gym were selfish and motivated by vanity,” she said. “Now I know different.”

There’s nothing like bypass surgery for motivation, and Martha is now the star of her own inspirational story. She successfully completed Sonora Regional Medical Center’s Phase 2 cardiac rehabilitation program. And she has made dramatic changes to her daily life. She eats heart-healthy foods and does 30 minutes of aerobic exercise daily. As a result, she has lost 38 pounds, her asthma is under control, and she no longer needs diabetes medication. With her family’s support and encouragement, a healthy lifestyle is now a priority.

There is a message in Martha’s story for all caregivers who don’t take the recommended 30 minutes a day to exercise: You must still find time to care for your own health.

Martha’s story is particularly significant to me, because I know a lot of these supermoms. I sit with many of them on the bleachers at our kids’ games or practices. An easy solution: Start walking with some of the other moms during practice. Without a doubt, you will feel better.

While lying in the hospital bed after bypass surgery Martha set a goal to hike the four miles around Pinecrest Lake. She completed that trek – something that would have been impossible a few months earlier – soon after celebrating her 50th birthday.

Martha is still very busy with her family and real estate clients. But she plans to continue making health improvement goals as a part of staying fit and healthy well into her senior years.

Exercise physiologist Krista Howell teaches senior fitness classes and supervises cardiac rehab patients for Sonora Regional Medical Center.

Krista Howell
By Krista Howell March 15, 2010 18:27
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