A Survivor's Story

Tom Gallant (USA)

I suffered a heart attack when I was only 37 years old. It was a total surprise to me—I didn’t smoke, was not overweight, felt great most of the time. I was not aware that my family had a history of coronary heart disease. I learned that I had to make dramatic adjustments in my life to reduce future risks associated with heart disease. In particular, I had to rethink my diet to reduce cholesterol and consciously make exercise a part of my daily life.Two passions throughout my life have been spring board diving and swimming, both of which I continue to do today. I find swimming is one of the best ways to develop and preserve muscle mass throughout your entire body. Swimming builds upper body muscles by the resistance and pulling action through the water. It recruits muscles not only in your arms and shoulders, but also engages your upper back and chest. And, it works these areas over a full range of motion. At the same time, the kicking action strengthens the muscles in your legs, hips and groin. It is a great aerobic exercise, with results similar to running without the hard impact to the knees and hips. What I like most about swimming is that it enhances joint flexibility, especially in the neck, shoulders, hips and midsection. Much of this is due to the repetitive twisting movements, as your body turns from side to side. As with all aerobic exercise, swimming is a potent ally in efforts to optimize your cholesterol levels and lose fat.I encourage my children," young adults" to live a healthy life style by challenging themselves with discipline by watching there eating habits,exercising daily and cholesterol checks yearly.When you achieve your goal keep the momentum going.

Young mother with congenital heart defect
Melinda Beyer, age 34 USA

Soon after I was born I was diagnosed with a complex
congenital heart defect. My parents were told that if I made it to the age of three and survived I would be lucky. Today I am 34 years old, a point in many woman’s lives where they might start to fluff the truth about their age, not me: as a congenitalheart baby each year I am alive I feel as if it’s an other obstacle I have been able to overcome.  As I entered school I wanted to be like every kid my age, so I played every sport that came my way. I never came in first and often had to sit to catch my breath but I didn’t care I was doing things that the doctors never thought would be possible for me.I loved watching the looks on my doctors faces every time I came in for my 6 month check ups and told them about all my different activities. It wasn’t until the age of twelve that I started to slow down...It was decided that it was time to undergo open heart surgery.
At the time my family lived in a very small town in New
Hampshire. While I was undergoing my surgery ironically my mother met a woman from the same small town. The woman’s 3 month old daughter had spent most of her life at the hospital much like I had at her age. It was very close to Christmas and the mother was loosing hope that she would be able to take her daughter home to celebrate Christmas. The night after my open heart surgery I walked out to the nursery to meet the baby and her mother. I will never forget the look on not only that mother’s face but other parent’s around as I walked out to greet them. They all knew that I too had been where their children were and there I was up and walking the night after my surgery. It was at that moment that I realized that I wanted to help others with heart conditions like mine. As the years past,  I continued to strive for my dream. In 2001 I graduated from the Cardiovascular Program at SMCC, and started work in the cardiac cath lab at Maine Medical Center. Working in the cath lab is hard work and the hours are long. But the best part of my job was being able to connect with patients faced with the diagnosis of heart disease. I helped guide them through a tough time...I soon realized that I wanted and needed to further my career and went back to school to get my nursing degree. Two months before my nursing school graduation I had my first cardiac MRI. After coming out of the MRI machine my cardiologist (Dr. Adrian Moran) told me that I had an Aortic dissection and I would need to under going my second open heart surgery within the next few days. Thanks to Dr. Moran, Dr. Quinn and the amazing team at Maine Medical Center.   My surgery went wonderfully and I was able to graduate with honors with my class two months later. Today I am truly living my dream.  In May 2012 I delivered a healthy beautiful baby boy. Pregnancy was an obstacle that many were not sure that I could live through. I was told by many doctors that “there was just not enough data to tell you what would happen”. There were many scenarios of what could happen, some that did not end well. With this information my husband and I decided that we would explore other options for having a baby. We started with adoption classes, but the fear of not being able to keep a child we became attached to lead us away from this approach. Then my sister came to me with an amazing offer. She offered to be a surrogate so that I could become a mother. After four years of trying with my sister as a surrogate and two very painful miscarriages we had to give up that path too. I finally looked at my husband and told him that yes I know the outcomes that could happen during pregnancy but unless the doctors told me that these outcomes would happen I believed that we needed to take the chance. I had spent my whole life proving the doctors wrong. I was bound and determine that this would be another time that I would show the doctors just what a strong fighter I was. I would be lying if I said that my pregnancy was a piece of cake, but really for what it could have been, it was. I was on bed rest for the last 8wks, and had to go to the high risk OB twice a week for ultra sounds and check ins. During my pregnancy is when I was introduced to swimming as a way to get the cardiac exercise I needed but with a decreased workload on my body. At the very beginning of pregnancy my cardiologist explained to me that he felt the only exercise that I should consider during pregnancy was swimming. Just the thought of going swimming made me laugh, “There was no way that I was going to do that.” I know now I was afraid, I didn’t know the world of swimming and I honestly thought of it as a “different world”.  When I was approached to help with Swim for Your Heart,  I thought, “Well this is ironic.” I guess this is where I say that I firmly believe, that everything happens for a reason. Sitting in some of the planning meetings for the Swim for Your Heart event last year,  I realized that I was the exact type of person that we were trying to target. Someone who could not only could benefit from swimming as an exercise but wasn’t sure where to go, what to do, and how to get started swimming. It wasn’t until the day of the event that year that I built up the confidence to sign up for a prenatal aqua aerobics class. Yup me, a girl who had under went open heart surgery, twice and was not scared to get pregnant although advised by many not to, was afraid of participating in an aqua class... Needless to say that thanks to Pat Gallant-Charette, and the Swim for Your Heart event I started taking the prenatal aqua aerobics and it was great!!!! I could not believe the difference in my stamina in the pool. As I stated earlier I ultimately did end up on bed rest, but I know that my time exercising in the pool helped me get further in my pregnancy than my OB thought I would. 
                 Submitted my Melinda Beyer.

An 86 Year Old's Comeback

Gordon Glover (USA)

Being an active outdoorsman, I was quick to join the jogging craze when it took off some 45 years ago.  I added something that not all joggers did, however.  I combined running with swimming on the theory - correct as it turned out - that if jogging eventually got to my knees, I'd still have swimming to keep myself fit.  I swam in the lakes that graced the town I lived in, and during the colder months I went swimming at the local YMCA pool. Now in retirement, I swim laps five or six days a week. It's an especially important rehabilitation exercise for me. Six years ago, when I was 80, I took a fall down a flight of stairs while carrying some luggage.  I spent five and a half months in Massachusetts General Hospital with a broken neck.  I remember pleading with the doctors to let me go home, where I would swim in the Casco Bay YMCA pool and would really benefit from a rehabilitation routine. Lap swimming has worked beautifully, not only for my neck, but for my general well being.  My accident left me with the need of a pacemaker, which seems to be working fine.I swim 36 lengths, or half a mile. On my good days, my heart rate will go up 15 to 20 beats from an at-rest rate of 60.  At my yearly physical, my doctor reports that I'm in good physical shape for my age. Because of my inflexible neck, I swim the back stroke and wear a belt to keep my legs floating.  After swimming I feel very energized and rejuvenated.  So my advice to anyone wanting to stay in shape and keep your heart healthy, is to swim regularly!