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Share Your Story: Mark Olson

by Anne S. on Monday, January 6, 2014

Mark Olson Richfield, MN

Beware the Ides of March, little did I know that this saying would gain new meaning for me on the morning of March 15th 2008. My wakeup call came in the form of shortness of breath and chest pain the evening of March 14th. I figured I was just having an asthma attack even though the chest pain was new. So I used my inhaler and went to bed having received some relief. Around 3:30 am on the 15th I awoke feeling chest pain again. I immediately dressed and drove to the hospital about 1 mile away.  Boy did I get a lot of grief for driving myself from both family and hospital personnel. The emergency room personnel quizzed me and had me in cardiac care suite within minutes. Tests were run nitroglycerin was administered and a mild heart attack was diagnosed. I was surprised! I was frightened! I was too darn young to have a heart condition.

As I spent the next few days in hospital I learned that I wasn’t too young, that I shouldn’t have been surprised and that in this instance fear is a pretty powerful motivator. In consulting with my family I found that my maternal uncle had experienced a heart attack at the same age. We then began discussing the cardiovascular history of my family and found that my surprise was also misguided. When we started counting heart attacks, strokes and aneurisms in family members there was significant reason for the entire family to look at the one thing we can control lifestyle.

I can’t speak for my entire family but I can certainly share what I have done since my personal Ides of March. In order to live healthier I have added doctor prescribed medication to control cholesterol and blood pressure.  I have made walking a focus of my day. I have made dietary choices that increase heart health a focus of my meal plans. I have eliminated things that caused me stress and added things that bring me happiness. Thanks to my niece I have rediscovered a passion for theater and boy is that fun.  This combination has helped me to reduce my risk and live a happier life.  

Ah, but those personal changes were not enough for me. I wanted to make a difference for my niece, nephews and generations to come. Having dabbled in policy change in my work life, I decided I should use the skills I have gained to change health policy. Yeah, I know, there goes that reducing stress concept right. But I took the leap connected with the American Heart Association and have been a volunteer advocate ever since. Working with AHA staff and volunteers has been a good kind of stress. We have had a lot of victories in Minnesota since I joined the State Advocacy Committee like a smoke-free state, an increase in the state’s tobacco tax, CPR as a graduation requirement for all Minnesota high school students to name a few.  I look forward to having more victories on things like AED registries, comprehensive stroke and STEMI systems and funding a state Safe Routes to School program and I want you to be a part of it. Join the You’re the Cure Network at www.yourethecure.org  and work with me and many others to bring them about.

I’ve made changes to my lifestyle that improves my health. I’ve connected with the health advocacy community to make change happen for everyone. And I can now say that having a heart attack at age 46 has led me to be a healthier happier person.  Follow my lead folks make changes to live healthier and happier but skip the heart attack.  By making changes now you probably will.

 Mark

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