Stephen Staniszewski was buzzing through life as an information technologist, working 80 to 90 hours a week, not exercising, not really paying attention to what he ate.
“That can really mess up your life,” Staniszewski said.
This was in 2011 when Staniszewski, of Batavia, was 48 years old, but he said he felt like he was 75.
“I have a 74-year-old father, and as he calls it, the clicker – the remote – was on the table,” Staniszewski said. “Neither of us wanted to get up and grab it to change channels, so we just kept watching Oprah.”
Concerned about how tired he was, Staniszewski saw his cardiologist.
“I said to my doctor, I can’t walk up a flight of stairs without being out of breath. I used to exercise, and then I could not do anything,” Staniszewski said. “They did a nuclear stress test where the dye picture tells them where the blood is going toward your heart. They called and said, ‘You failed. You gotta come in.’ My right coronary artery was blocked 100 percent. Again.”
While today, Valentine’s Day, is traditionally observed with cards, candy and flowers, the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designate February as American Heart Month. Both have initiatives to promote heart health because cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. According to the CDC, heart disease and stroke cause one of every three deaths, about 2,200 deaths a day.
Heart disease and stroke hospitalizations in 2010 alone cost the nation more than $444 billion in health care expenses and lost productivity, according to the CDC.
The heart association’s Go Red for Women’s Health highlights heart attacks as the No. 1 killer of women. It promotes wearing red all month to show support for the American Goes Red Challenge.
The CDC promotes Million Hearts, a national initiative launched in 2011 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, partnering with public and private health agencies to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2016.
The initiative empowers Americans to make healthy choices, such as not using tobacco, reducing sodium and transfats, eating more fruits and vegetables and exercising.
For Staniszewski, every day is Valentine’s Day and every month is heart month because he cheated death not once, but twice. His first angiogram seven years ago to clear a 100 percent blocked artery left him with two stents.
An angiogram is a medical imaging test that X-rays the inside of blood vessels to show doctors if they are clear or blocked.
Staniszewski’s second angiogram two years ago showed his left descending artery was 80 percent blocked and his right descending artery was 100 percent blocked.
A stent – a mesh tube inserted into the artery to hold it open used to treat heart disease – was not enough to fix the problem this time, so he had cardiac bypass surgery Oct. 12, 2011. A bypass is when surgeons take arteries or veins from elsewhere in the body and graft them onto the coronary arteries, bypassing the diseased area to supply blood to the heart and prevent a heart attack.
Now, Staniszewski’s life and lifestyle reflect a profound respect for his heart. He no longer works 80- to 90-hour weeks. He walks several times a week with his neighbor, going three to four miles at a time, in addition to using a stationary bike at home.
He changed his diet. Before the bypass, his cholesterol was nearly 300. A thin guy, Staniszewski’s heart trouble came from a combination of heredity, diet, stress and lack of exercise.
“Before, I ate anything,” Staniszewski said. “Now I eat chicken and turkey and some fish. I eat low salt, and my fat content is very low. I eat nothing that is fried. If it’s fried, it’s not even coming close to me.”
But Staniszewski also is reaching out to the Fox Valley community at large, serving as the president of a Mended Hearts group that meets monthly at Presence Mercy Medical Center in Aurora.
“Mended Hearts is a national organization that focuses on support and education for people with heart issues and their caregivers,” Staniszewski said, noting the heart issue does not have to mean heart attack. “It could be a heart murmur up to a heart transplant. Our main goal is education, so every month we have speakers. Anybody can come.”
The fact that he is still alive and looking forward to celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary is testimony to good medical care combined with a new outlook.
“It’s a gift from God,” Staniszewski said. “It’s a challenge and a gift, but the gift comes first.”