From Heart Attack to Half Marathon
June 19, 2012
Sharon Kintz knew she was at a higher risk for heart issues. Heart disease was a common thread in her family history. However, when she had some jaw pain two years ago, she had no idea that she was having a heart attack.
Once she got over the initial shock, Kintz decided she’d take matters into her own hands. A friend had recommended a book written by Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr. entitled “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.” And, that is exactly what Kintz set out to do. The book details a diet, based on a 20-year nutritional study, which has been shown not only prevent heart disease, but actually reverse it.
Eager to get healthy, Kintz read the book and immediately started the nutritional program it specified. This very low-fat, vegan program is not an easy one. It eliminates animal products, including dairy and eggs. It doesn’t allow for fish, nuts, or oils of any kind. Essentially, the diet consists of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
“Initially, I thought it would be too difficult and I did not want to give up my fish,” recalled Kintz. “But, I knew I had to stick to it and do what was best for my health.”
After only a few days, Kintz could feel a difference. “It was amazing,” she said. “As soon as I dropped the junk, I felt so much better.”
Soon after her diet overhaul, Kintz had an appointment at the Aultman Heart Center. After a stress test, Kintz was told she had a blocked artery. And, not just a partial blockage; it was blocked 100 percent. Cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Roberto Novoa was sent in to talk to Kintz about her options. She knew her condition was serious, but she was determined not to have open heart surgery.
Novoa told Kintz he could take her in for surgery immediately, or she could think it over. He was impressed at the vast improvement in her health numbers and he knew she was following the vegan diet. One week later, Novoa’s office called for her answer. Again, Kintz declined the surgery and chose cardiac rehab and intensive lifestyle changes.
Kintz started her cardiac rehab at Aultman right away. At first, she had to stop several times during exercise due to fatigue and discomfort. However, she gradually increased her workload and was soon able to complete the full 30-minute session without a problem.
“I was very faithful to the rehab program,” Kintz said. “It’s really great because you are monitored while you exercise, so you feel safe.”
It was around this time when Kintz found out about the Canton Project, Aultman’s own vegan support group. The group was created in 2009 by Cardiologist Terry Tegtmeier, MD and Cardiac Rehab Nurse Adene Keller, RN as a “spin-off” of Dr. Esselstyn’s program. Both Tegtmeier and Keller were strong proponents of plant-based diets and knew about the positive effects these diets had on heart disease. The Canton Project meets once a month, the third Thursday to be exact, to provide support, information and encouragement to those on vegan or plant-based diets.
“The strict vegan low fat diets are difficult, but definitely doable,” said Keller. “The group allows for new ideas and insights to be shared amongst the members.” Keller is proud that the group has grown to more than 60 members, most of whom have had a heart issue.
Kintz quickly became a regular member of the group, where she got to know Keller even better. At one support group meeting, back in February, Kintz told Keller of her plans to sign up for the Canton Marathon in June. She had been walking regularly after her stint in rehab and was ready for a challenge.
“Sharon told me she was going to walk in the half-marathon,” Keller said. “And that really motivated me. I thought, if she can do it after a heart attack, I’m doing it too!”
Kintz was thrilled about Keller’s decision. “Adene is great; definitely someone you would always choose first to be on your team,” she said.
And, a team they were, crossing the finish line together, after walking the full 13.1 miles in the inaugural Canton Marathon this past Sunday.
“My toes were ouching pretty good, but other than that, I felt great…really accelerated,” Kintz reported. “Absolutely no cardiovascular discomfort.”
All in all, Kintz said she had a fabulous day. “Great friends, great weather, new acquaintances and a very well organized event,” she said. “And, Adene was incredible; I can’t thank her enough for all the support!”