February 27, 2019

Heart health scare leads to diet and lifestyle changes

Heart conditions can often be prevented when people make healthy choices and manage their health conditions.

Steve Peters, a 57-year-old game designer from Culver City, California, is a perfect example. Last year, he began to find it difficult to do the things he enjoyed, such as riding his bike to the beach. Even climbing stairs became a challenge.

“I was getting out of breath very easily, and just assumed it was because I was overweight and out of shape,” Peters said.

Peters suffered from high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, but said those conditions were under control with medication and that shortness of breath was not something he had experienced before.

One day, he was walking home from lunch with friends and had to stop 6 times to catch his breath. “My chest was tight; it felt like I was having a heart attack,” he recalled.

Within a week, Peters ended up in the intensive care unit at Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Medical Center, where a sonogram of his heart and chest revealed one liter of fluid surrounding his heart. After a procedure to extract the fluid around his heart, Peters said: “I immediately felt 100 percent better, like a Ferrari engine had been put in me.”

After this health scare, his cardiologist, Jennifer Nguyen, MD, worked with him to implement lifestyle changes to further reduce his risk of having a heart attack.

“Based on his risk factors, I told him that he is at increased risk of having a heart attack and needed to make a major lifestyle change,” Dr. Nguyen said.

Since Peters had struggled to lose weight in the past, Dr. Nguyen recommended he adopt a plant-based diet, which he has been adhering to since last June. He already has lost 25 pounds and hopes to lose 25 more.

“My type 2 diabetes is turning around, and my bloodwork is finally in the normal range,” Peters said, adding he hopes to get off some of his medications soon. “I’m not the kind of guy who likes to count calories, but it has been easier than I thought to avoid meat, dairy, and processed sugar.” He noted that he allows himself a few “cheat days” every now and then.

Peters is taking charge of his health, and encourages others to do the same.

“What I learned over the last year is that if something doesn’t feel right, don’t be shy about it,” he said. “Don’t ignore it! Bring up your concerns to your doctor. They can only act on the information you give them.”