Robert Keil knew the list of health issues he struggled with over the years had finally taken its toll on his body when a routine EKG ultimately led to quadruple bypass heart surgery.
The 71-year-old chemistry professor at the University of Dayton took the surgery as a wake-up call that something had to change in his life. Keil had battled high blood pressure as a young adult and over a 50-year span had added high cholesterol and diabetes to his list. While he considered himself an active individual, his weight of 215 pounds meant he was on the border of being obese.
“Several things happened during this journey and the No. 1 thing was weight loss,” said Keil. “Now, that it is not so much because I’ve been forcing a diet, but rather I attribute it to food choices and change in lifestyle.”
Keil immediately made a change to his diet thanks to a cookbook a nurse shared with him, and began exercising for one hour, three times a week. His commitment to better health has paid off and now, nearly one year after his surgery, he is close to being 50 pounds lighter and much healthier.
Gary Fishbein, MD is Keil’s cardiologist at the Dayton Heart Center, a Premier Health Specialists’ practice. Fishbein said it is very common for patients recently diagnosed with a heart condition to also have diabetes. The two diseases are closely related and often go hand-in-hand.
“Diabetes is not just high blood sugar. It’s a syndrome of other metabolic abnormalities often associated with obesity, high blood pressure, bad cholesterol profiles, typically high triglyceride levels, low HDL cholesterol as well as bad total overall cholesterol,” Fishbein said. “In addition, diabetics’ blood tends to clot more. So you’re basically talking about a big witch’s brew of bad things that predispose someone not only to heart attack, but also stroke, blocked off leg arteries or amputations, for example.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that among people ages 65 years or older, heart disease was noted on 68 percent of diabetes-related death certificates; stroke was noted on 16 percent of diabetes death certificates for the same age group. Fishbein said that percentage would likely be higher if it reflected the amount of people with diabetes who experienced a heart attack, but survived it.
Keil was one of the fortunate cases that did not result in death and he doesn’t take that for granted. Fishbein said that while Keil’s case was not unusual, his commitment to make changes after his surgery was.
“When I saw him on July 24, he weighed 172 pounds. He had lost 32 pounds in 10 months without surgery and without pills,” Fishbein said. “He was off his diabetic medication and I was cutting down his blood pressure medications. So, this can be done. It’s just that a majority of the people don’t do it and that is a shame.”
Fishbein said diabetes and heart disease are life-long issues that need to be taken seriously. Patients need to routinely visit their primary care physician who can help navigate the multiple specialists that come with both diseases and monitor medications and blood tests on a regular basis. Unfortunately, many patients think that if they are feeling better or have a good blood test result it means they can go off of their medication – the very thing that is helping them maintain healthy levels, he added.
Keil was shocked when they found his blocked arteries. At the time, he didn’t experience any symptoms. But now that he looks back and talks to his family, he realizes that the growing fatigue that would send him to bed earlier than usual was more a sign of his heart condition than his age. Today, his health is much different. He can come in from washing his car without needing a nap and he has even extended his bed time. The newfound energy is just another benefit of his new lifestyle choices.