By Dr. CHRISTOPHER J. MORGAN
Cardiologist Dr. Paul Galiwango warned us in last week’s column that hypertension (high blood pressure) is a major cause of cardiovascular disease such as heart disease and stroke and has no symptoms. He urged us to see our family physicians to have our blood pressure checked at least once a year. He also cautioned us on our salt intake because of its effect on blood pressure. Here is a story of David Collins who, at a young age of 43, developed congestive heart failure caused by unchecked high blood pressure.
How did you first find out you had a heart problem?
About two and a half years ago, over a period of about five to six months, I started having difficulty breathing. I didn’t get it checked. I assumed it was just because of the physical nature of my work, having been in construction work for a number of years. Sometimes it would get so bad I would start coughing and would use my son’s asthma puffer, but it didn’t really help.
Then, on January 19, 2010, while at work, I started breathing heavily, so much so that my co-workers noticed. I called my wife; she said you need to get to the doctor. So I went to my family doctor and had an ECG (an electrocardiogram – ECG or EKG – is a test that checks how your heart is functioning by measuring the electrical activity of the heart.). My doctor didn’t like what he saw and said I needed to get to the hospital right away.
So I drove myself to Ajax-Pickering Hospital. In the emergency department they checked my blood pressure; it was 240/220! Then they put me on oxygen because I was having difficulty breathing, but I felt very uncomfortable with the mask and was fighting with it, pulling it off, then I passed out.
I woke up a week later. I was in the ICU (intensive care unit) for several days. I had lost about 25lbs. They determined I had congestive heart failure, pneumonia, kidney and lung damage, all due to my elevated blood pressure. The doctor said with my blood pressure at 240/220 it could have ruptured a vein. I could have easily had a stroke, suffered brain damage and may be unable to walk again. They said my heart was functioning at only 20 per cent
What was your understanding of high blood pressure (hypertension) before the diagnosis?
I was always healthy and strong. I rarely, if ever, went to the family doctor. I knew high blood pressure runs in my family but because I was young and healthy, and was not a drinker or smoker, I never really considered it. In fact, I was ignorant of my blood pressure readings.
Other than your family history of hypertension do you think there may have been other factors that contributed to you developing hypertension and subsequent heart problem?
I believe stress has an impact on blood pressure because the construction business is fast-paced. Sometimes there are lots of yelling, loud noises, and heavy physical work which create a stressful environment. Also, your diet is not the greatest. We typically eat fast food or get a bite from the lunch truck. Usually you try to get whatever is hot. You don’t even realize you are not eating healthy.
How did your illness affect your family?
I was in hospital for four weeks. It was really hard on my wife and children. My wife broke down a few times. They were very scared. They were not sure I was going to make it but now my whole family has changed in many positive ways.
Tell me about your recovery?
When I was in the hospital I remember hearing a nurse say I would never be able to do the things I want to do in life; that my heart would always be functioning at 20 per cent. At that time I meet Dr. Paul Galiwango who was seeing the patient beside me. I spoke with him briefly and he gave me his card. Upon release from hospital they wanted me to see their cardiologist but I decided to follow-up with Dr. Galiwango.
I made an appointment and went to his office. He really helped to educate me. He made very specific recommendations and advice on diet and exercise, and scheduled regular follow-up appointments to monitor my progress. Dr. Galiwango is a great cardiologist because he cares about what he is doing. He is patient; he listens; he gives you a path to follow that will lead to success. Now my heart function is back to 100% and my blood pressure is normal.
What did you have to do to restore your health?
I’m following my medication very carefully. I also started walking to build up my strength, walking in place or stairs, and changed my diet to more fruits and vegetables. When I was in the hospital I was reading materials regarding a heart healthy diet. I found most of the material was around meat consumption and sodium intake. Keep sodium intake to 2000mg/day and limit our meat consumption or choose leaner meat.
The diet is hard; staying away from meat, being a Black man. We love our meat, jerk chicken, BBQ ribs, pork etc… It’s tough. I have learned to change the construction of my plate. Instead of the meat being the main course, it should be a side dish. Some days I go without meat. If I have meat it’s generally chicken, baked, not fried. I also eat fish, steamed vegetables, fruits like bananas and oranges, plantains, no coffee – green tea, cranberries, carrots and squash, spinach, callaloo, and no salt. My wife will prepare two meals, one for me and one for the kids. The whole family has become more health conscious.
What advice would you give to others based on your experience with hypertension?
I was in Wal-Mart the other day and overheard a Black man, who was taking his blood pressure reading, commented to his wife: “I hope it’s not as high as last time.” I introduced myself and told him my story. He couldn’t believe it.
I find people in the Black community don’t talk about our health. When we get together we talk about good times but we never talk about our health and I am sure, if we did, we would and could help each other avoid the pitfalls.
Fighting blood pressure is like a boxing match: you might win the first three rounds but if you stop fighting you will get knocked out. It’s a silent killer, it will take you out. Take the time to educate yourself. Read the nutrition labels; understand what’s going into your body. I saw one can of soup which had over 1000 mg of salt (sodium), and a Big Mac has about 1000 mg. When you’re at a restaurant tell them “no salt please”. You have to control your salt intake. If you leave it in someone else’s hands you have no idea about the salt content of the food. If you’re not careful in one meal you could have enough for three days’ worth.
I was a young man for heart failure, but I understand I put myself in this situation. The symptoms were there but I ignored them. I was a grown man but acting like a child, ignoring good advice. Today, I am a walking miracle. I was supposed to be brain dead, or I could have had a stroke.
Get your check up, see you doctor, don’t be afraid to ask questions, change your diet and exercise. You have to be health cautious, it’s your life.
Thank you so much David for sharing your story, I am sure it will help others.
Dr. Christopher J. Morgan is the director of Morgan Chiropractic & Wellness, an interdisciplinary health centre in Toronto, and the President of the Black Health Alliance, a network of community organizations, health professionals and community members working in partnership to advance the health and well-being of the Black community. He can be reached at 416-447-7600 or email@example.com