Monday Medical: Stress can affect heart health

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Past Event

Exploring the relationship between stress and heart disease

  • Thursday, February 2, 2012, 7 p.m.
  • Yampa Valley Medical Center, 1024 Central Park Drive, Steamboat Springs
  • Not available

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Past Event

Heart Disease and the Brain

  • Wednesday, February 8, 2012, 5:30 p.m.
  • Yampa Valley Medical Center, 1024 Central Park Drive, Steamboat Springs
  • Not available

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Johnny Fisher would like to spare other Yampa Valley residents from what he calls Phase 2 of a heart attack: the noisy, uncomfortable and expensive helicopter ride to a Front Range hospital.

That is why he is sharing “health tips from a beer-drinking, fun-loving guy.”

Fisher had a heart attack June 26, 2011. Since that day, he has been on a healing journey that has involved a supportive medical team and some unexpected moments of self-discovery.

In June, the 57-year-old manager of The Home Ranch in Clark was moving luggage for a guest when he began sweating and feeling short of breath.

“I had tightness in my chest but no pain,” Fisher said. “I took a break and figured out something serious was happening.”

Fisher and his wife started toward Yampa Valley Medical Center by car, calling 911 en route and meeting the ambulance crew halfway to Steamboat Springs. Treatment began in the ambulance, and cardiologist Will Baker, M.D., saw Fisher in YVMC’s emergency department.

“Dr. Baker said he was sending me to the hospital in Loveland, and I kind of felt like he overreacted,” Fisher said. “I wasn’t very happy about that helicopter ride, but he was right. The next morning, an angiogram showed I had had a heart event, and my artery was 60 percent blocked.”

Fortunately, Fisher’s heart sustained minimal damage. He began taking medications and seeing Steamboat Springs cardiologist Jerry Myers, M.D., who sent Fisher to the cardiac rehab program at YVMC.

There, Fisher met cardiac rehab coordinator Susan Cowan and Yampa Valley Integrated Health Director Angela Silvernail-Melzer.

“The beauty of Integrated Health is that it has connected me to a team of caring people, including Dr. Myers and his nurse, Roxanne Tegl,” Fisher said.

Integrated Health, a program started by YVMC in May 2010, assesses and treats the whole person. Because stress plays an often unrecognized role in heart disease, Silvernail-Melzer is especially alert to the symptoms.

So is Baker, the cardiologist who initially saw Fisher after his heart attack.

“After a heart attack, it is common to feel denial, fear and depression,” Baker said. “I send a lot of people to Integrated Health because just coming to a doctor and getting medication isn’t going to take care of stress and life issues.

“When people tell me how they are feeling, 90 percent of the time, they don’t talk about their physical health,” Baker said. “Instead, I hear about stress factors such as money, relationships, depression, sleep problems.

“I have no doubt that stress is a factor in heart disease because it impacts how people feel, their sense of well-being and how they live day to day,” he said. “There is a huge need for programs like Integrated Health because there is no reason people have to suffer when there are ways to deal with stress.”

Before Fisher could address the stress in his life, he had to recognize that it existed.

“I had a lot going on, including a stressful job and taking care of my mother, who was sick and who has now passed away,” Fisher said. “I wasn’t focusing on myself at all.”

After talking with Silvernail-Melzer for several months, Fisher had a revelation one day while driving along the Colorado River. He realized he is a Type A personality who feels especially stressed when things don’t go well.

“I have always envisioned myself as a laid-back guy who can handle anything, fix everything,” Fisher said. “So I was handling a lot and playing Mr. Cool but screaming at myself inside without realizing it. Now, I have better peace of mind.”

Fisher also is working on his physical health. He credits Cowan for giving him practical advice and education that “fits into real life.” He was overweight by 35 to 40 pounds before his heart attack and has benefited from his cardiac rehab exercise routine and nutritional plan.

“I used to have cheese and crackers every night with my beer, and I was really a potato chip, bacon and eggs guy,” Fisher said. “I can still enjoy corned beef hash and over easies at the Shack but I have to plan ahead, be smart about it and get back on track.

“I’ve lost 20 pounds and it really hasn’t been that hard,” he said. “I had my cardiac stress test a month ago and passed with flying colors. As for reducing my stress, it’s a process I’m still working on.”

Christine McKelvie is public relations director of Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at christine.mckelvie@yvmc.org.

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