(ThyBlackMan.com) I never thought I could be one of the 37,000 African American men who die of heart disease each year. But, I went from visiting family one day to being hospitalized the next day due to dizziness and shortness of breath. After a series of tests, doctors informed me that I would need triple coronary bypass surgery to remove three blocked arteries and save my life.
My seemingly “normal” lifestyle left me feeling angry and confused. Heart disease runs in my family, yet I continued to ignore the warning signs. My high blood pressure and cholesterol levels were
off the chart, but I thought I could leave them for another day. I was
like too many African American men who feel too “macho” for regular doctor visits.
After my surgery, I realized I was given a second chance and I owed it to myself and my loved ones to live a long, healthy life. My wife, family, and friends were all counting on me, and I wasn’t going to let this defeat me. I committed to making the following changes to make my heart health a priority:
- Setting heart healthy goals. I worked with my health care team to create a plan to improve my heart health. I began by setting small, achievable goals, and tracking my progress toward achieving them. Almost immediately after starting my plan, I began to see major changes in my health.
- Taking medicines. I learned the importance of my high blood pressure and cholesterol medications and started taking them as my doctor prescribed. I regularly visit my doctor to make sure my heart is functioning at its best, and we track my blood pressure and cholesterol numbers to make sure they are controlled.
- Eating heart healthy. This was very difficult at first because I was used to doing all the wrong things and eating all the wrong foods. It was mentally and physically challenging because it was up to me to make the right choices. With help from a dietitian my cardiologist referred me to, I started eating less of the fatty, salty, and greasy food that the south is known for and started eating more fruits and vegetables.
- Exercising. I started by walking 15 minutes, three times a week and now I’m up to walking 2-3 miles each day. Not only do I feel stronger, but I’ve lost a significant amount of weight since my surgery.
February is American Heart Month, and I hope you’ll learn from my story and not let heart disease take you by surprise. One day delay and it could be too late. I challenge you to be strong and commit to making one heart-healthy lifestyle change, like adding exercise to your daily routine, eating healthy, taking steps to stop smoking, and scheduling an appointment with your doctor to understand your risk for heart disease.
Learn more about simple steps you can take for better heart health at millionhearts.hhs.gov. Your family, friends, and community are counting on you to take care of your heart.
Staff Writer; Clarence Ancar