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DeKalb County medical professionals encourage heart-healthy lifestyle choices

DeKALB – After more than a dozen heart surgeries and procedures, Brenda Woker took comfort in being able to lift her toothbrush.

In November, Woker had her third valve replacement surgery, which left her unable to do much other than brush her teeth for days. It was the 16th surgery or procedure Woker, 42, had endured since she was diagnosed with congenital heart disease as a child, leaving her starting over again with rehabilitation she’s been doing for more than a decade.

“You feel like you’ve got that insurmountable mountain in front of you,” said Woker, a DeKalb resident. “You make sure your house is clean before you go in to surgery because that’s something you can’t do for months.”

Although Woker was born with heart defects, others develop heart conditions over the course of their life. The conditions all fall into the category of cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death among DeKalb County residents, according to the 2014 Community Benefits Report from Kishwaukee Hospital. Regardless of the type, local health officials are trying to curb the number of heart conditions that county residents suffer.

Cardiovascular disease kills about a quarter of Americans, according to Dr. Jorge Saucedo, a board member for the Chicago chapter of the American Heart Association and the co-director of the NorthShore Cardiovascular Institute at NorthShore University HealthSystem. A majority of those fatalities are caused by heart attacks, he said.

According to a report from the Illinois Department of Public Health, about 454 for every 100,000 DeKalb County residents died of cardiovascular disease in 2013, the most recent numbers available. At the same time, nearly 336 out of every 100,000 DeKalb County residents died of heart disease specifically, the report shows.

Heart disease prevention remains a high priority at Kishwaukee Hospital, which offers several classes and programs aimed at keeping hearts healthy, Community Wellness Manager Beth Busching said.

“It’s so prevalent in our county,” Busching said. “We need to keep the community well.”

Among other classes, the hospital offers a free “Know Your Numbers” screening where patients can learn their blood pressure, body mass index, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. They also offer a class aimed at helping people quit smoking, she said.

The hospital is in the midst of constructing a demonstration kitchen that will be used for healthy cooking classes. Hospital spokeswoman Tamara Farrell said the kitchen, named the Leishman Center for Culinary Health, will feature a main kitchen space, along with four participant kitchens. Farrell said construction started in January; it will open this spring.

Walking through the Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Center at Kishwaukee Hospital, Woker can now lift two-pound weights in each hand. She also walks on the treadmill and rides the exercise bike. In all, Woker spends a handful of hours a week working out under the supervision of nurses familiar with her condition.

Woker has been a regular at the rehab center since a surgery 11 years ago. She probably will be for years to come as doctors continue to fix the problems that plague her heart.

“It made my heart as strong as it could be,” Woker said. “And helped me on the other end of surgery because my heart was more fit.”

She hopes more people – whether they have experienced heart trouble or not – will take the time to keep their hearts healthy.

“If you don’t have a heart problem,” Woker said, “you still need to take care of your heart or you could end up having a heart problem. Good diet, healthy nutrition, daily exercise, make it a part of your lifestyle.”

Tips for a healthy heart:

• Get active – incorporate physical activity into your daily routine.
• Control cholesterol – exercise and avoid eating too many animal products.
• Eat better – diet can help control blood sugar, blood pressure and weight, all factors that affect heart disease.
• Stop smoking – cutting out smoking can reduce the risk for heart attack and stroke.

Source: American Heart Association

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