A journey    
A Little History
The Really Short Version
Burnout
Trying to Stop Coreg
Exercising
The Atkins' Diet
What a Trip

A Quick History 

historyUpdated April, 2005 - I went into heart failure at age 36 for no apparent reason. The illness and its meds gave me severe insomnia, and foot and lower leg pain. Soon after, I got lightheaded from heart medication and fell down a flight of stairs at home, injuring my lower back. My IQ dropped a couple of dozen points and I didn't quit smoking until 2 years after I got sick. I rapidly lost the muscle gained from years of weight lifting.
     In 1996, I became a Christian, and started the web site that is now CHFpatients.com. I also got a terrific dog. Without Jesus, I'd have lost it.

The Short Version 

Since heart failure hammered me in 1994, I had never managed to sustain a regular exercise routine. In September of 2002 I started the Atkins' diet to lose weight and stabilize my blood sugar. My wife joined me on the diet. I am 5 feet 7 inches tall. Before CHF, I was 199 pounds of solid muscle. Over the first 8 years of my heart failure, I lost all the muscle and ballooned up to 207 pounds when I started Atkins.
     Now into January of 2005, I am down to 184 pounds and have regained a lot of muscle from weight lifting successfully for 2 years. My weight loss is from eating half as much food as I ate before Atkins. With low carb intake, I don't get as hungry and I don't get stupid or tired when not eating much.
     I now sleep about 8 hours almost every night. After 8 years of serious insomnia, this is huge. Although I still have foot and lower leg pain, it is less than before. I no longer take aspirin, digoxin, spironolactone, or a diuretic. My mood is much better. I function better. 

Burnout
the long version

burnoutRewind to September of 2002. I was getting seriously burned out on doing the heart failure web site, burned out on cooking, on reading the Bible, on walking the treadmill, and just on leading a very tired life. On top of all the burn-out, I had some serious internal pain my docs couldn't get controlled. My heart doc really wanted me to do strength training because my heart function had improved but I had even quit walking by this point. I started doing nothing but pushups, I figured one exercise every other day had a chance.

One tired day, I received a sampler music CD from the nice folks at indieheaven.com because of my web page on Christian music. A song on the CD really caught my ear. The song was "No Insult Like the Truth" by Charlie Peacock. I couldn't get the lyrics out of my head. Then another song got stuck alongside that one. God uses whatever works. This time it was an old Rolling Stones song on a CD my daughter gave me called Gimme Shelter.

Suddenly I realized that the sinful habits in the first song were creeping back into my life. These bad habits were exactly what the second song described - "a storm threatening my very life today." God knows exactly what weird things will get our attention. In my case, it was song lyrics. Go figure. I started praying with intensity and one day as I was sitting literally frozen by pain, I actually cried out, "Papa, help me!" For once, I meant it with every ounce of my being. I called on Him the way a small child screams unthinkingly for his daddy when he is awakening from a terrible nightmare; and He just helped me. In a smooth warm flow, my pain went away. It has never returned to this day, not once.

Maturing Into a Child

Jesus said, "... Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein."
     When I was born again, I felt kind of like God's servant. I feared losing my salvation; feared losing His love. As I studied the Bible and theology, I became self-righteous. I guess I thought a formal relationship with God was okay. Sin was creeping back into my life and after a time it was controlling me more often than not. I had to discover in my gut as well as my head that I will always be a sinner.
     The pain relief incident shocked me into a new Father/son relationship. It made me realize God does not want me as His servant; He wants me to be His child. When I react to Him the way a small child reacts to the loving care of his father, I move into a much larger area of God's grace.
     My wife was studying the book of Job. One night she told me she had gotten a strong insight: How righteous we are has nothing to do with the circumstances of our lives - the things God allows to happen to us. Bad things that happen to us are not a sign that God's love is leaving us.
     Combined with my feeling closer to Jesus, this hammered home for the first time since my salvation that God is really not ever going to let me go, not even when I fail miserably. The relief is staggering.

Food

Around this time, my wife and I decided to go on the Atkins' diet to lose weight and stabilize our blood sugar. I had properly researched weight-loss diets for months and was convinced a low-carb diet was the way to go. We bought the book and read it, then we started the diet. Read my Atkins' experience here. Unfortunately, around this time, I got so tired I gave up on the push-ups.

Drugs

Here I confess to doing what I tell others not to do: I tapered off Coreg on my own. It took quite awhile but I had enough different dose pills on hand to do it, and I did. It didn't work out, though. Read about it below.

A Stiff-Necked Man

I began suffering severe all-day headaches with neck and upper back pain. My life-long chiropractor struck it rich a few years ago and retired so I just went to the one closest to my house.
     Looking at the x-rays, I saw that the spine in my neck was completely straight, without any of the curve it should have. I started weekly adjustments (spinal "manipulation") and wondered how my neck had gotten so screwed up. Duh, it was from over 6 years of looking down at my keyboard while typing for the web site. I had never learned to touch type!
     So I started learning to touch type. I now look at the monitor instead of the keyboard while typing so my neck is okay and the headaches are gone. Also, despite the injury a few years ago to my lower back, it does not hurt now. That's from losing the extra weight, daily stretching, and weight training.

I Hate Waiting

My wife gave me a book about the apostle Paul. A chapter on "waiting" really hit home. I had been trying to "help" God help me. Stupid move. I must let Him take me where I He wants me to be. I have now stopped actively promoting my web site and looking for ways to make a living at it. If it happens, it happens; if not, it will shut down a piece at a time.

The Sleeper

After 8 years of insomnia every night, I started sleeping from about 10:00 PM to 7:00 AM every night. Wham - right out of the blue. I was so certain my insomnia was from Coreg that I had an appointment in a week to see my heart failure doc about it. He was going to run tests and then taper me completely off Coreg so I could sleep. Not knowing if this new sleep thing would last, I kept the appointment.
     After previously failing to go off Coreg myself, I prayed about whether to stop taking it even with my doctor's help. One prayer in particular was definitely "in the Spirit." At my doctor's appointment I sat and talked to my doc at length after the exam. I did not tell him my sleep had returned to normal.
     After quite a bit of discussion, I did the unthinkable - I blurted out another idea entirely. If he could manage my sleep problems instead of blowing them off as he had for years, I would stay on Coreg. If he would not manage my sleep problems, I would taper off the Coreg one way or another. It got his attention. He prescribed pills I had never tried (Halcyon). My sleep has remained almost normal. When it gets hard to sleep, I can take half a sleeping pill and do fine.

Anyone Can Be Replaced

Through all this, I stopped answering posts on our message boards and was replying only briefly to e-mails. I quit updating web pages and sending things out to the mailing list. Learning to touch type was so painfully slow I wanted to scream with frustration just getting through a line or two of text. An unpleasant fact hit home - I am not irreplaceable even on my own web site, not really. I guess this is part of learning to "wait."

The Thick and the Thin

doughboyAll this time my wife and I had been strictly following the Atkins' eating plan. We were both staying in "induction" - the strictest part of Atkins'. I was learning to cook very-low-carb recipes so we could stick with it. We both lost about 5 pounds the first 2 weeks, but then our weight loss stalled and stayed stalled. I never even approached ketosis. My urine tested 100% normal (ketone-free) despite eating 25 grams or less of carbs each day.
     After 5 months of being stuck at the same weight, pounds of fat suddenly started just melting off me. This was because I quit being hungry and just slowly started eating less without even realizing it. Now, I eat about half as much food as I used to eat and I rarely get hungry.

Success Breeds Motivation

I decided to go back to pushups for exercise and it went very well for a change. Since my pushups-only routine was working, I added other exercises to both strengthen muscle and increase my endurance. Over several months I settled into a regular routine of pushups, situps, and "sissy" chinups. Eventually, I started weight lifting again and have never looked back.

 

Trying to Stop Coreg

I had no real trouble starting Coreg in the first place. I had some lightheadedness but no depression or terrible fatigue. When I started a Coreg trial in 1996, I developed raging insomnia but apparently Coreg was not the sole cause. I didn't know that at the time, though. Convinced I had to stop taking Coreg to get the insomnia off my back, I tapered off it on my own. I had enough leftover pills of different doses to do it gradually.
     A previous experience reducing Coreg dose to 6.25mg BID did nothing to reduce the effects I now blamed on the drug: insomnia, diarrhea, excess fatigue, and lightheadedness. Maybe stopping it completely would do it.
     This time I also took 50mg hydralazine 3 times a day to help keep my blood pressure under control. I slowly reduced my dose all the way down to zero. I had no real trouble (no benefits either) until I hit zero. At zero Coreg, my heart rate shot up to over 100 beats per minute and stayed there. When I exerted myself, my heart rate went way up and took a long time to come back down.
     After a week of this, I figured it wasn't going to get any better, so I went back on low dose Coreg and my heart settled right down. I slowly raised the dose back to 25mg twice a day.
     This experience makes me wonder if most CHFers on Coreg can ever safely stop taking it. Maybe, maybe not. If you want to try stopping it, I suggest staying at each reduced dose for 8 full weeks along the way, and monitor your heart rate and blood pressure.

 
Exercises

Before getting heart failure, I was extremely fit and active. I worked in a lumber mill tossing around red oak and exotic lumber through a double roughing planer for 10 years. I worked in a sawmill before that. I lifted weights 6 days a week for 10 years, building up from 175 pounds to 199 pounds. My chest went from 38 inches to 45 inches with the rest of me following suit.
     Heart failure changed all that. The only exercise I did after CHF was walk as often as I could. When my EF increased from 13% to 35%, I restarted weight lifting using only dumbbells. I started with one set of one exercise twice a week, increasing to 3 sets twice a week of 3 exercises, for a total of 9 exercises per week: 3 sets of 3 exercises each day.
     This was the right way to do it but I just couldn't sustain it. After a few months I was so tired all the time that I quit. My energy slowly came back. I went through this cycle 3 times over the next couple of years. Although I varied exercises, weight, scheduling, and time between sets and exercises, I could never sustain a routine. I gave up on weight training.

Finally, I decided to try pushups - again. This time, pushups went well that I added other resistance exercises. Now that my neck was better, I built a neck machine and started working my neck with weights.
     Since exercising was going well, I tried another old-fashioned exercise: walking stairs. I have now stopped that because it was wrecking my knees but I walk a motorized treadmill every day. Since your legs and back are the foundation for your entire body, I started weight training them also. I started very, very slowly. I had kept one weight bench and some weight plates from my iron pumping days so I slowly starting shaping a complete routine for myself.

I guess the old saying, "Try, try again" isn't so dumb. I have now been weight training successfully for over 27 months and walked 5 days or more every week for 17 months before getting a full-time job. My current exercise routine includes weight training every day. Each muscle group gets worked once every fourth day. My EF is up to 55% (from 13% at diagnosis) and my Vo2max is up to 30! (from 13.5 at diagnosis)

 
Eating Atkins' Style

Some things need to be said up front about the Atkins' "Diet" :

  1. It's not a diet! It's a way of eating for the long haul.
  2. To lose weight on Atkins you should eat roughly 60% fat / 30% protein / 10% carbohydrates (carbs). That's hard.
  3. You do not have to go into ketosis to lose weight on Atkins. I never approached ketosis (yes, I used lipolysis strips to check).
  4. Eating too much is not always from lack of willpower. You eat because your body tells you that you are hungry. Over time, a proper Atkins' eating plan removes most of that hunger.
  5. Once you lose your extra weight, it pays to increase your protein intake and reduce your fat intake. That makes eating Atkins style easier long-term and helps you replace some of that lost fat weight with muscle. I now eat roughly 15% carbs / 50% protein / 35% fat, but I also lift weights.
  6. No one way of eating - including Atkins - will work for everyone. This eating plan is not for everyone.

My wife and I went on the Atkins' eating plan to lose weight, and to lower and stabilize our blood sugar. I researched various diets for months and became convinced a low-carb diet was the way to go. We bought the book and read it to be sure we did it right; then we started the diet.
     Our bodies pretty much shut down for about 12 hours as they adapted to our first day with hardly any carbs. I suggest you start Atkins on the evening before an easy day (on which you have nothing planned), probably a Friday or Saturday night. This fatigue reaction is from a drop in blood sugar while your body switches to a different fuel supply.
     Atkins' eating gives benefits beyond weight loss: A steady energy level regardless of meal times, no energy spikes or sleepiness after meals, and no mental slowdown when going without food hours longer than usual. It's partly these qualities that helped me lose weight because I can go without food longer and not suffer from it.

I think one reason a lot of people fail at Atkins is they eat too much protein and not enough fat. It really needs to be 60% fat / 30% protein / 10% carbs while losing weight. I lost 30 pounds and now eat about half as much food every day. I learned how to cook very-low-carb recipes so we could stick with it. It's hard, especially doing it low-sodium. We both lost 5 pounds or so in the first 2 weeks but then our weight loss stalled completely - and stayed stalled for months. Nonetheless, we stuck with the "induction" phase.

After months of being stuck at the same weight, pounds of fat started just melting away. This was not from ketosis. I never even approached that. It was because I quit being hungry and slowly started eating less without even realizing it. Now I eat only half as much food every day and I am rarely hungry. My wife started experiencing the same thing not long after I did and as a result I cook less - an unexpected benefit! I am down from 207 pounds to 184 pounds and have added muscle!

What a Trip! 

The last 10 years have been a long, strange trip for me. For the first time in years, I am awake in the daylight and asleep at night; maintaining a productive exercise program; maintaining a proper body weight; actually typing (how did I write this whole web site without touch typing?); and more.
     Why the Lord caused these changes in my life and why so quickly after so long in a rut, I don't know. I am trying to go along with it all so I am ready for whatever comes. It may not be what I expect or what I want, but the biggest kid on the block is my best friend, so I'll be fine! ;-)

I am not a doctor. No information on this page should be used by any person to affect their medical, legal, educational, social, or psychological treatment in any way. I am not a doctor. This web site, all its pages, graphics, and content copyright © 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 Jon C.

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