A few days after I started working out with Matthew Lister at Align Private Training, my blood was drawn at a lab for the Boston Heart Diagnostics test. Those two events were unrelated, except they both occurred a few days apart in December.
I’d never heard of the Boston Heart Diagnostics blood workup. It was ordered as part of my new-patient physical when my health-care provider changed medical groups.
I learned that the test is extremely expensive, but I was told not to worry, that because of a grant, it would be fully covered, no matter the insurance.
I still know nothing about the test’s funding process, or even the Boston Heart Diagnostics’ history. But I do know the test is a comprehensive blood analysis that estimates a person’s risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke or diabetes.
Sure, OK. Sounds interesting. Count me in. More information is always a good thing, right?
I was told it would take months before the results were in. No worries. Although I was curious, even three months ago, when I was nearly 20 pounds heavier, I wasn’t concerned. That’s because healthy is how I have described myself my whole life. And no wonder. I have energy galore. I boast about my enviably low blood pressure and the fact that the only medication I take is for thyroid.
Just ask me, and I’ll tell you I’m as healthy as can be.
Tuesday I had my doctor’s appointment to learn my Boston Heart Diagnostics results. I was handed a glossy-magazine-looking publication with my name on its cover.
So personalized. So cool. I couldn’t wait to hear what awesome story my blood would disclose about my body. I felt kind of excited, actually. I love learning new things about myself.
Some unknown-number of minutes and 37 pages later I wasn’t excited. I was scared. My heart-health story was an oxymoron. My total cholesterol was in the danger zone, as was my LDL (bad cholesterol). My “ApoB” – part of the LDL – is too “sticky” – which is horrible because it encourages fat to stick to artery walls. I could go on about the LDL and non-HDL-C – which I barely understand myself – but the bottom line is that my heart-health story was hinting at a dire ending.
Genetically, it turns out that my body (and my twin’s) has two interesting strikes against it: 1. My body is an over-achieving cholesterol-producer, completely unrelated to food intake. 2. My body is resistant to statin drugs (which kind of made me glad, because I never liked the idea of taking them anyway).
The next chapter continued its downhill trajectory. Prediabetic? No!
If I didn’t feel prone to heart attack before my appointment, this bad news changed all that.
The nearly 40 pages of horrifying analysis were delivered to me by Mark Calkins, my health-care provider/nurse practitioner, who I adore.
He tried to cheer me up. He emphasized that I’ve made some positive, healthy changes since my blood was drawn three months ago. True enough. I eat completely differently now than I did three months ago. And I now work out like a freakin’ athlete. I’ve lost 18 pounds and have gained strength beyond my wildest expectations.
He pointed out that most people getting bad news of this caliber would have to start at ground zero with healthy eating and exercise. Me? I’ve been immersed in it for three months. Another good point.
Of course, none of this was true when my blood sample was submitted to the Boston Heart Diagnostic lab. Consequently, it outlined a course of personalized lifestyle changes for me which included:
- Eat for a healthy heart. (I’m doing that.)
- Maintain a healthy weight. (I’m on my way. Eighteen pounds down … probably another 18 or more to go.)
- Eat healthy carbohydrates. (Are you kidding? What’s a carbohydrate? I’ve got that one.)
- Eat lean and healthy proteins. (I eat mainly chicken and turkey, and probably only eat an egg a week – if even.)
- Include omega-3 fatty acids. (OK. Will do.)
- Add a little more exercise to your day. Just 30 minutes of walking a day can make a powerful difference. (No problem here. I work out with Matthew at least an hour a day, four times a week. I also try to get at least one other day of exercise, whether it’s the rowing machine at the YMCA, or working out at Jazzercise, or a spinning class, which I took for the first time from friend Monica Templeton Monday at the YMCA.)
- Limit sugary foods and drinks. (I’ve removed nearly all sugar from my diet, including in the form of juices.)
- Drink no more than one alcoholic drink per day. (I wish. Matthew would never condone that. When I do have alcohol it’s in the 2-ounce range, and then it’s a treat.)
Sometimes I have difficulty expressing my feelings – especially negative ones – when I’m in the moment; a hold-over from childhood-trauma coping mechanisms.
Mark carefully explained lipids, inflammation, metabolics and genetics. I may have caught and comprehended about every other word. As he went on to discuss why I was at risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes, somewhere deep inside I was bawling like a baby. On the outside, I felt numb.
Mark had an idea. He called his assistant to do a finger-prick blood-sugar test for diabetes.
He and I talked while we waited for the test. My heart was beating like a drum roll. The nurse entered the office and said a number, which I don’t even remember now.
But I do remember that Mark laughed and clapped. He said I wasn’t prediabetic any more. Just like that. Three months ago I was. Tuesday I wasn’t. He said my last three months’ of lifestyle changes had turned my risk for diabetes around.
I’d dodged a diabetes bullet.
I confess that when I started the program with Matthew at Align Private Training, I mentioned that getting healthy was among my reasons for embarking on this program. But honestly, my main reason was a shallow one. I wanted to look good. I didn’t want to be fat.
At the time, I wasn’t really giving my health much thought. Why? Because I felt healthy. In fact, I had such great magical-thinking-faith that my body was healthy that I never really believed — fat or not — I’d be one of those people who’d be at risk for heart attack, stroke, diabetes or cancer.
Of course, it takes just one objective look at my family tree to realize this was a completely illogical assumption. My nephew died of leukemia at 20. My father had a souvenir vial full of calcified stuff removed from his carotid artery at 60, and his father died of heart disease in his early 60s. My paternal grandmother died of a brain hemorrhage at 26, my maternal grandmother died of cervical cancer at 38, one sister had colon cancer at 46 and my dad died of lung cancer at 65.
Other than that, and a few other things I’ll not mention, my family is the picture of health.
Age is another facet of my denial. I still cannot believe I’ve arrived at this advanced station of life. Wasn’t it just yesterday I was in my 30s? The truth is, I’m at that age when health issues start to come home to roost.
Denial be damned. These test results got my undivided attention. I will follow Mark’s orders for a daily dose of one baby aspirin, a fish oil capsule (great source of omega-3), and something called CoQ10, to help with heart function.
In a few days I’ll go to a lab for my three-month follow-up blood draw for the Boston Heart Diagnostics test. As before, I’ll get the results in a few months. By then, I should be down to my fighting weight. Hopefully the next results will show that I’ve kicked some of the most significant health risks to the curb.
Even so, I won’t kid myself. I know I have some heart-disease genetics working against me (thanks, Chamberlains). But armed with this new information, I will redouble my commitment to getting and staying healthy, for the rest of my life.
For the best of my life.