By Rich Monetti
When we think of hearts and holidays, our default is undoubtedly February 14–Valentine’s Day. But, with the current holiday season upon us, I find myself thinking about how much health matters and how good health is a gift we give ourselves and families. When we wish friends and neighbors “a happy and healthy holiday,” we’d do well to take those words to heart.
My father is one of those rare people whom everyone loves. He gives definition to the term “good guy.” Why? Simple. He’s got a huge heart. I’m talking end-of-Grinch-story huge; the kind of heart that knows no boundaries. Until it did. Until that day in 1985 when, at the (relatively young) age of 52, he suffered a heart attack. Luckily, a full recovery followed.
Why did it happen? Hard to say. There was no history of heart disease in the family. He didn’t smoke, he didn’t drink. Diet? Well, admittedly, his could have been better. Stress? Certainly could have played a part. The downside to a huge heart is its susceptibility to emotional stress.
To find out more, I spoke with cardiologist Dr. Dina Katz of Phelps Memorial Hospital. Dr. Katz is adamant that smoking is “the most modifiable cardio risk factor” and should be change number one. Explaining that heart attacks usually occur as plaque narrows the arteries and blood clots ultimately close them, Dr. Katz suggests that it doesn’t take her advanced degree to make the connection. “Smoking causes clotting,” she asserts.
Katz usually doesn’t get involved until people are motivated to stop. “Otherwise, she says, “forget it, all bets are off.” Instead, she tells patients to come in when they are ready to set a quit date. Katz then becomes highly pro-active, administering drugs like Chantix and referring patients for hypnosis, acupuncture and other modalities.
Another oft-mentioned risk, alcohol, is less all-or-nothing restrictive. “Everything in moderation,” Katz says, and shares that one or two daily drinks can actually be beneficial.
In terms of diet, Katz recommends less red meat and processed food to cut down trans- and saturated fats; she suggests, instead, fish at least twice a week with lots of fruits and vegetables.
Lastly, and unfortunately near and dear to all Monettis (yeah, we get worked up pretty easily), is stress. Katz suggests meditation, acupuncture and Yoga as great stress-reducers, but firmly believes exercise stands above everything else. And she says that exercise works either in 20-30 minute daily sessions of light-to-moderate activity for a total of 150 minutes a week, or more vigorous activity approximately three times a week for a total of 75 minutes.
Additionally, statins and baby aspirins work wonders. “Their introduction 25 years ago has meant a dramatic decline in heart disease,” she says. When I asked about the side-effects, a question Katz gets asked regularly, she was quick to reassure, “Long term data shows them to be safe and effective.”
While prevention is vastly preferred, it’s not always enough. Everyone should be aware that crushing chest pain, arm pain, tingling in the fingers, nausea, indigestion, sweating and vomiting are all classic heart attack symptoms.
Unfortunately, there can be many more (and diabetics may not experience any as their condition affects the nerves going to the heart). That said, doubt isn’t a dirty word for doctors. “If there’s ever any question, don’t feel silly, go to the E/R. We’d rather know,” Katz concludes.
Rich Monetti lives in Somers. With the help of Zocor and a very active lifestyle, his annual stress and cholesterol tests show excellent results.
Advice from CVAC (Chappaqua Volunteer Ambulance Corps) Captain Joseph Gentilesco
•Dial 911 first–before anything else–when heart attack symptoms (see above) or stroke symptoms (sagging facial droop, slurred speech) occur.
•If the patient is conscious, have him/her sit down and take prescribed medications. But if cardiac arrest renders the patient unconscious, the 911 operator will talk the caller through CPR.
•For a stroke, note time of patient’s last normal appearance and speech. Medication given within a four hour time frame can greatly reduce the adverse effects.
•The police should arrive first to take over. Make sure lights are on, front door open and, if more than one person is home, try to clear a path for eventual evacuation. Meet the police at your home’s entrance.