Heart disease and stroke survival rate higher than ever, but survivors face barriers in recovery

by | Feb 3, 2014 | News

By Jake Courtepatte

Although more Canadians are surviving a heart attack or stroke than ever before, a new study said a second chance doesn’t always mean a change in health and behaviour.

The report, released Monday by the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation, polled more than 2,000 Canadians online between Nov. 25 and Dec. 3, 2013. While results showed a positive trend towards heart attack and stroke victim survival rates, it also showed that Canadians often take their health for granted.

Over 50 per cent of those polled who needed to make lifestyle changes, such as managing stress, a healthy diet, and physical activity, admitted they could not maintain the change, or didn’t try at all.

Dr. William Fung, a cardiologist at Etobicoke General Hospital, said maintenance of health after a heart problem is just as important as the initial treatment.

“I think some people take their recovery for granted,” said Fung. “You know, they think all of the rehabilitation is provided by the medical staff. But what they need to realize is they have to make a contribution themselves.”

Fung said what many people don’t realize is how preventable heart disease can be, regardless of medical background and genetics.

He said it is easy for patients to make excuses for not maintaining their health, such as time constraints, but there are almost always ways around them.

“Prepare your meals beforehand, whenever you have free time,” said Fung. “Just put them in the freezer or fridge. You can heat up a pre-made healthy meal as fast as you can heat up a Hot Pocket.”

The Heart and Stroke Foundation has found that cardiac rehabilitation can lower mortality rates by as much as 25 per cent. A 2009 study by the Public Health Agency of Canada found that regular physical activity (30 minutes per day) cuts the risk of heart disease or stroke in half.

Paul Maich, a retired high school teacher from Stratford, Ontario, experienced a heart attack while in his home in May of 2013. Although his family has a history of cardiovascular problems, Maich understands the importance of taking care of his body.

“I do find myself lucky to have gotten through it, and I feel like I have a debt to repay because of it,” said Maich.

“It was the scariest time of my life, and I would do anything possible to not go through it again.” Since his health scare, Maich has become a member of Goodlife Fitness, exercising 2-3 times per week. He has also adjusted his diet, cutting out red meat and replacing it with more chicken and fish.

Maich, a father of three, said he finds the thought of a fellow survivor not working to improve their health “selfish”.

“I know it sounds cliché, but I worried more about (my kids and wife) than I did about myself,” said Maich. “They went through a lot of emotional stress when it happened.  My motivation to keep a healthy heart is them.”

More information on how to prevent cardiovascular disease can be found at www.heartandstroke.com.