I received a email from Micheal Raff of Gulfport a few months ago. He wanted to share about his story about his heart surgery and started back running 142 days later. Very inspiring and I hope you enjoy!
Fit For Life
As Active Duty Airman you have to maintain good physical fitness. Physical Fitness is a requirement that is tested every 6 months or for some every year. Physical Training (PT) test scores are used for EPR’s, quarterly awards, decorations, and Assignments. Some Airmen are encouraged to maintain excellent PT scores not so much for personal physical fitness and health but for maintain a military career as well as advancement in the career. I disagree I think that Physical fitness should be thought of as a requirement to maintain a long and healthy life not just while in the military but for the many years after you separate or retire from the military. Physical Fitness should be thought of as a way to stay fit for life.
Let me tell you a little about me I recently retired after almost 24 years of active duty. During my entire career I have been in units that made PT mandatory even before it was mandatory Air Force wide. Like most young airman and young NCO’s I did just the minimum required physical fitness to maintain my career and progression with no thought of my overall health for the majority of my career. In 2010 as I was approaching 40 and had a PT test coming up just weeks before 40 so I would be graded as a 30 year old I trained for several weeks doing both cardio and strength workouts with a coach. After the test like many others I maintained my heavy physical activity for a few weeks then injuries and work etc. got in the way and I went back to just the bare minimums again.
In January, 2012 at the age of 41 with over 23 years in the Air Force I was beginning to show my age. Over the years I had gained an extra 30 pounds with a BMI of almost 28 I was overweight. I had been diagnosed with hypertension in late 2011 and already knew I had a heart condition called Mitral Valve Prolapse. With some minor regurgitation yes this is a fairly common heart problem but I also had a history in my family of early death due to heart problems. The doctors at Keesler let me know that not only did I need to lose a little weight but also need to keep up with my physical activity so I could enjoy the upcoming retirement years. I knew it was time to make some resolutions and change my ways.
I decided it was time to do a healthy diet and get back into a routine of good physical activity. I knew that in order to live a long life I should follow the advice of the doctors. As I found out later out in 2012 they were right as I will explain later. I had to make the conscious decision that from now on daily PT would not be to pass a test but to live a long and quality life. I started a healthy diet of following the food pyramid guidelines of the proper amount of fruits, vegetables, proteins, grains etc. I used a calorie counter app to ensure I was maintaining the proper amount of calories daily. No Fad diets etc. just the healthy concept of a well-balanced nutritious diet along with daily exercise. At the same time I managed to come up with a physical fitness routine that kept me active 6 days a week. 3 days a week I would run 3 to 4 miles. And 3 days a week I would do a combination of cardio and strength for about an hour. As the months went along I watched the weight slowly decrease until I was at a healthy level of a BMI of 22. I continued to maintain the physical activity and healthy lifestyle. I will admit I did cheat now and then a little but not to any excess.
In May of 2012 as part of my retirement physicals I went under a round of Cardiology testing- Echocardiograms, stress test etc. At that point I was told I may require heart valve surgery within five years and yet once again the doctors stressed maintain a healthy diet and remain physically active. I am so glad I listened to my doctors and decided even though I no longer needed to pass PT tests for my military career I needed to pass my final PT test so I can remain a healthy individual enjoying my retirement for a long time. In June I achieved a goal and scored a 94.9 on my last PT test. Then it happened my life changed forever in Mid-September and I am glad to say although it changed if it had not been for me being so physically fit it could have changed far worse than it did.
In Mid-September I began to fell not myself my energy level had drastically decreased, I could feel my heart palpitating and I started to have anxiety issues. I was having pains and just felt something was wrong. I went to see my PCM who refereed me to my cardiologist. It was in Late October I found out my Mitral valve was severely prolapsing and I would require surgery. This was rather a shock to me that at the age of 41 I would have to undergo Open heart surgery. In early November I underwent some extensive test procedures to confirm the need for surgery.
At the time of the testing in November a cardiac catheterization and another test were performed. Yes it was confirmed I would need the Open heart surgery but it was also confirmed by my cardiologist that I was lucky I was able to go home for a couple of weeks until the surgery- Why because being so active and physically fit my body and heart were used to the extra activity. Where most people may have been admitted to the hospital to undergo immediate surgery or stay in the hospital until the surgery I was able to go home. I was also told that recovery would most likely be that much easier having a healthy body.
The surgery was not until Late November so during the month of November I gradually became worse my energy level and abilities to do things greatly diminished. Walking 100 yards was a tiring event simple things such as housework or cooking were becoming a great challenge.
At the time of the surgery which was one of the lowest points of my life the surgeons told me my chance of a quick recovery was a lot better due to the fact I had been active and was at an ideal weight after feeling so bad for a few months I almost had my doubts but was determined to agree with them I wanted to get back in shape and enjoy life once again.
The first few days after surgery were very rough not only the pain but just any type of activity sitting up in a chair was a challenge. My second walk just about 30 hours after surgery I passed out after walking only 20 feet. After 5 days in the hospital I was released and sent home with a rehab schedule for 6 weeks of daily walks increasing the time. Each day I felt stronger and more like my normal self. At 6 weeks post-surgery I started Cardiac Rehab where I would spend an hour three times a week being supervised on cardio machines. At the same time I began to participate in a training program to complete a 5K run called couch to 5K. My goal is to participate in my first 5K event on Feb 15th at the KAFB health Heart Run. Unsure if I will run the entire 5K with my next goal to completely run in another 5k on March 9th.
I have definitely learned and am proud to say that all those PT sessions in the Air Force have paid off in more ways than one. I am able to enjoy life with a new aspect and feel a lot better each and every day.
Now some of you might be saying well I don’t have time for PT my day is too busy with meetings or counseling sessions or the work load etc. Some may say well I don’t enjoy running and just don’t want to run. I will admit I was the same way. My last active duty job kept me very busy with a good amount of stress. I discovered that running was a good stress relief if you think about it the right way. I was able to manage my daily schedules so that by the end of the day I could allow myself that one hour etc. needed to work out. For running sometimes I would listen to music as I ran other times I would just think. I would use the time running to think about the day and decompress from the stress. Before I knew it the 3 miles of running were done and not only was I a little less stressed but physically was better as well. Some days I may have been so busy the workout time was no longer in the schedule so I would manage to add an extra few minutes to my time walking the family dog at night so the walk would at least keep my activity level up.
Overall I have to say that daily physical fitness in the air force is not just to stay fit to check off a box on an EPR or an award/decoration but it is to maintain that ability to help you live a long and healthy life.