Living with Heart Failure
By Jake Crum
I am a 66 year young (2017) Viet Nam veteran diagnosed with an ischemic heart condition in 2012, presumably caused by Agent Orange exposure during my time in and around Viet Nam. An ischemic heart means that there are blockages in the arteries in my heart that reduces the blood supply. In my case, a portion of my heart is made up of “non-viable” (dead!) tissue.
Following recovery from open heart triple bypass surgery at the VA Medical Center in San Francisco, I was referred to the facility's “Heart Failure Clinic." Dr. John Teerlink and Susan Ammon (a heart failure specialist and Challenge Failure advisory committee member) introduced me to the concept of chronic heart failure and taught me that heart failure is not actually failure but rather, it's less than normal heart function. I have been under the care of the CHF clinic at SFVAMC since that time. They provided the plan, the care and continued guidance, coaching, and cheerleading that has allowed me to continue my health maintenance and quality of life!
After my “wake up call” and the heart surgery, I experienced depression due to my physical limitations and not having a positive view of my future. The team at the CHF clinic provided encouragement and a picture of the possibilities for living with heart failure. I came to the conclusion that I was the only person that could maximize whatever longevity and quality of life there could be for me.
I enjoy traveling and golfing. I took up golf (I am a lousy, but avid hacker) because I considered it an activity that I could participate in for the remainder of my years. I realized that if I was to be able to continue these endeavors, something would have to change! I had to take ownership of my life and my condition. I committed to following the recommendations of my caregivers, and striving to maintain or improve the condition of the viable tissue remaining in my heart with proper medication, healthy diet, exercise, and a positive outlook!
If you or one you love has been diagnosed, I'd encourage you to CHALLENGE FAILURE! I would recommend the following steps. Obtain the best team of caregivers available to you. With the assistance of this team, define what the possibilities are and do everything necessary to maximize longevity and quality of life. Everyone’s situation is unique, however I established and would recommend the goal and my mantra “I will stay as active as I can, as long as I can!” (I golf, cardio and weights at the gym, as well as travel!) I am not afraid to “push the limits” a little, but learned to listen to my body!
To date I have travelled to 6 of the 7 continents, and 46 of the 50 states of the U.S. I golf when weather and surgery recoveries allow, and missed only one annual golf outing which was the year of my diagnosis.