As health care providers, we have an opportunity to communicate our recommendations in ways that empower and inspire our patients, rather than intimidate them. Part of that motivation is helping people realize that by choosing a healthier lifestyle, they are in a position to constantly reinvent themselves, rediscover what they can accomplish and open up opportunities to set and achieve new goals. I call it “looking up.”
At an American Heart Association “Go Red for Women” luncheon earlier this year in California, I got a lesson in looking up from speaker Dana Vollmer.
If you aren’t familiar with Dana already, you will be soon. At age 12, she was the youngest swimmer to compete at the Olympic trials, and four years later she won gold in Athens. But while she was competing, she was diagnosed with a heart condition called tachycardia, and her doctors became concerned that she might also have a more serious cardiac condition called Long QT Syndrome. This syndrome can result in life-threatening heart rhythms that can be fatal. In some cases, these arrhythmias can be triggered by…exercise.
Devastating news for an Olympic gold medalist who spends more than four hours a day in the pool.
But Dana pushed on. She agreed to have a defibrillator poolside at all of her practices and her competitions. She credited her mother for shouldering the stress of her heart disease so that Dana could concentrate on training…and winning. Further cardiac testing provided incredible news—it appeared as though the Long QT Syndrome was no longer present. Dana could focus on the pool, and only the pool. She has set her sights on the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Dana’s work ethic, determination and ability to challenge and constantly reinvent herself as a professional athlete flow seamlessly into her attitude toward her own heart health. Dana is so inspiring because even though she has stood on top of the podium—both figuratively and literally—she continues to focus on new experiences and challenges.
She is always looking up.
I went to California with the hopes of inspiring others, and I left feeling more motivated than ever to follow my own advice—this month I’ll be running the Portland Marathon. I’ll keep you posted when we meet at the Massachusetts Conference for Women in December! I’m looking forward to hearing about what inspires you.
Cardiologist James Beckerman, M.D., author of “The Flex Diet,” combines evidence with inspiration to empower others to make small lifestyle changes to improve their health. He has a full-time clinical practice with the Providence Heart and Vascular Institute, is the Heart Expert for WebMD.com and Lifescript.com and serves as team cardiologist for the Portland Timbers Major League Soccer Team and Vice-Chair of the Oregon Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.