Are you taking care of your heart?

Are you taking care of your heart?

With World Heart Day around the corner, the UAE's heart attack survivors have a message for those who don't believe they can be another statistic for the world's leading killer disease


Karen Ann Monsy

Published: Fri 27 Sep 2019, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 4 Oct 2019, 10:07 AM

Fazal Maeen knew his friends were planning a big party for him on June 13 this year. It was his birthday, after all. What he wasn't expecting was to spend the day in a hospital, the survivor of a heart attack that caught him completely by surprise the day before. He was stunned, he says, but perhaps not as much as his doctors, who were surprised to find that the fitness freak ("six pack abs and all") had three blocks in his heart. Fazal is 31 years old.
"I am someone who goes to the gym every day," says the Pakistani expat, reeling off his lifestyle habits that would instantly have qualified him as a poster boy for heart health under different circumstances. "I don't smoke, don't drink, always eat healthy food, cook for myself, don't eat from outside. My family and friends always tease me, because I do not miss a single day of working out even when I go back home for vacation."
Yet, on June 12, all he remembers is getting to the reception of a nearby Aster Hospital and complaining of chest pain, before collapsing - only to wake up in the ICU attached to numerous wires. Dr Naveed Ahmed of the specialist interventional cardiology unit at Aster Hospital, Mankhool, who is familiar with Fazal's case, understands the alarm that comes with such a case study. "It is not very common to see young individuals who are fit and who have no bad lifestyle habits to have heart attacks," he says. "In this case, however, the patient had a very strong family history of heart disease, which is likely to have played an important role in causing the attack."
While such cases are more the exception than the norm, what cannot be ignored is that the median age for these attacks is plunging at a rapid pace today - so much so that heart disease is no longer the predisposition of the 'elderly'. And yes, it is the continued eschewing of healthy lifestyle habits that is putting youngsters at risk. "Ischaemic heart disease used to be found in people aged 60-70 in the West; in the southeast Asian population, it could be found in people a decade younger," explains Dr Naveed. "But in last 10-15 years, we are witnessing much younger populations having heart attacks - some as young as 28 years old. This is due to multiple risk factors, which include smoking, lack of adequate sleep, psycho-social stress, unhealthy food habits and lack of exercise."
Despite heart disease remaining the leading cause of death globally over the last 15 years (together with strokes), the general assumption, however, is that cancer is the #1 killer in the world. This is, in no small part, due to the massive push for awareness that 'the big C' has been garnering in recent past, thanks to governments and corporations alike. While cancer certainly deserves its spotlight, Dr Naveed believes heart health could use a lot more advocacy if we are to have any hope of reversing its devastating numbers - and disabusing folks of the notion that their unhealthy lifestyles won't catch up with them some day.
British expat Leigh Thomas Lenaghan admits that he ticked all the boxes for the "usual suspects" that led to his heart attack two weeks ago: smoking, a lack of exercise, stress. Speaking to us from his hospital room at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, where he's currently recuperating after doctors put a stent in his heart, the 56-year-old says he knew the lifestyle risks associated with his age group, yet never imagined himself to be personally at risk. "Although I'm not as fit and healthy as I used to be, I've always been robust and could still do many of the physical activities I wanted to do."
That perception of indestructability is not unique to Leigh. Dr Naveed says most patients allow the lack of obvious symptoms to delude themselves into believing they're not susceptible to attacks. For his part, Leigh is taking his wakeup call seriously. "The experience has definitely changed my perspective to life," he says. "I've already decided to stop smoking. I'm going to talk to my employers about the possibility of lesser hours, instead of all hours. I need to make more time for myself and my family, and learn to relax."
If there's any advice he has to give, it's this: "Listen to your body. I say this because, a couple of weeks ago, I brushed off a couple of twinges of pain in my chest, believing it to be nothing more than indigestion. I should've gone to see a doctor. I could've potentially avoided this heart attack."
As for Fazal, his health scare hasn't affected his fitness drive. "I still go running and to the gym. But what I also do now is go for checkups twice a month." It is a recommendation he offers to all. "We work like machines, focusing on money and the future, but we don't take care of our health. Although my insurance is third party, I've learnt to put my health first, then money. My heart attack taught me that."

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