Posted: May 11, 2005 4:14 pm EST

Fighting for his life (~25 col. in.)
by Avon Waters, The Herald Bulletin, Anderson IN
    View Image
    Additional Information: Photo makes a nice cut-out: Michael Patterson runs on a treadmill in his home. He works out for about 30 to 40 minutes a day. This is one of four stories as Patterson tries to change his lifestyle and eliminate his insulin medicine.

    Pullout: Beginning stats
    Cholesterol: HDL24; LDL 37: Total 90: Cholestrerol will be checked again in four weeks. At age 37 he was 254 pounds.
    Blood sugar at the beginning of the course: 140-150; now 98
    Weight: 219 at the beginning, now 212

    Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of four articles that will follow Michael Patterson’s journey to better health and his attempt to get off insulin by making a lifestyle change.

    By Avon Waters
    CNHI News Service

    ANDERSON, Ind. - Michael Patterson, 48, wants to get off insulin and reduce his many other medications by changing his diet. His current ailments reflect the growing list of diseases associated with the western diet filled with meats, milk, cheese and eggs.
    “One thing I’ve learned, you have to take responsibility for your own health,” Patterson said.
    Patterson and his wife, Gretchen, signed up with more than 30 other people to learn how to change their diet and make lifestyle changes that can reduce their cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugars and more.
    About six years ago, Michael Patterson got up at 3 a.m. Pain in his chest woke him. Walking out to his dining room table, he sat down and thought he could relax by smoking one of the cigars that his friend got him.
    “My chest was exploding with pain,” Patterson said. “My arms were going numb. If there was a dime on the table, I couldn’t have picked it up. I was having a heart attack, and the darnedest thing was, I was sitting right here smoking a cigar.”
    Luckily the attack didn’t kill his heart tissues, despite 93 to 98 percent blockages in the arteries feeding his heart. He had quadruple bypass heart surgery.
    “The vascular surgeon said the vessels around my heart were like a crimped garden hose. I don’t know how I made it,” he said. “When you have that first heart attack it wakes you up.”
    This wasn’t the first health problem he experienced. At age 37, he survived testicular cancer. Five years later he learned he had adult onset diabetes, Type II, and quit smoking everything but a pipe and an occasional cigar. Overweight, traveling and inactive, and eating red meats and hot dogs, the diabetes forced a change in eating habits even before the heart attack.
    “We ate more vegetables and fruits,” Patterson said.
    The pantry of his home is filled with jars of fruits and vegetables that they grow and can each year. But that hasn’t been enough. In the process of switching to white meats, Gretchen’s cholesterol has increased.
    He’s recently learned that doctors want to put a stint in the arteries feeding his kidneys due to a 60 percent blockage in one. The doctors heard of his plans to take the course and agreed to wait several weeks to see if the lifestyle change improves circulation to his kidneys and an operation isn’t necessary.
    “I want to reverse these things,” Patterson said.
    Tired of taking pills, Patterson and his wife signed up for a four-week course, the Coronary Health Improvement Program. It is a further attempt to improve his health. After the first week on the new eating plan, he hasn’t been hungry and without trying he has lost five pounds.
    “After the heart attack, we worked at eating healthy,” said Patterson, a retired police chief from Edgewood and former traveling businessman. “I don’t suppose I ate two pieces of red meat a month. I was a meat eater. Twenty years on the police department, you eat a lot of fast food.”
    The couple attends classes four nights a week for several hours and learns how to make healthier food choices. By watching videos, having group discussions, using a workbook and sampling food volunteers bring to the meetings; the Pattersons are making changes in the diet they already thought was healthy.
    After one week of class, the couple decided to cut out all dairy and meat products. After his heart attack, he had already given up eggs and all but the occasional red meat, opting to eat chicken and turkey.
    “I drink a lot more water now. I used to drink coffee,” he said. “The things I thought were OK, the coffee and six to eight glasses of tea, I found out weren’t OK. The main thing I learned was to give up the processed foods, the potato chips, peanut butter and things.”
    Because of his diabetes, he tests his sugar levels twice a day. He always thought he couldn’t eat breads and potatoes because of the starches turning to sugar. He has increased these as part of eating a variety of foods on the diet.
    “My (blood) sugar has come down every day,” Patterson said excitedly. “I’m convinced I can get off my diabetic medication if I eat right. They say there is no cure for diabetes, but to me, if I can get off the medication, I’m cured.”
    Six months ago his doctor increased his diabetic medications. He has an appointment Thursday with his doctor and hopes he will now reduce his medication since his blood sugar on the new diet continues to decline.
    “I’m hoping he says I can get rid of one (insulin) pill,” he said.
    Prior to the course, his health continued to spiral downward, despite his eating better following the heart attack. Patterson also has high blood pressure, retina deterioration, glaucoma and poor circulation to his kidneys.
    “I figure with my history, I have to do something. I have to take control of my life,” Patterson said. “I don’t have an option.”

    Next Week: Will his family doctor reduce his insulin? Will his blood sugar levels continue to drop? Will he continue to lose weight or give into temptation to once again eat meats and cheese?

    Avon Waters writes for The Herald Bulletin in Anderson, Ind.

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