Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Milestone

December 27th, 2008

Today marks an important milestone for me and the fact that I'm here writing this blog entry on this dreary afternoon is the proof. On December 27th, 2003 I was diagnosed with tacchycardia-induced cardiomyopathy which caused severe damage to the left side of my heart and a 35% loss of cardiac function. On that day, the odds of me being here to tell this story stood at less than 50/50.

So... it's time for a little history.

I've never been in really good shape. Even during my high-school days when I played baseball and ran track, I would often cross the finish line after a sprint and collapse. In the past twenty years, other than running around with the kids I've done virtually no exercise.

Then, about six years ago I started having dizzy spells. Doctors couldn't find a cause, other than thallysemia or "stress and anxiety", and it went on for a year. More than once the attacks were so bad I had to go to the Emergency Room. Early that same year I cracked up my motorcycle and broke my collarbone and four ribs. (Doctors had no problem with this diagnosis)

After the crash I spent two months sleeping in a recliner (out of necessity) and another four months spending most of my time in that same recliner (out of de-motivation).

Finally I saw a doctor who diagnosed atrial fibrillation. The good news: A calcium-channel blocker cured the problem in about a day.

The bad news: I had 35% loss of cardiac function (cardiomyopathy) on the left side of my heart. Just my luck, it’s the type of problem that kills 50% of patients within 5 years.

When I asked the cardiologist if my heart damage could be reversed he looked up at the ceiling and said that it's been known to happen... in some patients... some of the time...

I sensed immediately that he was blowing smoke up my shorts.

Dr. Zaman told me to go on a light exercise program so I bought a treadmill and a Total Gym. Good news again. After about five months my heart function started to rebound slowly. Little by little I was up to 75%... 85%...

In a year I was back up to 95%. Then 100% in less than two years. But the heart damage was still there.

Still, I felt as if I had been reborn. The A-Fib episode gave me all the motivation I needed and I resolved that I was not going to make the same mistakes (no exercise) again. I had been 175 pounds, 149 cholesterol and normal blood pressure for the last 30 years, but I WAS SQUISHY.

The treadmill and the Total Gym worked fine, up to a point. Then I hit a plateau.

So I decided to increase the intensity. Working late one night I took a break and turned on the TV. As I was flipping through the dial I stopped on a fitness infomercial and made the first, and only, impulse purchase of my life.

Soon the DVDs, resistance bands and pull-up bar arrived and I started the program. Starting easy I went through the first twelve weeks, felt better and looked better. Then, during an echocardiogram Dr. Zaman said that there was something curious going on.

"Your cardiomyopathy has improved" he said.

That's when I told him that I had started an extreme exercise program.

I was supposed to consult with my doctor before starting, but I was sure he would advise against it. That was more than a year ago.

But there's more.

My last two echocardiograms showed no evidence of cardiomyopathy.

I asked the doctor if he had ever seen this before and he told me that in 37 years practicing cardiology he has had five patients who have improved their cardiac function, but only one patient who has completely reversed a cardiomyopathy.

Guess who?

BTW: The fibrillation was caused by a defect in the electrical impulses to the heart muscle, not any problem with weight, cholesterol or blood pressure.

My advice: If any of you have experienced a flushed feeling, rapid heartbeat and dizzyness don't take the doctor's word that it's stress or anxiety. Stress is the modern day equivalent of evil spirits. When they don't know what's wrong with you they blame stress.

Get yourself checked for atrial fibrillation. It's the most common and undiagnosed form of cardiac arrythmia and there are modern methods available now to treat it.

Hope this helps.