Doing My Best to Prevent Another Heart Problem
A few years ago, I had an annual exam with my cardiologist, a reputable guy whom I still hold in high regard. He looked me up and down and told me I was doing so well that we didn’t need to do a stress test to see how my heart was doing. Just a few months later, I was away at a golf tournament, and I played 27 holes—it turns out, those 27 holes served as a bit of a stress test. Throughout the day, my heart kept working harder and harder, until I started experiencing symptoms that I couldn’t shake. It felt like indigestion more than anything else—a pain right in the center of my chest—but it wouldn’t go away. I knew that symptom; I’d experienced the same feeling five years earlier, when doctors found that my arteries were becoming blocked and I had stents placed. I knew not to ignore what my body was telling me.
I went to the local ER, and sure enough, they said I had some blockage in my arteries and something would have to be done. They told me I could head back home, and as soon as I got back, I immediately went to the hospital. I figured I needed a few more stents, but the doctors eventually decided to do open-heart surgery—I had a triple bypass. It was quite a recovery. I went to cardiac rehab for about a month and a half, which was hard work, but well worth it. It took probably about two and a half months total for me to get back to my old self.
I consider myself to be a relatively healthy guy, and I’m fairly active. I have been retired since 1997, and I’m enjoying every second of it. I’m an avid golfer, playing two or three times every week. I go out fishing quite often—in fact, I spent every August fly-fishing in Wyoming. And I love to hunt in the fall, tracking game and walking for hours. I’m not one to sit around much. My diet isn’t perfect, but I don’t go too crazy. However, I have a family history of heart disease—all the males on my father’s side of the family have had heart problems. And in my case, both my father and mother had open-heart surgery. So I felt like it was inevitable that I was going to have heart disease at some point.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t do what I can to prevent another heart issue. Today, I’m even more active than I was 10 years ago. On top of my hobbies, I like to bike around my neighborhood for 30 to 45 minutes every day. I started biking during cardiac rehab, and I bought a bicycle afterwards—I want to be able to continue doing my favorite activities, and I know I have to exercise to make that happen.
In addition to exercising more and keeping a better eye on my diet, I also follow doctor’s orders to take a daily baby aspirin, which prevents future heart attacks. My doctor also told me she’d prefer if I stick to taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) when I have pain, and to avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve). My doctor told me that acetaminophen won’t raise my risk of heart attack in the future, but NSAIDs can. Like most 73-year-olds, I have some muscle pain, and it gets a little worse the older I get. Some mornings, I wake up with plans to go play golf, and I feel like my back isn’t going to let me do that, so I’ll take an acetaminophen. I still take an NSAID occasionally if my pain is related to inflammation, since that’s what NSAIDs target. But it’s nothing I take on a continuing basis. And if I have a headache, I reach for the acetaminophen.
The most important thing I do to prevent another heart problem is to see my cardiologist every year and have a stress test. I want to make sure I’m aware of how my heart is doing. But that’s not the only thing that keeps me healthy: I stay active, I watch my diet, I’m mindful of the pain relievers I choose, and I’m always on alert to notice possible symptoms of another heart issue. I want to make sure I’m out on the golf course for many more years to come.
Ron Anderson is 73 years old and lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife of 56 years.