Mind & Body
Get to the Heart of Your Health
2/4/2019 1:03:27 PM
Heart Health

One in every three deaths in the U.S. is caused by heart disease. About 2,300 Americans die of cardiovascular disease each day; an average of one death every 38 seconds. While these statistics may be shocking, don’t lose "heart.” Research and treatment of heart diseases have made great strides in recent years. And there are lifestyle changes you can adopt that will increase your odds of avoiding heart disease. February is National Heart Month and we encourage you to take good care of your ticker. In this special section, you’ll read the success stories of three heart disease survivors, as well as a story on the cardiovascular benefits of dark chocolate (because, after all, we also celebrate Valentine’s Day this month, right?)

Stand Up to Heart Disease: The Stories of Three Survivors
by Andrea Mongler

People often associate the term "heart disease” with coronary artery disease, or CAD, a condition that occurs when plaque builds up inside arteries, causing them to harden and narrow, which can lead to a heart attack. But CAD is only one of several types of heart disease. In fact, heart disease is a blanket term that also includes congenital (or birth) heart defects,  heart rhythm disorders, peripheral artery disease, and stroke. Sometimes even someone who consistently makes healthy lifestyle choices might suffer from heart disease.

With medical care, surviving heart disease is not uncommon and it affects people in many different ways.

Heather Hendrix 

Heather has always been physically active. She played sports as a child, participated in marching band in high school, and ran a 5K or two in college "without really trying.”

So, when she was in her 20s and began feeling tired all the time, she didn’t think much of it. Instead, she figured grad school and student teaching were just wearing her out.

But exercise had become difficult too. Hendrix says she felt like her heart was pounding out of her chest after just two minutes on a treadmill. Then she almost passed out. Three separate times in one summer.

"And I had never almost passed out before in my life,” Hendrix says. "So, after the third time, I was like, ‘OK, I need to go see a doctor.’”

In September 2010, at age 27, she was diagnosed with an atrial septal defect, or ASD. In plain speech, she had a hole in the wall that divides the upper chambers of the heart. An ASD is a congenital heart condition, which means Hendrix was born with it. She just never knew it.

That’s because she never noticed any symptoms as a child, which is common with ASDs. Eventually, though, the condition was too much for her body — her lungs in particular — to handle.

Basically, the hole in her heart increased the amount of blood flowing through her lungs. For a while, her lungs handled this adequately. Eventually, though, the condition caused high blood pressure in her lungs, called pulmonary hypertension. 

The pulmonary hypertension caused Hendrix’s fatigue and racing heartbeat. It eventually would have caused her heart to fail, too.

In January 2011, a few months after her diagnosis, Hendrix had surgery to repair her ASD. And, as she puts it, "my heart is now normal.”

These days, she feels strong and healthy. She has gotten back into running and is actually more committed to it than ever before.

Her advice? "Take care of yourself. Listen to your body. If something is not right, get it checked out.”
Hendrix, of course, speaks from experience.

Blake Soto 

Blake describes his childhood as wonderful. He went to school, played outside, and was surrounded by a loving family.

He was a normal kid who did what normal kids do. Unlike most other kids, though, Soto had to be careful not to overexert himself. That’s because he was born with congenital aortic stenosis, which meant that his aortic valve — which connects the heart’s left ventricle and aorta — didn’t open and close properly.

The result was that his heart had to work harder than usual to pump blood. This didn’t cause too many problems for Soto as a child, but he was limited from running for extended periods. If he did, he experienced chest pain and shortness of breath.

So he made adjustments — like karate instead of soccer — and enjoyed life.

"My parents pushed me to do as much as I could, and I have no regrets,” he says.

By the time he was in his late teens, his energy levels were low and he easily became exhausted. Then, in 2008, when he was 19, he learned that his aortic valve had become very calcified. Basically, calcium deposits had built up on the valve, causing it to stiffen.

A year later, he underwent surgery to get a new valve, from a pig. But his body rejected it, so less than a day after his surgery, he had another operation — this one to replace the pig valve with a human donor valve.
The second operation was a success.

"All of a sudden I felt much better and had all this energy, but I couldn’t do anything because I was still healing,” Soto says.

Once he recovered, though, "it was pretty amazing. I started running and training for races and doing CrossFit, and I haven’t looked back.”

His replacement valve won’t last forever, and he’ll eventually need a new one. But for now, he’s going strong.
"I am coming up on year 10 since my surgery, and everything looks great,” Soto says. "Do I think about the next one? Absolutely. But I’m not worried.”

After all, he’s done it before, and he can do it again.

Karen Kleinman 

Karen knows a thing or two about heart health. As director of the Heart & Vascular Center at Memorial Medical Group, it goes with the territory.

Kleinman knows the warning signs of a heart attack, she knows what to do if you think you’re having one, and she knows the protocol that should be followed for a heart attack patient. She just never expected to experience those things as a patient herself.

When she had trouble getting through a walk around her block one Saturday in early 2018, she wasn’t very worried. She’d recently undergone foot surgery, and her doctor had just given her the all-clear to start walking again. Kleinman is a daily walker, so she was thrilled to get back out there. When her trip around the block drained her energy, she attributed it to the two-month break she’d had to take to recover from her surgery. Other than being energy-depleted, she felt fine. Nothing hurt, and nothing seemed amiss.

The next day, though, Kleinman didn’t feel right. She describes feeling as though she’d swallowed a large pill that had gotten lodged in her upper chest, just below her neck. Though she hadn’t eaten lunch, she took an antacid in case it was indigestion. It didn’t help.

At this point, she began to suspect she might be having a heart attack. She didn’t really think she could be though.

"You convince yourself it is really nothing,” Kleinman says. 

She had no pain — in her chest or otherwise — but not all heart attack patients do. That’s especially true for women. That funny feeling in Kleinman’s upper chest though — what the American Heart Association describes as "uncomfortable pressure, squeezing or fullness” — was a warning sign. Kleinman took an aspirin and headed to Memorial.

Soon after she arrived, she learned that she was indeed having a heart attack. 

It was a surreal experience for Kleinman, who couldn’t believe she was seeing things from a patient’s perspective. As she puts it, the staff and physicians — people she works with every day — "just kicked into action. It really was an incredible process.”

And before she knew it, it was over. 

She attributes her heart attack to genetics — her father had heart problems, but she wasn’t at high risk otherwise. She ate a healthy diet, exercised, and kept her blood pressure under control with medication.

Kleinman says it’s important for everyone — women in particular — to heed the warning signs, even if they assume they aren’t at risk.

"Women tend to take care of everyone else in their life and not necessarily themselves,” she says. "We need to learn to listen to our bodies."

Six Healthy Reasons to Enjoy Dark Chocolate
By Matthew Welsh

Chocolate lovers, take heart! Chocolate is a treat enjoyed worldwide, especially on Valentine’s day, but did you know that this delicious indulgence packs a powerful punch when it comes to potential health benefits? Dark chocolate is loaded with nutrients that can positively affect your health when consumed in moderation.  According to Dr. Jake LeBeau, interventional cardiologist with Imperial Health Cardiovascular Specialists, the key is to consume at least 70% cocoa to reap the major benefits from this favorite Valentine’s Day treat. 

So, the next time you have a chocolate craving don’t think twice about indulging in a piece or two and remember these health benefits:

Powerful Source of Antioxidants
Antioxidants are chemicals found naturally in foods that can help prevent chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease. Dark chocolate is one of the best sources of antioxidants on the planet. Just two ounces of dark chocolate contains the same number of antioxidants as one six-ounce glass of red wine. 

Rich in nutrients
Quality dark chocolate is rich in fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese and potassium. In addition, Dr. LeBeau says dark chocolate contains small amounts of mono- and polyunsaturated fats (the "good” fats) which have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of heart disease.
Decreases LDL Levels
Several studies have shown that the antioxidants in dark chocolate, known as flavanols, help lower levels of "bad” LDL cholesterol while boosting "good” HDL cholesterol by as much as 10 percent. 

Reduces Risk of Heart Disease
According to Dr. LeBeau, the compounds in dark chocolate are highly protective against the oxidation of LDL. Flavanols aid in several factors to reduce risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow to the heart as well as the brain. By preventing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, antioxidants in chocolate may help safeguard against heart attack and stroke.

May Improve Blood Flow and Lower Blood Pressure
Studies show that the compound prostacyclin in dark chocolate is able to help lower blood pressure by increasing vasodilation, the opening and loosening of your arteries and blood vessels. "When blood flows more smoothly throughout your body, your body is able to receive all the nutrients and oxygen needed without complications,” says Dr. LeBeau. One study found a link between consumption of chocolate and improved blood-vessel function, which consequently eases blood pressure, an important indicator in cardiovascular health. 

Aids in Brain Function
Dark chocolate is revered for its ability to boost cognitive function by improving cerebral blood flow. According to a Journal of Nutrition study, the intake of flavonoid-rich foods, such as dark chocolate, improved cognitive performance in participants, especially elderly participants. Cocoa also contains stimulants, like caffeine and theobromine, which may be the key link to why cocoa can improve short-term brain function. 

When it comes to choosing your chocolate, Dr. LeBeau explains that the potential benefits of chocolate are only as great as it is dark. "The bitter-taste in dark chocolate is from the cocoa flavonoids. And even though these are naturally-occurring components, manufacturing processes, such as fermentation and roasting, can affect the levels of antioxidants that are in the final chocolate product. Milk chocolate and white chocolate do not offer all the same benefits found in darker chocolate, he explains. "Choose your chocolate wisely, and you can enjoy a sweet treat along with several health benefits."

AHA Announces
Top Research Advances of 2018

The American Heart Association SWLA had a very busy year and completed successful fundraising campaigns with their 2018 SWLA Heart Ball and 2018 SWLA Heart Walk. What do their dollars accomplish? Read on and learn about the research the AHA has supported.

Community-based approaches to lowering blood pressure, using the genome to predict cardiovascular risk and employing advanced brain imaging are among last year’s top heart disease and stroke research advances, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). As one of the top funders of heart- and stroke-related research worldwide, the AHA has been compiling an annual list of major advances in heart disease and stroke science since 1996. Grouped by topic, check out the website professional.heart.org for top research accomplishments published in 2018, including several high blood pressure studies that underscore the link between hypertension and heart disease and stroke. 

Want to learn more about our local SWLA Heart Ball?  Go to www.swlaheartballheart.org

Want to learn more about our local SWLA Heart Walk?  Go to www.swlaheartwalk.org
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