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The importance of wellness

My Summa, My Story: Les Birdwisa

Les BirdwisaEd. Note: Les Birdwisa, a retired engineer, talks about his great experience with Summa Health System’s Cardiovascular team. Mr. Birdwisa’s first time in the hospital was at the age of 65 years when he developed a heart murmur.

I was getting my annual physical when my doctor told me I had a heart murmur. She referred me to a cardiologist at Summa Health System who told me that I had aortic stenosis, which meant I would need a new aortic valve.

He told me the surgery was 98% successful. As an engineer, I thought that was a great number. I asked him what I could do between when I was diagnosed and when the surgery would occur. He said to just keep fit, keep strong, keep healthy, because I would need it after the operation -- and he was right.

The surgery was going to be done at Summa. My wife had been there a few times, and both my sons had been there as well. We always received great service…first-class doctors, excellent nurses and a wonderful facility…very, very pleasant. They make you feel relaxed and comfortable and welcome.

My hospital stay at Summa was a wonderful experience. I never felt in any doubt that the doctors couldn’t handle anything. They did an outstanding job. The nurses were just as helpful as could be, and I had an entire team of doctors on my side.

This whole experience has made me more conscious of being healthy, exercising and maintaining my weight at a good level and eating properly. I always did eat quite properly, but it reinforced my desire to make sure my diet was right, that I exercised and that my weight was right.

Six weeks after the operation, I started cardiac rehab that turned out to be 36 one-hour sessions. There’s a workout session and a classroom session. Part of the philosophy is, “If you’ve done this 36 times, you’ll continue to do that for the rest of your life.”

I continue to do it. I show up four times a week and work out on the treadmill, the bicycle, the rowing machine and the arm-pumping machine. It’s a nice session.

After all these workouts, my wife has remarked that I am getting into good shape. Before surgery, I really did feel like an old man. My eyes had sunk into my head. I’d lost about 20 pounds in weight….now, I just focus on exercising. I get focused on keeping my heart rate up and I keep moving and push myself a bit more each time I go.

My rehab has had a positive effect on me. My Summa cardiologist, said, “Six months from now, you’ll feel the best you’ve ever felt in your life.” And I really do feel good. So, I have a lot to be thankful for. It’s giving me a direction and a way of living, which is very healthy, and with somewhat more longevity than I probably would have had before.

I think I’ll have a long life - a long healthy life - as long as I do what I’ve been instructed to do by the rehab people and that’s proper diet, proper exercise and proper control of my weight. Everything else should be on automatic pilot.

The whole journey has affected my quality of life in several ways that for some reason, has given me more of a purpose. I guess when you almost lose your life, you start to think, “My goodness, let me start enjoying everything more.” So, I enjoy my grandkids more. I enjoy my two sons and their families more, and my wife, of course, who was wonderful throughout the whole thing.

It’s a different perspective. It’s a very positive perspective -- feeling good, living well and enjoying the moment. It can’t get much better.

Find out more about the Summa’s Cardiovascular Rehabilitation program.