By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

Mike O'Meara with his wife

When Mike O’Meara was diagnosed with heart failure in 2013, it came with a sobering realization that he would have to make some lifestyle changes and manage his health better.

For decades, O’Meara thought he was healthy and didn’t take seriously the warnings he’d gotten from his doctors about high blood pressure and the risks of Type 2 diabetes. He was prescribed medication, but didn’t always take it as directed by his doctor.

“I felt fine and was golfing every day, so I thought I was pretty healthy,” he said.

Eating a heart-healthy diet never entered into his mind.

“If it was cold, I drank it, if it was hot, I cut it up and ate it,” he said.

He had confronted serious health issues previously. About a year after he and his wife, Beth, were married, O’Meara had an ischemic stroke. At that time, he got serious about managing his high blood pressure and diabetes, recovered from his stroke and mostly returned to his normal routine.

Then, what began in late 2013 as flu-like symptoms deteriorated quickly into a severe medical emergency requiring a triple bypass. O’Meara had severe heart failure, which is a chronic, progressive condition in which the heart is unable to pump blood efficiently.

The condition affects nearly 6 million Americans, a figure that is expected to increase as the population ages. Researchers estimate that one in five Americans will develop heart failure, making it one of the most common, costly and deadly heart diseases in the nation.

It was a wake-up call for the Philadelphia couple and it led to significant changes.

“I thought, ‘Not on my watch’,” said Beth. “I wanted to make sure he got everything he needed.”

The caregiver and patient relationship can be critical in managing any major health condition. A 2015 recent survey of patients and caregivers showed caregivers were more likely to identify signs and symptoms of heart failure and feel more impacted by it.

As O’Meara’s caregiver, Beth, knew vigilance was critical and began keeping a daily log of her husband’s health, including his temperature, blood pressure, weight and blood glucose. She also kept key information about each of his medications.

The details proved important as doctors worked to manage O’Meara’s health, adjusting medication to maintain his heart health along with his other conditions, including diabetes.

The couple also shifted to a single hospital system, so that each provider could access updates to his health.

“There were constant daily emails with our team,” Beth said.

For more than three months, Beth took time off of her job as a cancer researcher, so that she could focus on O’Meara’s health full-time, managing ever-changing medication regimens and dozens of medical and therapy appointments.

Finding support was also critical. The couple welcomed visits and calls from friends and family to keep O’Meara’s spirits up.

O’Meara had a long recovery, but he recognized that he needed to take ownership of his lifestyle and pay attention to his body.

“He knows every day what’s going on with his body and is very engaged in his care,” said Beth. “As a caretaker, I had to step back and let him get back to a normal life. It’s a big fear you have to overcome.”

Today, O’Meara’s health is stable and the couple maintains an active lifestyle. Beth continues to work full time, while O’Meara enjoys retirement, working as a consultant part-time, meeting friends for social and community events and accompanying his wife on business trips.

The couple also adopted a puppy for companionship — which also created the need to walk several times a day.

“It’s a journey and it’s not like it was easy,” Beth said. “There were some rough times, but you just have to find a way to get through it.”