A hearty life is tied to health

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As long as I can remember, February has always been associated with the American Heart Association. This national organization has worked since 1924 fighting heart disease and stroke. But until you have lived through losing a loved one to heart disease, you don’t realize the importance of the work of the American Heart Association.

Most of you know my story. My husband and I took a few days off after Christmas 2008 and were visiting a resort near Tunica, Miss. It was a way for us to wind down from our busy end of year work activities. We were scheduled to leave on New Years Day to return to our home in Savannah.

My husband, Don, didn’t have high blood pressure. He was not overweight. But he had one vice that contributed to his fatal heart attack in the early morning hours of New Years Eve 2008. Don was a smoker.

When he woke at 4:30 a.m. that morning in our hotel room, he went into the bathroom and returned to bed. He usually sat on the side of the bed, smoked a cigarette and then went back to sleep. This morning, he didn’t. I asked if he was alright and he told me he had a terrible headache. He asked for aspirin. When I couldn’t find them in my purse in the dark, I switched on the light.

I knew what was happening as soon as I looked at him. He was gray-white, sweating and having difficulty breathing. I immediately called for help. I stood by while the EMTs and paramedics tried to keep him alive with CPR and shocking him with an AED. By 6 a.m., my husband was dead.

I’m sharing this with you now not for sympathy but because I want everyone reading this column to take stock of their health right now. Don’t put your family and loved ones through the trauma of watching a heart attack kill you.

Hey, I’m not perfect. I lost nearly 60 pounds a year ago, but stress and slipping into old habits of working and not taking care of myself have meant much of the weight is back. I don’t exercise enough — unless it’s walking from my desk at The Prairie Press to the printer or the bathroom. 

Do you smoke? Quit. Don smoked three packs a day when I met him and had gotten down to less than one pack a day when he died. Is a cigarette more important than spending time with your spouse, children or grandchildren? 

The work of the Bee Well of Edgar County is important because they are reminding us of what we need to do to create a lasting change in our health and life: Eat smart. Add color. Move more. Be well.

For those of us who are stressed, healthy habits can protect each of us from its harmful effects. Engage in daily physical activity. Give up bad habits. Get enough sleep. 

Finally, the American Heart Association encourages each of us to try not to worry. I inherited my worry from my dad, who could worry about things most of us hadn’t even thought of yet. I haven’t figured out how to do this yet, but I am working on it.

As February comes to a close, here’s hoping that each of us will take stock of our heart health and make the changes necessary to become healthy.