Professor of Psychology
Former contributor to Mended Hearts magazine
In fall 1982, I started having what I now know was angina when I went jogging in the mornings. At the time, I figured my "discomfort" (pressure in the upper chest, arms, shoulders, pain in the jaw, etc.) couldn't be heart-related because I was young, I exercised, I wasn't overweight, I didn't smoke, etc., etc. Finally, in the early summer of 1983, I happened to read a letter to a doctor in an advice column in which the writer asked about pain in the chest on the first couple of holes when he played golf. I had just started a summer golf membership at the university golf course and was having exactly the same symptoms. I went to my general practitioner and told him about my "walk through" angina. He recommended the treadmill stress test at the local hospital. It was a good thing I told my doctor about the chest pain.
I quickly found myself in Jackson at St. Dominic Memorial Hospital undergoing bypass surgery. According to the cardiologist — a gloom-and-doom doctor, if there ever was one — I had three arteries with anywhere from 90 to 99 percent blockage. After the surgery, he told me to "be a vegetarian," which I "took to heart." He also said, "At the age of 40, you have the coronary arteries of a 65-year-old." That was in 1983, so it's been many years since I had the surgery. I've had no return of symptoms, and my last treadmill test was fine.For several years, my diet/exercise program alone was sufficient to hold down my cholesterol, but eventually my numbers began to go back up. At this point, my physician prescribed a cholesterol-lowering medication. I've been taking that for maybe a decade or so, am still a more-or-less vegetarian (of the low-fat variety), work out religiously six or seven days a week (both aerobic and weights), and weigh 140 (5'9").
I have two children. My 31-year-old son has the same kinds of problems with his blood work as I had, and with bad genetics on both sides of the family he needs to be more dedicated to a healthier diet. My 29-year-old daughter — who follows a low-fat diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods — hasn't had any problems and has fantastic blood work.