With a long history of driving a dump truck and farming on the side, Mike Adams knows the meaning of hard work. That’s why he became worried at age 46 when he was too weak to change a tire on his truck – something his 12-year-old son did with no problem.
Mike hadn’t seen a doctor in years, but he walked into a local clinic and discovered his blood pressure was 60/30. Declining an ambulance ride to the nearest hospital, he returned home, wanting to block out frightening talk of heart transplants. At home four days later, he knew he couldn’t ignore how badly he felt. “I was just about a goner,” he recalls.
A hospital visit established that he had heart failure, with an ejection fraction of 10%. That’s the percentage of blood in his heart being pushed out with each contraction, which was dangerously low compared to a normal heart’s 50% to 70%. That was in 2013.
“The doctor told me I had a 90% mortality rate the first five years,” Mike says. “I wanted to prove the doctor wrong. I wasn’t a fan of the ‘two years to live’ sentence.”
He continues, “I stopped smoking, started taking medications and put myself on a low-sodium diet.” He eventually had a pacemaker/defibrillator installed in his chest to regulate his heartbeat.
Mike had to quit driving his dump truck a couple of years ago, but he continues to raise cows and do some bush hogging. He has felt OK over the past six years but frequently not great.
That all changed when he signed up for a Take Time for Your Heart class recommended by Saeb Khoury, MD, his cardiologist at St. Elizabeth Healthcare.
“The St. Elizabeth team that teaches this course does an excellent job of breaking down information so people can make manageable changes in their everyday lives,” Dr. Khoury says. “I thought Mike would really benefit from the extra education and encouragement the class provides.”
The eight-week class is offered mornings and evenings by St. Elizabeth Heart & Vascular Institute, at St. Elizabeth’s Florence and Edgewood locations. It’s based on the book Mayo Clinic Healthy Heart for Life!
“It’s $50, and I almost didn’t do it because of the cost,” Mike says. He’s now glad the cost didn’t stop him, because the information he learned has been priceless.
“Probably the best thing about the class is that it gives you a lot of hope,” he says. “I feel like I can live another 40 years now. All I have to do is keep doing what they tell me.”
Instructors for the class include a nurse educator, dietitian, and pharmacist. When they assessed Mike at the start of the class, his cardiac age was 60. By the end of eight weeks, Mike’s cardiac age was 45.
“Joyce, who has been a nurse for 30 years or more, is passionate about this. She lives and breathes it. She’s a really good teacher,” he says.
He has learned to be disciplined about his eating, especially with portions. The class has taught him how to flavor food with spices rather than salt. The instructors set him up with a My Fitness Pal app to track calories.
“My favorite thing is vegetables in the steamer – everything fresh,” Mike says. He drinks mostly water, doesn’t eat processed foods and has tried new foods like cauliflower rice. Mike also likes to indulge himself once in a while. “If you’re doing good, treat yourself to ice cream – just don’t keep it in the house. I’m not overweight, but I lost 13 pounds in eight weeks just by eating right.”
Mike says he was afraid to exercise, but the instructors encouraged him. “Being outside is a lot better than sitting in a recliner,” he notes. He’s doing more walking and stretching on his yoga mat.
He also has appreciated learning stress management techniques, which have helped him alleviate some anxiety. Learning cardiopulmonary resuscitation as part of the eight-week course was a bonus.
Although he considers himself an introvert after driving alone in a truck for more than 30 years, Mike notes that many of the class participants enjoyed getting to know each other and sharing stories of their own experiences.
A Healthier Heart and Better Life
Mike believes Take Time for Your Heart has prepared him for the years ahead. He recently learned that no one on his mother’s side of the family has lived past age 56. Mike wants to set a different course.
“When I did my last class and walked out the door, I achieved everything I needed,” Mike says. “This is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life. I’ve got all the information, the book, the papers. Anytime I doubt myself, I can sit down and do the class again by myself.”
His cholesterol is down, and blood sugar is normal. His heart’s ejection fraction is 50%. Mike is so enthusiastic about what he’s learned that he’s sharing the information with his family. “I recommend this program 100% to anyone who wants to live longer,” he says.
Mike is excited about his progress: “My energy has been up so much. I’ve never been happier. I have a wife, and three kids and five grandbabies near me. I’m going to beat this thing as long as I can. I don’t want to miss all this.