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Money Matters But Your Heart Health Matters More

Posted by John Slater on February 9, 2015

Transformation encompasses not only the use of digital technology, but also incorporation of new systems and advancing scientific knowledge to solve seemingly insuperable problems. If we are going to transform the U. S. healthcare system, there is one overwhelming problem that must be solved: prevention of the chronic illnesses, the treatment of which consumes the vast majority of our healthcare dollars. Prevent or reverse arterial disease, diabetes and stroke and you have solved the Medicare financial crisis.

The FOCUS Healthcare and Life Sciences Team recently published its Winter 2015 Healthcare and Life Sciences Report, which includes an article below outlining my personal journey into the world of chronic disease prevention. I’m republishing the article on Capital Matters at the beginning of Heart Month because a high percentage of our readers (Type A business owners, investment bankers, lawyers, et. al.) are at a risk for heart disease, America’s number one killer. I’ve had my wake up call; hopefully, by sharing my experience, I will help a friend or two avoid the damage of these preventable and perhaps reversible conditions.

Prevent the Event: Make Lifestyle Changes for Lifetime Cardiac Health

As an investment banker to middle-market business owners, I spend lots of time with people who’ve reached a point in their lives the marketers refer to as “mature.” They’ve worked hard all their lives, experienced their fair share of stressful events, and may have picked up “a few pounds” since they were high school sports stars. A cardiac “event” can be a life altering experience. It may even precipitate an unplanned decision to sell a business.

Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), almost 600,000 Americans died of heart disease in 2010. That’s 28.5% of American deaths attributable to heart disease after decades of cardiac care and medication improvements.

Add in related deaths from strokes and aneurisms at 6.7% and diabetes at 3%, and it’s clear this is the number one challenge for the American healthcare system and the number one health risk for many of my contemporaries.

Further, these diseases are estimated to represent up to 70% of total healthcare costs in America. Worst of all, a significant percentage of cardiac events and the resulting personal tragedy and costs are preventable.

Beginning my Journey

I’d like to share my personal journey in hopes I can contribute to changing predictable and disastrous health outcomes that otherwise determine the fate of up almost 40% of the Baby Boom generation in coming years.

I’ve always prided myself on working hard to stay in good physical condition. For decades, I was a regular jogger and bicyclist, long before these activities became national obsessions. Sometime in my fifties, wear and tear on my body caught up to me causing me to give up the most aggressive parts of my exercise regime. I packed on the pounds hitting a point where not only was jogging out of the question, even walking up stairs became an exhausting chore. My wife recalls vividly a trip where we rushed to catch a plane, and she feared by the time I reached the gate I might have a heart attack on the spot.

Thanks to an observant internist, I underwent a non-invasive test to obtain a calcium score and learned I had a relatively small amount of arterial blockage.

My cardiologist put me on an aggressive program of medication, including statins, blood pressure medication, Fish Oil and Niacin. This program brought my cholesterol down to around 100, got my blood pressure under control and let me resume an aggressive exercise regime using elliptical trainers and other exercise equipment.

Eventually, I had hip replacement surgery that enabled me to resume my aggressive cardio routine again.

With all of this, I assumed I must surely have my heart disease under control. About a year and a half ago, my cardiologist suggested another calcium score to see how we were doing. To my great shock, I discovered the score had gone up.

Cardiology primarily treats the symptoms of arterial disease, not its causes. It’s like a plumber who is continually called to clear out a home’s clogged drains, but fails to address the residents continuing to throw cleaning rags into the toilets. Don’t think I’m ungrateful for the work done by my cardiologist. He certainly saved my life with that initial treatment. Nevertheless, I began a quest to find ways to address the real causes of my disease rather than just treat symptoms and wait for that inevitable “event.”

My journey began with reading many of the clinical trials targeting the root causes of arterial disease. The good news is a great deal of fundamental research is underway, and science is beginning to get a handle on the underlying causes of arterial disease. For a layman, the literature is confusing, and many physicians still operate under old paradigms for diagnosing heart disease. Waiting for symptoms to appear is dangerous but many of the standard protocols amount to no more than that. Arterial damage is progressive over decades. By the time, the standard protocols measure the damage you’re already in trouble.

Finding the Right Doctor

Fortunately, my wife found Dr. David Wright through a friend. Dr. Wright brands himself a preventive medicine specialist. He is a doctor’s doctor working on the cutting edge of science and medicine.

Through an aggressive program of genetic and other testing, we discovered that I, as 70% of persons with arterial disease, suffered from metabolic syndrome. To my horror, I was found to be insulin resistant (a condition that affects 150 million Americans) and on a path toward diabetes if things didn’t change. I’d always known that I had a family history of heart disease (my father had three heart attacks and a quadruple bypass) predisposing me to arterial disease.

Making Lifestyle Changes

Armed with the facts, I was motivated to make lifestyle changes. I was prescribed medication to treat the insulin resistance and dramatic dietary changes to reverse decades of self-induced damage. With my genetic profile, low glycemic, low-carb diet is critical. I’ve always loved carbohydrates (not only sugar, but also bread, potatoes, and rice) making this quite a shock. During a typical day, I eat fruit, nuts, protein and a small amount of low glycemic carbs. For dinner, I now eat fish or poultry, salad and two vegetables. In little over a year, I’ve lost thirty pounds, worked with a trainer to rebuild forgotten muscles, and feel better than I have in decades.

I’m confident with Dr. Wright’s help that I’ve dramatically reduced the likelihood I’ll follow in my father’s footsteps of hospitals stays and cardiac “events” that severely limited his ability to live the robust life he deserved in his later years.

Even though your risks may be predetermined in your genes, your outcome is not. These genetic factors can be overcome with a program of medication and lifestyle modification to support a longer and, more importantly, far healthier span of life.

Learning More

If you want to learn more about preventing heart related issues, I suggest that you read a book called Beat the Heart Attack Gene by Dr. Bradley Bale and Amy Doneen. The authors are leading proponents of the preventative approach to arterial disease Doctor Wright follows.

If you want to understand the science, the authors provide much detail. Fortunately they pepper the book with real life anecdotes sharing the experiences of patients who have addressed a myriad of heart related conditions, avoided surgery and continue to live far more robust lives than would otherwise be possible. As many as 50% of all cardiac deaths due to disease in the heart’s vessels occur in individuals with no prior history or symptoms of heart disease.

The knowledge in this book will empower you to find a practitioner in your area committed to helping you prevent heart related disease, not just deal with the symptoms.

Final Thoughts

While this story is obviously intensely personal for me. It’s also professional for the FOCUS Healthcare team. We target companies that are playing a role in lowering healthcare delivery costs through new technologies and promoting preventive care and wellness. The best way to reduce healthcare costs is to keep people healthy, so they minimize their interaction with the most expensive parts of healthcare, particularly hospitalization.

Seventy percent of healthcare cost relates to heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Preventing or halting these diseases would do more to prevent the impending healthcare financial crisis in than all the attempts to tweak reimbursement rates, “eliminate fraud and abuse” or “bend the cost curve” combined. We plan to play our part through advising innovators in the field of preventative care and by getting the message out that Americans have an alternative to slowly sliding into disease and debility as they head toward what used to be known as “Old Age.”

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