Monday, February 15, 2010

National Heart Failure Awareness Week

This is National Heart Failure Awareness Week.  I am a CHF survivor.  What is CHF?  It stands for congestive heart failure.  I was diagnosed almost seven years ago.  Because of what I went through, I want to remind patients with heart failure, their family members and others who may be at risk, how best to manage this syndrome, what heart failure means, to re-evaluate lifestyle and consider changes to improve qualify of life.

Here is my story.  Heart failure is a progressive condition in which the heart muscle becomes abnormal after damage from heart attack or high blood pressure and gradually loses its ability to pump enough blood to supply the body's needs.  My heart had taken a pounding from high blood pressure and there were even signs of a possible light heart attack, when I was officially diagnosed with congestive heart failure in July of 2003. 

In cardiovascular physiology, ejection fraction is the measurement of blood pumped out of a ventricle with each heart beat.  In a healthy man, the normal ejection fraction is 58 percent.  My EF was barely 13 percent.  I was told to gather my children around me so they could spend as much time with me as possible.  My name was going to be added to a list of heart transplant patients.  All this came two weeks after my dad had died.  I hated that my mother had to be in the room when my doctor first revealed all the above to me.  It had to be hard on her. 

I praise God that within a few short days my condition began to improve, so much so that I was no longer a candidate for a heart transplant. Even though she was obligated to tell me the straight up about it all, I could feel her faith and I fed off it, along with the faith of so many others in my life. 

After just three months, my ejection fraction went from barely 13 percent to 58 percent.  My condition had gone from critical to normal in just three months. I don't think anyone's condition had ever improved that fast.  I was waiting sitting in the patient room waiting for the results when suddenly I heard Dr. Shirley shout, 'Praise The Lord!"  She burst into the room grinning from ear to ear and told me the news.  Then, she announced it to her staff and they likewise rejoiced.  To say it was emotional for me would be putting it mildly.  You see, I had been told that it would take 3 to 5 years for me to get back on my feet, if I even did then.  I owe it all to God and prayer and a God-sent doctor and great medicines.   

Nearly 5,000,000 Americans live with heart failure and as many as 550,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.  Many people are not aware they have heart failure because the symptoms are often mistaken for signs of getting older. As for me, I was only 43 years old, so go figure.   Recent advances in treatment have shown that early diagnosis and proper care in early stages of the condition are key to slowing, stopping or in some cases reversing progression, improving quality of life, and extending life expectancy.

I encourage all heart patients to follow the low sodium diet you have been given, exercise properly, manage medications and report any irregularities.  The absolute hardest thing I had to overcome was the salt shaker, but I did it and seven years later, I am still salt shaker-free.  When I was released from the hospital, the first thing I did was go online and learn all I could about heart failure.  I learned to listen to my body and not to take anything for granted.  I have made many trips to the emergency room in the past seven years, only to be told I have indigestion, but, it is better to be safe than sorry. 

Please, for more information on heart failure, do what I did, visit abouthf.org.


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