A near-death experience inspired Las Vegas businessman Keith Ahrens to lose 200 pounds, and change his life.
At age 45, Keith was tipping the scales at over 400 pounds. He didn’t exercise, ate large amounts of unhealthy food and hadn’t seen a doctor in years.
“When I was told I needed open-heart surgery to save my life, the room seemed dark,” Keith recalls. “I remember feeling like I had let everyone down. I felt like I had let myself down. As I lay there I kept thinking over and over, how could I have let this happen to myself?”
Not only did he survive, but the close call also changed his life. Today, Keith is 200 pounds lighter. He’s a dynamic advocate and spokesman for the American Heart Association, sharing his story to help others avoid the denial that almost killed him.
“After my initial depression, my attitude quickly went from feeling sorry for myself to deciding that I had an opportunity to live, to change my life forever,” he said. “At that point I took charge of my life.”
Keith changed his eating habits, immediately cutting out sodas and visits to fast-food restaurants. (He notes that he hasn’t seen a drive-through in over four years.) He didn’t try any fad diets or quick fixes, instead setting out to learn about sustainable heart-healthy eating he could work on every day. He started walking regularly for exercise and set small, achievable goals – simply to move more each day.
In 2009, he participated in his first Heart Walk, the American Heart Association’s event to raise money for lifesaving research and education. His dramatic weight loss and new outlook on life won him the Lifestyle Change Award for the Las Vegas Walk that year. He was the top local Heart Walk fundraiser in 2010 and is on the planning committee for this year’s event.
But Keith was just getting started in his efforts to inspire others to follow his path to healthy living. He wrote a book, "Outrunning My Shadow: Surviving Open-Heart Surgery and Battling Obesity. The Decision to Change My Life," became a certified fitness trainer and specialist in fitness nutrition and began using social media networks to encourage others to improve their lifestyles.
“By focusing on my own heart health and well-being, I’ve been able to give hope to others that a healthier life, a better life, is awaiting them,” he said.
A member of the association’s grassroots advocacy network, Keith speaks often at the local and state levels. He participated in the American Heart Association’s You’re the Cure Congressional Lobby Day in Washington, D.C., talking with lawmakers about stepping up the fight against heart disease and stroke. Keith has also earned his Basic Life Support Instructor certification from the American Heart Association so he can actually save lives if he needs to.
“After I got that second chance, which many heart attack victims never have, I saw it as a great opportunity to help others by putting myself out there as a voice for change,” he said. “If someone in your life is affected by heart disease, do something. Get involved with the American Heart Association – help save lives.”