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February – a month to have a heart

February 10, 2016
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

I don't usually get a night out for Valentine's Day. Generally it's a night in at our house with little fanfare. We used to call it Amateur Night for those couples who just had to get out for a Valentine's date.

One of my favorite Valentine's days my senior year of high school when, with those newfangled computers that could spit out data through a binary DOS program, we answered questionnaires about our likes, dislikes, outlook and beliefs and were given a printed list of fellow students who were members of the opposite sex, with whom the computer felt we would be compatible. My list of five was a dud: one freshman who had cancer (I'd just lost my mother and couldn't possibly deal, I felt), one who was already an ex, one social justice crusader whom I actually did like and admire, but for whom I'd never experienced that romantic spark; besides, he had a criminal record, such as it was, one very popular boy I thought would never talk to me in a million years, and one stoner, when I'd never even smoked a cigarette or joint. Besides, I had a boyfriend.

What was telling about that unsophisticated matchmaking program, however, is how many tiny decisions we make every day can put us in the path of someone really great. Or, with a different set of such decisions, we can go off on a journey whose path we would never want to travel.

My Meals on Wheels recipients at my other job had more hoopla than I did last year as our office received over 300 handmade valentines from various service groups throughout the region. With 50 recipients, we have enough left over for a few years, even after sending them out for several days.

I do like sending and receiving cards. And I do like the idea of love. It's a little funny that it all coincides with a celebration of St. Valentine, whose story is not romantic at all.

It's also National Heart Month. The issue of heart disease hits me hard. My mother was born with a hole in her heart, which grew into a condition called Eisenmenger's Syndrome. It's rare. Few people in her time lived past their 30s; she made it to 47, and that was remarkable for the time. Now, unlike in the 1940s when she was born, they can do open heart surgery on young patients and close up the hole before it causes a lot of damage. Though most patients continue to have issues, and if there is a reverse shunt with the opening, that's sometimes irreparable. There are also better medicines that help patients live better lives, and now there are patients with this disease who have lived into their 50s and 60s. People with rare, congenital heart defects, along with their families, live in a kind of isolation. No one really understands the symptoms and progression of the disease, there are no relays or ribbons or walks, and there is very little research funding.

The more common heart diseases, however, are often preventable, or patients are able to find relief from their own symptoms through lifestyle changes, cardiac rehabilitation, and other interventions. If you have one of these disorders, I hope you will be good and listen to your doctor, go to cardiac rehab and stop smoking, start moving, and get healthy. My father died at 63 of a combination of heart attack and alcohol-related liver disease. The fact that he was a renegade patient who thought he knew best and didn't attend cardiac rehab like he was supposed to didn't make him a bad person; but it made him gone, for 16 years now.

Maybe that last little bit was kind of depressing. If there's anything I can do to inspire someone to take care of their hearts, both in love and in keeping the actual muscle healthy, I will. The two are intertwined; taking care of yourself means you'll be here for your loved ones and they won't have to see you get sick, be unable to do the things you love doing, and pass away; you can go while hang gliding, snowmobiling, rappelling, or at the end of a fabulous game of cards when you're dreadfully old, and they'll all say you lived fully and well.

I have trouble foregoing melty cheese on things, with stepping away from a steak or cheeseburger, with putting the ice cream back. I have to work on these things because eating better is how I can better care for that heart muscle. Who's with me?

I have trouble getting out and exercising. I know my heart needs aerobic workouts and I just haven't gone out there because I don't really have anyone to go with. I'm not great about just getting out to walk the dog by the river or going to the lakes to swim, and that's in season. I have a goal of checking out the Regional Wellness Center to see if it would be a good fit for my family.

Meanwhile if there's a group who goes walking or running or does anything else that gets the heart pumping, let me know.



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