Hearts at risk

Thursday, September 9, 2004

A Sikeston, Mo., man and a Cape Girardeau woman have something in common with former President Bill Clinton. Neither Steve McPheeters nor Eileen Steinberg had an inkling that they would have to undergo cardiac bypass surgery.

McPheeters, 53, a communications director for Noranda Aluminum in New Madrid, Mo., said his condition was discovered during a routine physical Noranda requires of its employees.

Although he played tennis and basketball two or three times a week and had always been active, McPheeters said that he knew in the back of his mind he could be vulnerable. His father died from a heart blockage at age 58 before bypass surgery was common.

Like McPheeters, Steinberg, a 65-year-old retiree, is active. She swims frequently although walking had been difficult for her. When she had trouble catching her breath while swimming, Steinberg went to the doctor who sent her to a cardiologist.

Neither was prepared for the diagnosis.

"Part of my thinking was after you turn 50 you get a little more tired, it's part of growing old," McPheeters said. "I kept myself in pretty good shape."

He required two bypasses. One major artery to his heart was completely blocked.

"It's the one they call the widow maker," he said.

Steinberg said she had some angina for several years, is diabetic and had been on cholesterol-lowering medication. Yet, she was shocked to discover that she needed six bypasses.

"I had two total blockages, one 90 percent, one 80 percent and one 75 percent," Steinberg said. "The extent of my blockages was mind-boggling to me."

Steinberg said she learned that her swimming saved her life. The exercise enabled her body to develop its own pathway that rerouted her circulation for a while.

Dr. R. Brent New, who practices in the Healing Arts Building in Cape Girardeau, said exercise is crucial for postoperative recovery.

"It's really the hallmark of cardiac rehabilitation," New said. "Patients after surgery get off on the right foot knowing how to improve their cardiovascular system and get on their way to a healthier life."

Since their surgeries, Steinberg and Mc-Pheeters say they have made some lifestyle adjustments. McPheeters, who had his surgery in February, said he was never one to eat a lot of fat, although he has given up potato chips, but the major difference in his life is the daily exercise. He walks an hour every day -- even during an interview for this article, McPheeters walked a half mile while talking on his cell phone.

"I do a four-mile walk every day," he said. "That takes priority. It's that important to me."

Steinberg had her bypasses in August 2003. By mid-September she was able to travel to Seattle to visit her children and grandchildren. Walking has become easier and she resumed swimming in October. Since her surgery, the blood tests to keep track of her diabetes have been in normal range.

"My eye doctor told me he was able to see an immediate improvement in the circulation in the blood vessels of the eye after surgery," she said.

New said that active people such as Steinberg and McPheeters heal faster after surgery than those who were sedentary. Lack of exercise is only one of the risk factors involved in heart problems, he said. Increasing activity always improves the patient's health.


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