“A heart attack saved my life.”

A 54-year-old heart-attack survivor puts herself first’and loses 20 pounds

Source: Web exclusive: March 2008

Donna Antinuk had felt tired for days. Her arms and shoulders were weak and she couldn’t walk far without taking breaks. So when she woke up at 3 a.m. on April 28, 2005, unable to catch her breath, she headed to emergency. The Moose Jaw resident had suffered a heart attack, but thankfully, the damage wasn’t severe. More alarming? The hospital said it probably wasn’t her first. ‘That really blew me away,’ says the 54-year-old cashier and mother of five adult kids. ‘It never even entered my head that my heart was involved, even though heart disease runs on both sides of my family.’

Antinuk was also battling obesity. Prior to her heart attack, she had shed 50 pounds off her 300-pound frame by walking every day and eating healthy foods in small portions. But she’s fluctuated dramatically up and down over the years and remains at 230 pounds even after her heart attack ‘ 80 pounds away from her goal weight.

The breaking point

In the winter of 2007, a close friend died from cancer at age 52. Antinuk faced up to the fact she wasn’t looking after herself as well as she could be. ‘It started me thinking,’ she says. ‘I’m not achieving my health goals, and I want to be here for my grandkids.’

The challenge

To make her health her top priority.

The plan

To continue her hospital-led exercise program for heart-attack patients, take time to make healthy meals, tackle stress and let go of striving to be a perfect mother.

The biggest obstacle

Antinuk went back to work full-time after her heart attack to prove to herself that she wasn’t an invalid. But full-time shift work often gets in the way of preparing healthy meals and exercising. ‘It’s difficult not to grab a fast food burger when you’re coming home after a 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift.’

The results

Thanks to healthy lifestyle changes, Antinuk has lost 20 pounds since her heart attack. Yet she remains unsatisfied with her health status. ‘I’ve got a long way to go to prove to myself that I can get down in weight and be healthy.’ In the meantime, she’s checking off small successes one step at time, including tackling stress.

The road ahead

Antinuk recently announced her plans to quit working in July 2008. ‘I’m very excited about concentrating only on me, my diet and my exercise.’

The tips

Focus on your life, not everyone else’s. ‘After my heart attack, I was still trying to be the perfect mom and solve everyone’s problems,’ says Antinuk. But her fretting and over-involvement in her kids’ lives was hurting her and her children. For the first time, she turned down a financial bailout request. ‘And you know what? They sorted it out for themselves.’ That’s lifted an emotional weight, she says. ‘I realized that I don’t have a magic wand.’

Make healthy substitutions. Antinuk’s retrained her taste buds by choosing healthier foods. ‘I can’t even imagine putting brown sugar on my oatmeal any more. And when I want something salty, I make popcorn and eat it without butter.’

Breathe deep. ‘When I’m stressed, I just take a few deep breaths and let it go. It’s like I am growing up a little in the process,’ she says.

Remember, it’s never too late. Determined to no longer live in denial about her health issues, Antinuk’s decision to quit working is a major step toward healthier living. ‘I’ll probably be learning new ways to be healthy for the rest of my life.’

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