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Jack AdkinsNotes from the Coronary Kid: Getting My Cholesterol Checked the Hard Way, or How I Spent My Winter Vacation

By Dan Zodun
posted Friday, April 29, 2005

WITH THE RECENT PASSING of Springer sports legends Dennis Story and Ben Riggin, as well the tragic Christmas Day death of Maritza Harris (the mother of Springer footballer Victor Harris), life seems more precious than ever, and we pull our loved ones closer, hoping to protect them as best we can.

It is in this spirit of friendship and concern that I implore every member of this site and everyone you know to get their cholesterol checked and do something about your diet and exercise. If I had listened to these very words, they might have kept me off the operating room table. It might have prevented me from needing Coronary Artery Bypass surgery.

After weeks of recovery since the January 25th surgery, I returned to work on March 18th. Things are coming along fine, thank you. I am driving again – stay off the sidewalks if you don’t like the way I drive – and doing almost every other thing I want to. I am not able to dunk a basketball and not able to hit a straight tee shot, but I couldn’t do those things before anyhow. But because of the surgery, I will have plenty of beautiful days to tweak the slice out of my driver. Without the surgery, I would probably now be the EX-Admin of the Springer Connection. EX-everything, really.

OUR BASSET HOUND SAVED MY LIFE. Gracie loves to play, and she is very nimble (but not necessarily graceful). On January 22, while playing with Gracie—hands and knees on the floor— I experienced dizziness and a sudden rush of heat in my chest. The dizziness subsided after about 30 minutes or so. I was concerned but not alarmed. The next day, Gracie wanted to “run me” again. After the previous day’s experience, I was more cautious, and just sat on the edge of the couch as I played the “hand game” with her. As she bounced out of reach, I leaned over to reach for her, dipping my head as I stretched out my arms. The dizziness struck again, much worse this time, and the effect didn’t lessen as it had the day before. Instead, I felt cold and disoriented the rest of the day (sort of like taking a test in Mr. Buckner’s Physics class). Since the next day was a holiday for many, I decided to visit my physician and get it checked out.

Until that visit to the doctor, I had never even had my blood taken, much less spent any time in a hospital. There are SICK people in the hospital, and I was one of those guys who almost never got sick (unless we decided to ditch class and ride around in Ron Perry's SS). Three days later, having failed a cardiac stress test and having been advised of major blockages identified by a process called cardiac catheterization, I had no choice but to undergo the bypass surgery.

As it turns out, Coronary Bypass Surgery is now the most-performed major surgery in the USA. With better nutrition, exercise (and better drugs), hopefully, that number will go down. Years ago, before this procedure was available, a guy like me just went down in his dinner plate, as my uncle did decades ago. It turns out that four of my mother’s brothers died in a five-year span, and all of them were less than fifty years old. Can you say “heredity”?

IN CASE YOU DON’T KNOW what Coronary Artery Disease is or even what the coronary arteries DO (I didn’t), here is a short tutorial: The heart pumps all the blood for the body. The coronary arteries pump blood to the heart muscle ITSELF. The heart feeds itself first (pretty sensible, huh?) before sending blood to the rest of the body.

The blood passing through our bodies carries all kinds of stuff, including fat. Depending on what we eat, how much exercise we get, and the genes we have inherited from our ancestors, the level of fat in our blood can get pretty high. Cholesterol and triglycerides are measures of the fats floating around in our blood.

Over the years, these loosely-floating particles, called plaque, can attach to the walls of arteries, mainly the Coronary arteries. This is known as Atherosclerosis, or Coronary Artery Disease. In time, the plaque actually slips past the wall of the artery and is absorbed right into the muscle of the artery itself. The plaque builds up, shrinking the open area INSIDE the arteries, until, eventually, the Coronary arteries become so blocked that blood cannot flow to the heart muscle itself. Very bad things can start happening from here, including pain, shortness of breath, heart attack and death.

To get the blood around these blockages, the surgeon takes a piece of vein from the leg or arm, and runs it from the aorta to the artery BEYOND the clog, getting blood flow back to the heart muscle. It's major surgery, and they crack the patient's chest open to do this work. By the way, they don't sew you up anymore - they use glue!

I WAS FORTUNATE in that I did NOT have a heart attack, just a heck of a wakeup call. So, I have a healthy heart and new, clean pipes that bypass the blockages in my coronary arteries. But that is not as good as if I had kept my arteries clean in the first place. For one thing, the bypass grafts that the surgeons made may not last more than ten years or so. They MIGHT last 20 years or more, but it would have been better to have my original arteries clear and healthy.

And that is what YOU need to do. Get your blood checked, eat better and do simple cardiovascular exercise, like walking around your neighborhood or riding a stationary bike.

IF YOU DON’T KNOW what your cholesterol level is, please get it checked. If you have health insurance, you can have it done by your doctor. If not, you can have it done in the Richmond area for a mere $25 dollars at your local Ukrop’s store’s “Wellness Day” (Here’s the LIST of Wellness Days coming up this month). It only takes a minute, and they just stick your finger, not your arm. You get the results before you leave the store. If your cholesterol is too high, they may suggest that you visit your doctor for a prescription or other ways of lowering your cholesterol. But at least you will KNOW.

It is rare to get a perspective on losing the great opportunities that life offers. With the passing of friends and acquaintances we are reminded that life can be short, too short. We owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to be there for as long as we can.

It is not that difficult to take care of these things. You don’t have to eat a perfect diet, or live like a hermit. I am going to eat better, take my Lipitor and do my exercises. But I am going to continue to enjoy great, healthy food and drink fine wine.

Life is sweeter than ever, and I intend to live it to the fullest. I hope you will too. Get your cholesterol tested, stay healthy, and live a long life.



Coronary Artery Disease Info:

Click for more on Coronary Arteries at Web MD

Click for more info on Coronary Artery Disease from WebMD >>
What you might not know:

IF YOU ARE IN THE RICHMOND AREA, you can have your cholesterol checked at your local Ukrop's supermarket for only $25. They only stick your finger and you get the results before you leave the store. Check for a nearby "Wellness Day" on the Ukrop's web site >>

Coronary Artery Disease is the Number 1 killer in America of both men AND women..

Heart disease can be controlled or reversed with exercise, nutrition and, in some cases, medication, when it is caught in time.

Most people with Coronary Artery Disease don't experience any pain symptoms until the late stages of the disease.

Men die of heart disease much more than women, mainly because most men don't go to the doctor unless they feel really bad.

Coronary Artery Disease is the most underdiagnosed disease in women. Symptoms in women are somewhat different than for men, so they don't follow up.