Making the heart healthy and keeping it that way

HANCOCK – Four years ago, Gordon Schaaf talked to a doctor after not feeling very well, and got some surprising information.

“They told me I had a heart attack,” he said.

As a result of that episode, the 84-year-old Schaaf said he had three stents placed in heart blood vessels in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Schaaf said because of the situation with his heart, nine months ago he started getting physical therapy at Portage Health Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation in Hancock.

“It was a suggestion,” he said. “I wasn’t even interested.”

However, Schaaf said eventually he came around, and now he works out two hours every Tuesday and Thursday at the Portage Health facility doing aerobic activity on their exercise machines.

The exercise he’s be getting has resulted in a serious weight loss, Schaaf said.

“I started out at 313 pounds and now I’m 271 pounds,” he said.

His doctor wants the 6-foot-4-inch Schaaf down to 250 pounds in three months.

Besides the exercise, Schaaf said his diet has been altered, also.

“They changed my eating habits completely,” he said.

The diet change has been a little difficult, Schaaf said, because he loves to eat sausage.

“I can’t have that,” he said.

February is American Heart Month sponsored by the American Heart Association, and Joan Rundman, registered nurse and cardiopulmonary coordinator for Portage Health, said there are many things people can do to keep their hearts healthy, or to get sick hearts healthy again.

Rundman said one out of three deaths in the United States is from heart disease.

“Heart disease is the number one killer,” she said.

There are about 2,200 deaths each day from heart disease in the United States, Rundman said.

The number one cause of death for women is heart disease, also, Rundman said. One in four women die of heart disease. Running a distant second is cancer from which one in 30 women die.

A possible reason heart disease has become so deadly for women may be lack of concern by women until relatively recently, Rundman said.

“At one point, it was considered a man’s disease,” she said.

In the past 20 years or so, Rundman said the focus has changed, and doctors are making it known the risk factors for heart disease are the same for women as they are for men.

Rundman said there are four easily-modified risk factors, which can lead to heart disease: high blood pressure; high cholesterol intake; diabetes; and tobacco smoking.

“These four risk factors can all be changed with lifestyle changes and medication,” she said.

There are also other risk factors, which can’t be changed, including genetics, gender and age, Rundman said.

Rundman said it’s important for people with the heart disease risk factors to start making changes as soon as possible.

“It’s as simple as exercise,” she said.

Daily aerobic exercise will help reduce the risk of developing heart disease, Rundman said, and the American Heart Association recommends a minimum of two and a half hours per week of moderate aerobic activity.

Eating well is another way to reduce risk factors by changing diet to include fish, poultry, fruits and vegetables, Rundman said. Avoiding or significantly reducing saturated fats, sodium and processed sugar is important, also.

However, the number one most important risk factor for heart disease is the use of tobacco, Rundman said.

“Stop smoking,” she said. “Don’t start.”

Dr. Jerry Luoma at Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital in Laurium, said the heart has one job to do, but there are many things which can go wrong and hamper that job.

“The heart is a muscular pump,” he said. “It’s job in life is to distribute blood throughout the body.”

Luoma said the blood travels from the heart to the lungs where it picks up oxygen and dumps carbon dioxide to be exhaled. It also carries nutrients to and waste from the rest of the body.

Blood is also brought to the heart itself, Luoma said, and damage to those blood vessels feeding the heart muscle is the cause of some heart disease.

Luoma said a healthy heart is pumping well and properly supplying the body with nutrients and oxygen.

Blood vessels which have become clogged because of poor nutrition can lead to heart disease, Luoma said.

“If you get blockage, you don’t get enough oxygen to the heart,” he said. “If you’re not pumping the oxygen, the brain, kidneys and heart suffer.”

Although heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, Luoma said there is some good news.

“The incidence of death from coronary heart disease has been declining since the (19)70s,” he said.

Besides getting proper nutrition, Luoma said heavy alcohol use should also be avoided. While one or two drinks per day can actually be beneficial for the heart, three or more drinks per day can cause serious problems, so using alcohol as a way to reduce heart disease may not be a good idea for many people.

“It’s a slippery slope,” he said.

Excess body fat is a serious detriment to the proper functioning of the heart, Luoma said.

“If you’re very obese, your heart has to pump a lot more to support that mass,” he said.

Luoma agrees with Rundman that stopping the use of tobacco is extremely important for heart health.

“If you stop smoking and ignore the rest of the (risk factors), you’ll actually do better,” he said.

Smoking reduces the ability of the blood to move oxygen through the body, including the heart muscle, which Luoma said can cause damage to the heart.

Rundman said she works mostly with people who either have heart disease and are under a doctor’s care or those who have had some sort of surgery for heart disease.

“We’re trying to improve their aerobic capacity, cardiovascular endurance, body strengthening, flexibility and knowledge of coronary artery disease,” she said.

Another person using the Portage Health Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation is Louis Fredianelli, who had three bypass surgeries the first week in January for clogged heart blood vessels at Marquette General Hospital after a routine procedure showed there were problems.

“I had an EKG for a check up at the end of November,” he said.

The 73-year-old Fredianelli said among other jobs, he was a Hancock police officer for seven years and a Michigan Technological University Public Safety officer for 32 years. During that time, he wasn’t very active physically and he had other risk factors.

“Many years ago, I smoked,” he said.

Since starting to work out three days a week at Portage Health, Fredianelli said he’s seen good improvement in his physical condition.

“I’ve lost 30 pounds and I’ve kept it off,” he said. “I feel great now.”