Saturday, November 12, 2011

Health Update & Miscellaneous Musings

Thanks for the outpouring of support after my last post, I really appreciated all of the emails and texts. It turns out my cortisol level is actually a little bit high, so that is most definitely not the cause of my fatigue. I am now spending an even unhealthier amount of time on webMD diagnosing myself with all sorts of mysterious diseases. I’m trying not to make myself completely crazy, but I will have plenty of ideas to discuss with my hematologist when I see him again early next month. If nothing comes out of that, I will likely see if I can get a full evaluation at the Mayo Clinic. I hear it’s a great time of year to visit Minnesota.

REALLY?!

• I was totally wiped out after 15 minutes of playing fetch this morning. And I wasn’t even the one doing the fetching.

• Marguerite walked into my office the other day and said, “You look exhausted.” Uh, what’s your point?

• Amanda saw that I elected to put the maximum amount of money in my pre-tax health fund and said, “You put THAT much in your health account?” Um, have we met? I tend to have a few medical bills from time to time…

• Someone is clearly trying to sabotage my new diet plan by bringing leftover Halloween candy into the office every day. I successfully abstained from [amazingly mouth-watering delicious-looking] cupcakes TWICE last week, but those itty bitty teeny tiny candies can’t hurt me, right?

• I never thought taking pills four times a day would feel anything but cumbersome, but after a couple of months of taking meds six times a day, four feels like nothing. It’s all about perspective, I guess.

• I was going to write a post called “Beating the Odds – Part Deux” a few weeks ago but lost steam. Here’s the punchline: I got bed bugs in a hotel on a recent business trip. This was my SECOND encounter with these tiny creatures. Are you &%#@ing kidding me??!

Switching gears, a friend wrote me a note this morning and said, “I hope you find something in each day to be grateful for, whether big or small.” What a great charge for all of us, especially as Thanksgiving draws near.



Sunday, November 6, 2011

My November Resolution

As grateful as I am to have survived two years with heart disease and to have a healthy heart that allows me to be here today, I continue to struggle with debilitating fatigue. As I recently told a friend, surviving isn’t enough anymore – I want to actually live again. It becomes pretty depressing to spend each day looking forward to an early bedtime, to sleep away most weekends and to see no light at the end of the tunnel. My energy level has been low for two years now, and I’m sick of it!

Everyone has been blaming my fatigue on anemia even though I have continued to feel bad during times with pretty normal hemoglobin levels. When I went to see my hematologist last week, I was delighted to find that he believes there is something causing this exhaustion beyond anemia. I felt like I was on the show ‘House’ as I watched him and his fellow brainstorm about what might be wrong. Finally, after muttering in terms I didn’t understand, his eyes lit up. He thinks I may have a cortisol deficiency that would have been caused by my adrenal glands being damaged when my organs failed two years ago.

I’ll find out early this week whether or not my cortisol level is abnormal. I really hope it is because it would apparently be a relatively simple fix. However, I’m recommitting to being hopeful and optimistic about finding a solution to this exhaustion – whatever it is.

Most people make New Year’s Resolutions, but after feeling a glimmer of hope and reflecting on my recent mental state, I don’t want to wait another two months. So here’s my November Resolution:

Anemia Be Gone
My hematologist still believes some of my fatigue is being driven by anemia, and we have a plan. Every Friday morning at 7:30 I will have my blood drawn for a hemoglobin level. If it's below a certain point, I'll get a shot of Procrit, which helps stimulate red blood cell production, which treats anemia. My commitment to feeling better is stronger than the physiological inertia that shivers at the sound of a 7:30 appointment in New Brunswick. So far so good – I got my first shot this past Friday.

Battle On
I really hope cortisol is the answer to my nagging exhaustion, but I am committed to finding and fixing whatever else is wrong with me. I do not accept feeling this way. There is a solution.

Choose Happiness
Having an upbeat attitude and optimistic outlook served me well for a year and a half, but I have allowed myself to sink into a spiral of negativity for the last few months. Feeling sad and sorry for myself will only make me feel worse, so I choose instead to be happy. I’m going to believe in a better future – knowing that the occasional pity party is inevitable and normal.

Diet For Good
The less I have believed I can feel good again, the more I have ignored my diet. But I know I can be better. I stuck to a painstaking diet of very low sodium for eight months before my transplant. I effectively stopped eating sweets for the first couple of months after my diabetes diagnosis. But in the last six or eight months, I have almost completely ignored my diet. It started with cheating occasionally but has developed into bad eating habits that I justify with an “I’m not going to live forever so I want to enjoy myself” mentality. While I still wholeheartedly embrace the mentality in general, I know that small improvements in my diet can contribute to a healthier – and happier – lifestyle.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Brief Update

I had the honor of serving as Survivor Ambassador for the American Heart Association Heart Walk last weekend. I got to do a live radio interview the day before and said a few words at the event itself. I enjoyed both opportunities but the walk itself was the highlight. We had a team of about 15 people plus several babies and my new canine roommate, Piper! Despite the monsoon season we’d been having here in New Jersey, the weather cooperated for the walk. Overall, I’d say it was a success – and much easier physically than last year!

Some other things I’ve been thinking about lately…

- I was joking with friends lately about how convenient it would be to find a phlebotomist boyfriend. I guess I could set my sights a little higher and look for a cardiologist boyfriend, but I don’t want to push my luck.

- I’m thinking about being Frankenstein for Halloween. That should require zero effort.

- I have officially decided to write a book! So far I have four and a half pages. I’m thinking I might complete it by 2032.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

It's T-Shirt Time!


Come one, come all to the 2011 Central NJ Heart Walk! It’s hard to believe that October 1 is just ONE week away! It’s definitely time to order the latest limited edition t-shirts!

I am honored to be this year’s survivor ambassador – what an improvement from last year, when I wasn’t sure I could even complete the 5k walk! Experiencing the energy at last year’s walk and having many friends (and my mom) walk with me was really special, and I hope to contribute to that kind of energy again this year. My goal is to give hope to at least one person early in his or her heart disease battle the way people did for me last year.

If you can join the fun but haven’t signed up yet, click here. The more the merrier! Our team name is We Got The Beat.

The We Got The Beat design team has created a versatile selection of shirts for your wearing pleasure – for men, women, toddlers and even pregnant ladies! Go to this link [fast!] to order yours: http://www.cafepress.com/heartwalk2011.

If you can’t attend but want to contribute to this great cause, please click here to make a donation. The American Heart Association works tirelessly to fund important research initiatives and to educate people about the risks and symptoms of heart disease.

Two of my very good friends already participated in the San Francisco Heart Walk – thanks so much to Rachael and Ioana! You guys are the best!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Fire Alarm Lullaby


When you think about an industrial fire alarm going off, it may make you wince. Thoughts of that shrill sound and flashing strobe light don’t evoke positive feelings in most. But among the varied and unpredictable noises in the hospital, the fire alarm recently served as a lullaby for this girl.

Let me start from the beginning. Good news: I have now been sick twice since my transplant, and I have survived. One of my biggest fears last July was getting sick, since commonplace illnesses can be far more debilitating for those with suppressed immune systems. That, combined with the risk of rejection masquerading as a cold or the flu, really caused me to worry about getting sick post-transplant. I had a cold a few months ago that did stick with me longer than it probably would have affected someone with a fully functional immune system, but it was overall uneventful.

More recently I caught something more than a cold. I spent a full day in bed with a horrible headache, followed by vomiting six or seven times through the night until I finally called the heart transplant service in the morning. My nurse advised me to head straight to the emergency room to get checked out. The first priority was determining if I had an infection, which would have been dangerous for me. Fortunately, we determined it was just a virus. The second concern was eliminating the nausea in order to allow me to take my important medications, so I stuck around overnight to be sure I could keep food down.

Well, my visit happened to coincide with Hurricane Irene’s visit, and the hospital lost power late that night. I had been awake after yet another date with the toilet and was trying to get to sleep in spite of the erratic beeps and voices and other sounds that are omnipresent on the heart floors and probably throughout the hospital. Fortunately, the power loss (which was quickly remedied with generators) triggered the fire alarm. This was just the consistent white noise I needed. It lulled me right to sleep, I had the best sleep I’ve ever had in the hospital and I awoke ready to try some breakfast. Breakfast and then lunch stayed with me, and the challenge promptly became finding a route home from New Brunswick in Irene’s aftermath (which was obviously nothing compared to the damage a lot of folks faced).

I’ll consider pulling the alarm during any future visits when a lullaby is needed…but I hope they don’t have a prankster-prevention apparatus like the one featured in the ad below!

What happens to the people that legitimately pull the alarm...you know, when there's a FIRE?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Seven Months Ago Today...

Seven months ago today was National Wear Red Day for the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women movement. In keeping with my recent timeliness, I want to FINALLY share some awesome pictures from that day! In my defense, my good friend (to remain nameless…) took the great office pictures on February 4 and promptly suffered HTWTCA (How-To-Work-The-Camera-Amnesia), so I only received them a few weeks ago when her fabulous husband took matters into his own hands!

I was traveling by air on the big day back in February, which provided a captive audience for my awareness efforts. I had the lady in the window seat pinned in for a good two hours. I didn’t lay my whole story on her, but I did take the opportunity to [briefly] tell her about Go Red for Women and why it’s important to me.
My Go Red Outfit
Meanwhile, back at the office… I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. I think it's clear that these are some good friends!! (More pictures in photo album page.)









My good buddy Sean ended up staying home sick from work that day. However, thanks to his dedicated friendship (and probably the larger factor – his crazy competitive nature), he rocked his red outfit for the camera before conking out for the day.




Rico went Red remotely too! (Can't get the photo to work...)

And my wonderful cousin Emily dressed her precious little girls up in red for the occasion. Aren’t they sweet?!!




Thanks to all!

Also, mark your calendars: The American Heart Association Central NJ Heart Walk is on October 1. Click here to sign up to walk with our team (WE GOT THE BEAT) or click here to make a donation to this important cause. All support is appreciated!!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Professionalism and Drugs

I learned last week that it’s difficult to simultaneously be professional and take a bunch of drugs. Perhaps that’s been common knowledge for decades when it comes to illegal drugs, but I’m talking about the plethora of prescription meds I take every day.

When I’m physically at my workplace, it’s easier for me to maintain my regimen. Almost all of my coworkers know my story and expect to see me popping pills at any given time. Many even know to stay away from my cubicle when my back is directly to its opening, since that usually means I’m injecting insulin into my exposed gut. This makes it pretty easy to conduct my business throughout a day of conducting business.

However, travel and off-site meetings are a bit of a different story. I went down to my business school alma mater – wahoowah! – last week. It was a great trip and I was able to visit with some old (in more ways than one!) professors and interact with the students. The best part of the trip by far was meeting a very senior executive at my company (“Elizabeth”) and seeing her speak to the students. After the speech, a few colleagues and I were invited to lunch with Elizabeth and a handful of Darden professors and senior staff, including the Dean. It was a pretty impressive group in a pretty fancy private room during a pretty formal meeting – as in, one did not get up and go to the bathroom in the middle.

This could present a problem for a few different types of people. Those with incontinence (or bladder weakness, as I recently learned it’s called) might have trouble in this situation. People with Crohn’s Disease could find themselves in some deep…well, you know. And it's a challenging situation for an insulin-dependent diabetic that also takes oral medications SIX (yep, it has gone up) times a day.

Going into the lunch, I knew the plan was to discuss topics one and two, then eat, then discuss topic three. If the plan had been to eat first, I could have injected beforehand, but I didn’t want to risk dropping on the floor during the first two discussions (though that would have been one way to ensure that Elizabeth remembered me!). So in I went for the pasta salad and other glucose-elevators typically found in these catered situations and willed my pancreas to step up to the plate just this once. When it came time to take my next set of pills, I quietly reached into my bag, pulled out my pouch and was just emptying that timeslot’s meds into my hand (fortunately, it’s more socially acceptable to use Purell in public) when the conversation moved to the Dean, who was seated right next to me at the head of the table. So there I was, with a handful of pills in one hand, my pill organizer in the other and my pouch of goodies spilling into my lap, when the whole table of highly credentialed people turned to face the Dean – and me.

I’m sure no one noticed the pharmacy in my lap; that’s not the point. The point is that it’s difficult to do what I need to do sometimes. I guess it really boils down to something I never fully appreciated until recently: it’s hard to be different. And it’s a pain in the butt to take a handful of pills at six regularly scheduled times, to inject myself with each meal and to prick my finger four times a day.

But, as I frequently remind myself, it’s not as big of a pain as the alternative. So I’ll take it. And one day when I’m not the most junior person in every meeting, maybe I’ll get more comfortable in my drug-dependent body.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Veni, Vidi, Vici...Almost

I will hereby admit my delinquency in this public forum: I have not thanked the majority of the people that contributed to the Share NJ 5k that took place in June. I’m officially now two months late (my mama taught me better!!). Despite what my tardiness may imply, I am incredibly grateful to all of you who contributed to this great cause! In total, our team raised a whopping $2,550 and the event – in its inaugural year – raised over $450,000!

In alphabetical order: THANK YOU.

Rob Anderson, Karin Bergqvist, Barbara Brewer, Ioana Brooks, Ivy Brown, Sally Bublinec, Jan Carlin, Scott Creighton, Anca Deliu, Debbie DeStasio, Lawanna Dimmerling, Kacey Dreby, Jennifer Ferrazza, Ann and Tom Fuller, Scott Fuller, Ross Fuller, Sal Giovine, Amanda and Wes Givens, Marion Guill, Ramona and Alvan Hampton, Rita Harris, Julia Healy, Fred Koberna, Marguerite and Chris Longo, Dawn Miles, Jana Morelli, Christine Musso, Tim O’Toole, Carla O’Brien, Tara Pullen, Amy Scalia, Jen Shrear, Kirsten Smith, Brieana Tascione, Fred Tewell, Johnelle Whipple, Jennifer Zangara

Those in blue made it to the race in person too! THANK YOU!
(If I missed anyone, I’m terribly sorry – the web site that captured this data was little tricky.)

After you all helped blow my fundraising goal out of the water, I was excited for the physical challenge. Apparently, the challenge of running a mile eleven months post-transplant was not enough for this girl, so I went and became very anemic to up the ante. In all seriousness, the anemia made exercising much more difficult and has caused me to essentially halt all exercise since the 5k in June. But I was determined to give it my best shot anyway, and thanks to all of the support – especially from those who were able to join me for the run – I very nearly accomplished my goal of running that final mile. Marguerite (bless her heart) claims I did run the whole thing, but she’s being generous as usual.

As with most of my recovery since July of 2010, it wasn’t pretty but it was progress. And I fully intend to run at least two miles at this same event next year.

The finish line!
Visit PHOTO ALBUM on the left for more photos of the big day.


Sunday, July 31, 2011

Home, Sweet...Hilton Head

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina has long held a special place in my heart. My family started vacationing there in the early nineties, and since 1996 my friends and I have created innumerable memories of our own. I’ve spent a lot of time in Hilton Head, from quick visits to one entire summer during college, and I have a veritable almanac of fond memories from those times spent with friends and family.

But Hilton Head has further entrenched itself in my heart and mind after my most recent visit last week – and for three separate reasons that I’ll share in chronological order. The first treat of the week was getting to spend time with my parents, two of my three brothers, my sister-in-law, and best of all (no offense to the rest of you) my perfect little nephew. This was my second time seeing Baby Michael, and it’s just amazing to see him grow (mostly in width!) and develop. He is starting to grin and respond and even spent some fun time in the pool, which I’m convinced he thought was a giant bathtub. I’m trying to decide if I can justify another trip down south to see him before Thanksgiving…we’ll see. This aunt is smitten.

Look closely, he's rocking his organ donation onesie!
The second thing that happened in Hilton Head was about as special as it gets. I celebrated a full year with my new heart on July 21, and my parents and I met several of my donor’s family members that very day. [In the strangest of coincidences, T’neil’s family and I had planned to be in Hilton Head at the same time.] It’s impossible to articulate how much it meant to me to be able to meet and see and hug my donor’s mother, Denisha. I can’t say enough wonderful things about her warm and loving spirit, and it was a delight to meet her husband, aunt and uncle as well. We all chatted for quite a while, and they each used a stethoscope to hear T’neil’s strong heart beating in my chest. I think that meant the most to them, and I’m so glad I was able to give them a way to truly feel T’neil’s presence again.

Denisha made the call to donate T’neil’s organs last year, since they hadn’t previously discussed the topic. It takes a remarkable person to think of anonymous others when experiencing the anguish of a child’s sudden illness and death. Most of us can’t even imagine; I know I can’t. Denisha is that remarkable person. Her kindness during that impossible time saved many lives, including my own, and improved the lives of countless others. Even through a year of grief and pain, I can tell that she continues to be so proud of all of her children and their accomplishments. She feels T’neil’s presence when candles are lit and when butterflies are seen nearby, and she seems able to maintain focus and joy for her surviving children – especially one that is expecting a baby girl in the fall and another that hopes to go to college on a basketball scholarship. Oh, and she’s pretty focused on her own big birthday coming up in a few weeks, too! Denisha has a truly contagious aura of positivity and warmth around her, and I hope we will be a part of each other’s lives forever. Eventually, I would love to meet T’neil’s many siblings – I’ll be here whenever they are ready.

Isn't Denisha pretty?! I promise she's older than I am...
To round out the week of excitement, nine of my best friends came down to Hilton Head to celebrate my one year anniversary and recent thirtieth birthday. My parents graciously loaned us their house for the week and we happily accepted! People traveled from North Carolina, Boston, Pennsylvania and even Utah for the celebration, and we had a great time. I strayed wildly from my diet for several days, but I figured I could splurge a bit for the occasion.

Most of us!
Now I’m back in New Jersey, preparing for the return to real life tomorrow. After nearly two weeks of vacation, my alarm clock is going to be quite a shock in the morning. But whenever I get tired or frustrated or down, I know I can close my eyes and peruse my internal database of unforgettable memories from Hilton Head Island, both old and new.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

T Minus One Week!


Front
I am getting really excited about the big race on June 12! After much deliberation, we have finalized the official See Andrea Run team t-shirts! I’ve purchased shirts for everyone who signed up to join our 5k team but want to make them available to anyone else interested in joining us from afar. The link below will take you to zazzle.com where you can purchase these limited edition gems :)

http://www.zazzle.com/see_andrea_run_tshirt-235257985241462342

Additionally, I want to extend a HUGE thank you to all of those who have donated to this important cause. Thanks to you, we have raised $1,850 so far! I’m so touched by all of the support and feel great about us being able to make such a sizable impact!

If you still want to contribute and/or sign up to join us on June 12, there’s still time! Just click HERE for the team page. You can sign up until the day of the race and donations are accepted until June 17.

Back


Sunday, May 15, 2011

See Andrea Run

June 12 seemed really far away when I first learned of the Donate Life 5k. I was sure my goal of running a mile straight was achievable. I secretly hoped I’d be able to run the full 5k but opted for a more modest goal. Theoretically, I thought, a young and otherwise athletic person should be able to run at least a mile ELEVEN months post-transplant.

But things don’t always go as expected – I can certainly attest to that. For a variety of reasons my exercise has progressed more slowly than I’d hoped and running a mile straight remains a lofty goal.

It’s a loft goal yes, but one that I’m fully committed to making a reality in a few short weeks. I know I can do it if I can drum up some serious support! Here’s where you come in.

Do you run? If so, please sign up to walk/run with me! (There is a $25 sign-up fee.) You’ll be supporting me and all future recipients of life-saving transplants in New Jersey. The more people I have jogging [slowly] beside me, the better the chance I have of running that full mile!

Are you loud? A bunch of cheerleaders near the end of the race would move mountains for me. Just picturing cheerleaders helps me push for an extra minute on the treadmill, so imagine the power of a real live cheering section!

Can’t make it in person? Please make a donation of any size to our team! The NJ Sharing Network (also known as Donate Life New Jersey) is the organization responsible for raising awareness of organ donation in this state, matching donors with recipients and facilitating contact between the donor family and transplant recipient. Needless to say, I’m extremely passionate about this wonderful group.

Like t-shirts? You’re in luck. Commemorative team (See Andrea Run) t-shirts are in progress…more to come!

Aside from returning to work, this is my biggest post-transplant milestone thus far. Please help me achieve my goals of raising $1500 for this critical cause and running that full final mile on Sunday, June 12.

The event takes place at 10am in New Providence, NJ. Click on the link below for our team site and look for the buttons that say “donate here” and/or “join this team”.

SEE ANDREA RUN

With your support, I can do this and we can all help raise awareness of organ donation. THANK YOU!!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Nacho Mama, MY Mama

Well, an eleventh hour Happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms out there! I’d say Mother’s Day (with Father’s Day as a close second) is the most important of Hallmark’s invented holidays. There are a lot of mothers that deserve thanks and celebration today, and I’d like to honor four here.

First, my sister-in-law Maggie is celebrating her own motherhood for the first time this year, so this Mother’s Day is extra special! A couple of weeks ago she became mom to the sweetest little monkey in the world, my very first nephew Michael. I can’t wait to meet the little man in a couple of weeks! Maybe the little guy will give you the gift of sleep for your first Mother’s Day!

The second mom I celebrate today is my donor’s mother, Denisha. As I’ve said before, I wholeheartedly admire the strength and courage of this wonderful woman. Even on this first year that she celebrates Mother’s Day with one fewer child in her household, she is able to reach out and think of others. Please join me in praying for this gracious woman today. I am beyond delighted to announce that it looks like I’ll be able to meet Denisha this summer (more to come)!

Third, I celebrate Kathy Ritvo, the woman that trained Mucho Macho Man, a strong contender in yesterday’s Kentucky Derby. She was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy in 2001 (I believe at age 32) and became very ill before receiving a heart transplant in 2008. Shortly after her transplant, Kathy was back to doing what she loved. She credits a desire to be there for her children with helping her hang on in those final weeks before a donor was identified. I’m sure every Mother’s Day is quite the occasion for that family.

And most of all, I celebrate my mom today. I celebrate her for staying home with her four children, all of whom provided some significant challenges along the way. I celebrate the woman who attended every soccer game, from Atlanta to Texas and California to Ohio, despite my inability to appreciate that attention and support at the time. I celebrate the woman who just became a grandmother and is going to be the best darn grandmother on this Earth. I celebrate the woman who is so generous and gives so much of her time to charity. And I celebrate the woman who single-handedly saved my life with that first trip to New Jersey in October 2009, who provided and continues to provide constant support and love through some difficult times and who put her life on complete hold to come live with me for many months so that I could maintain some semblance of my life in New Jersey.

I’m sure you all have wonderful reasons to celebrate your mothers this weekend. I’m sure they have all done wonderful things for you throughout your life. But I have to tell you that the best mom of all is NACHO MAMA, it’s MY MAMA. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you very much.


Mom and me on Christmas night, 2010.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Winning...Part Deux

First – to belatedly follow-up on “Winning” the first, I am happy to announce that Eva Cauble (oddly another Eva C. winner but I promise a different one!) won the AHA Cookbook challenge for healthy eating tips and recipes! At the bottom of this post is her delicious-looking recipe for homemade granola and the other tips I received. Thanks to those who participated!

No offense to Eva or you other contributors, but what I’m SUPER excited to announce is the fact that I just ran TEN MINUTES straight! This is three minutes more than my previous best and gets me within spitting distance of running a full mile straight, which is my goal for June 12. I have signed up and created a team for the June 12 5k for Donate Life, and I will provide full details very soon. In the meantime, rest assured that I am continuing to push myself. Some work-outs are great, others are brutal – I continue to try to identify trends among the good ones. I think I’ve landed on 1) an empty stomach, 2) plenty of sleep and 3) ensuring my HR is over 120 and climbing before starting to run. Stay tuned for details on the June 12 5k!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Healthy Granola

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 T ground cinnamon
1/4 t salt
1/2 cup grade A dark amber syrup
2 T butter
1/2 cup craisins
1/2 cup dates
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325. Mix together the first 5 ingredients. In a small bowl, stir together the syrup and melted butter. Pour the syrup mixture over the dry ingredients, coating the dry ingredients well. Spread this mixture onto baking sheets (greased or lined with parchment paper) and bake for 30-45 minutes until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Add the craisins, dates, and chocolate chips or whatever dried fruit combination you prefer.

Cookbook Tip
Ellie Krieger (The Food You Crave and So Easy) – healthy, delicious and super easy to make

General Tips
1. Track food intake throughout the day – one free resource is a tracker at www.mypyramidtracker.gov
2. Use a rolling 10-day average of how well you’ve maintained healthy eating habits, this way you won’t have to suffer so much guilt if you cheat or stray one day!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bueller...Bueller...Bueller...


Hello...is this thing on? I've received a handful of healthy eating tips and recipes, but I was hoping for at least double digits! I KNOW you have a good recipe that is already healthy OR is a traditional recipe made healthier OR is a dessert that doesn't have a ton of sugar OR a tip to get more vitamins and minerals in your diet OR a tip for sticking to a healthy diet OR a low-calorie snack OR something! Please share!

Why? First, to help me! After all, I am trying to stick to a heart-healthy, diabetes-friendly diet (although today was not a particularly successful day). I spent today in focus groups, which tend to cause m&m overloads. Second, to help other readers improve or stick to their diets. And finally, for a chance to win a great cookbook from the American Heart Association.

Pretty please?

See previous post for details. The deadline is Sunday, April 17!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Winning... It's Not Just For Sheen Anymore

I can no longer keep myself from posting a gratuitous Charlie Sheen reference. I haven’t yet decided whether I feel sorry for his public demise, or if I just want him to SHUT UP. It’s quite clear that he is most definitely not winning. Two of you, on the other hand, are indeed winning – great gifts from the American Heart Association! Congratulations to Eva Challen and Katherine (Kaffrin) Edmonds for winning the first BetterU contest! AHA will be mailing you a great assortment of goodies, from a water bottle and jump rope to a yummy cookbook.

As for the rest of you, this is your next chance to win – this time the prize is a nice hard-cover American Heart Association cookbook! You can use it for yourself and your family, or it would make a great gift for someone that could use a little nudge toward a healthier lifestyle!

I’m currently using a cookbook called “Diabetes and Heart Healthy Meals for Two”, which was produced by AHA in collaboration with the American Diabetes Association. I would recommend this cookbook to anyone (diabetic or not) looking for inspiration to eat healthy meals that are also delicious. I’m confident that the one being given away here is just as wonderful as the one I have. Whoever wins will have to give me the full report!

My Aunt Tine recently told me that cinnamon has been shown to have a variety of health benefits, including lowering LDL cholesterol and blood pressure – two common factors in heart disease. I tried drinking it in my coffee, but most of it ended up sticking to the mug, so I now sprinkle it into the grounds before brewing the coffee – talk about winning. I don’t know how much benefit I get without actually ingesting the cinnamon itself, but I think it’s a great example of the little things we can do to try to make more healthful choices.

I’d like to know what little changes you are making to live a healthier lifestyle, whether you joined the BetterU program or not. Do you have a favorite recipe you made more healthy? Have you started taking extra vitamins or supplements, like I'm trying to do with my cinnamon coffee? I can use all the help I can get, so I would appreciate any and all advice – and hopefully your ideas will benefit other readers too!

So, here’s the skinny:

FIRST – send a recipe or any healthy eating tip to me by e-mail or by posting in the comments section

THEN – you have one week, I'll announce the winner on Sunday, April 17

FINALLY – I will share everything I receive so that everyone can benefit from everyone else’s recipes and tips… after all, it’s not ALL about me :)

If, like Charlie, you are tired of pretending you're "not a total bitchin' rock star from Mars" and are ready to start "winning", then send me your recipe or tip today!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Tears On The Treadmill

I took this picture today because I got a new 'do... But I'm posting it here so you can see that my cheeks are FINALLY back to normal!
To those on or newly off of Prednisone, hang in there!

I came perilously close to crying on the treadmill last night. Not because I was in pain. Not because I was frustrated. These were tears of victory, of relief, of renewed hope.

A couple of months ago I decided I would participate in the Donate Life 5k in June, and I set a lofty goal. I wanted to jog one full mile of the 5k straight, without walking. In the time since setting this goal, gaining strength and endurance has proven far more difficult than expected. I’ve been pushing myself along, with nearly imperceptible increases in my workouts, but it just wasn’t getting any easier for me. Every trip to the gym was like a game of Russian Roulette, with no ability to predict which work-outs would be decent and which ones would feel terrible.

My best running workouts consisted of me getting on the treadmill for 45 minutes and jogging for three intervals of three minutes each. This got me to three quarters of a mile in three spurts. My plan was to continue gradually increasing my longevity, but something happened on the treadmill last night. When I passed the three-minute mark I felt like I could do another minute, so I kept going. And the same thing happened after four minutes, and five and even six – until I’d jogged seven minutes straight!! I know it doesn’t sound like much, but seven minutes is 230% of my previous best! After walking for about ten minutes to bring my heart rate back down, I was able to run another five minutes straight to round out the full mile.

I was nearly overcome with emotion – not because I had one good workout – but because of what that workout represented: HOPE.

I was told to expect to feel ‘normal’ about six months post-transplant. I still felt very sluggish at that point, and I feared I’d set my expectations too high. Now I see that maybe I was just running a little behind and I’ve turned a real corner here. Alternatively, maybe the iron treatments have caused an increase in my energy. I don’t know. Whatever is responsible for the way I’ve felt this weekend has given me renewed hope – that I can achieve my goal of running a mile straight in June and that I am not finished recovering from this ordeal. I’m just beginning.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

BetterU Week Two: Ignorance Is Not Bliss

I’ve made it through my first week of the BetterU program. Today is the first day of week two for me, so I’ll fill you in on how week one went and what’s going on this week. For those of you who have joined, I hope you’ll post about your progress in the comments!

My week one goal was to be active for 10 to 30 minutes each day. I did it for 6 out of 7 days last week, and I think that’s a pretty good start to a BetterMe. I exercised right here in my apartment 3 of the days – pounded on my quasi-heavy bag (yes, I know this is not a normal thing to own!) and just generally bounced around for 10 or 20 minutes. I went to the gym the other three days and even did my full 9-minute run once (45 minutes on the treadmill with three 3-minute intervals of jogging). All in all, I had an active week, thanks to the motivation I got from BetterU.

Week two is all about reducing risk factors for heart disease, which begins with knowing what they are and which ones you have. I happen to be very well acquainted with my own risk factors, and I encourage you to identify and reduce yours. The main controllable risk factors are as follows:

High Blood Pressure – Smoking – High Cholesterol – Physical Inactivity – Obesity or Being Overweight – Diabetes

If you don’t know what your blood pressure is, find a drug store that has one of those chairs with the cuff. Normal is 120/80, anything within ten or twenty points either way is probably okay. If you don’t know your cholesterol, talk to your doctor about having some simple blood work done to find out. If you don’t have a general doctor, find one! In the case of heart disease factors, ignorance is most definitely not bliss.

The point this week is that there are little choices we can make every day to reduce our risk for heart disease. With that in mind, I set the following goal for week two:

While on 3 days of business travel this week, I will choose to avoid sweets and desserts.

Now, you may be thinking: Isn’t this girl diabetic? I sure am, but I cheat and squeeze sweets into my diet sometimes. On top of this tendency, travel is synonymous with unhealthy eating in my mind. For some reason, I’ve always allowed myself to indulge while traveling. On trips like this, there are always sweets and snacks lying around, begging to be eaten. There are fancy dinners, which seemingly everyone finishes off with decadent desserts. Not this girl, not this week. Wish me luck!

Stay tuned for the winners of the week one contest – I will announce two winners as soon as I figure out what the prizes are :)

Why you should sign up for the program with Go Red For Women:

The Ugly Truth: Heart disease is the #1 killer of women age 20 and over, killing approximately 1 woman every minute.

The Good News: About 80% of heart disease is preventable.

What We Can Do: 90% of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease – together we can reduce this number drastically!

How BetterU Can Help: Research shows that women who Go Red are more likely to make healthy changes in their lives.
• More than 1/3 have lost weight.
• Nearly 50% have increased their exercise.
• Six out of ten have changed their diets.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Could You Be A BetterU?


The last several days have been less than ideal for me. I went into the hospital the mornings of Thursday and Friday for iron infusions. I was nervous about side effects but really excited about the prospect of soon having more energy. It was expected that iron followed by another medicine would boost my hemoglobin and increase my energy – a very welcome change.

Thursday morning was fine. I was really nervous, but the whole visit was completely uneventful. The nurse found my vein with no problem and had the iron solution flowing within an hour of my arrival. I left feeling fine and went into work for the afternoon.

Over my nerves, I waltzed in on Friday morning thinking more about my impending business trip than any potential problems with the infusion. About 75% of the way through, I became nauseated and developed red splotches on my face. The nausea increased quickly, as did my heart rate, and the splotches made their way down my neck. The nurse stopped the iron immediately, hung a bag of Benadryl and called my cardiologist. I’ll skip the rest of the details, but after the Benadryl, a bag of nausea medicine, lots of IV fluids and an hour or two of drifting in and out of sleep, I felt a lot better. Today, I’m relieved to be feeling normal again – at least as normal as I felt before Friday.

Since we’d identified the driver of my fatigue, I allowed myself to skip out on exercise over the past week or so. It was just a convenient excuse for a break, since my anemia had been present for months. I realized this weekend there is no excuse for not being physically active. Doing some sit-ups and my wannabe push-ups is better than lying on the couch. Going for a long walk is better than standing still. It bothers me to exercise without giving 100%, but I’m trying to embrace the notion of more frequent work-outs at 50%.

With this new outlook, I joined the American Heart Association’s BetterU program today. It’s the first day of spring and I’m springing into a Better Me (hemoglobin be darned)! I signed up at www.goredforwomen.org/betteru and I really hope you’ll join me. BetterU is a free 12-week program designed to help ANYONE ANYWHERE decrease his or her risk of heart disease. If I can do it post-transplant and with sub-par hemoglobin levels, I’m sure you can do it too!

Sign up by March 26th (and be sure to let me know by email – aef616@hotmail.com) and you could win a great prize from the American Heart Association! And to help maintain your commitment throughout the 12 weeks, we’ll have more contests along the way!

The program encourages goal-setting and small changes that can be sustained in the long-term. My goal for the first week is to find one block of inactivity (between 10 and 30 minutes) each day and turn it into physically active time. Even ten minutes of extra activity each week adds up to over an hour of exercise I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten!

Even if you already exercise regularly and follow a perfectly healthy diet, this program will help you become more aware of the risks and warning signs for heart disease. So even if your risk is already low, I feel sure you can learn a thing or two through the BetterU program. Please join me today!

**Note that while the program is targeted toward women, men should sign up too!**

Sunday, March 6, 2011

I Pick All Three

You know the menu option at Panera Bread called “You Pick Two”? Among a salad, sandwich and soup, you can choose two of the three. I don’t eat at Panera often, but I never stray from “You Pick Two” when I do go. Why would I want to limit myself to just one thing, when I can have two different items? Sometimes I want all three, but sadly there is no “Have It All” option on the menu.

Choosing two out of three options reminds me of something I heard as I began college in – eek! – 1999. In my senior year of high school, I decided I didn’t want to pursue collegiate soccer unlike the rest of my team – which spurs another ancient memory: “beat ‘em, bust ‘em, that’s our custom, come on Hatters, readjust ‘em”. Wow, I haven’t thought of that fine cheer in quite some time – now you can see where my superb rhyming skills were learned. But I digress.

I ended up attending preseason at the University of Richmond in order to gain admission from the waiting list. During that time, varsity athletes were the only students on campus, so they were the source of my budding collegiate wisdom. The most important morsel of truth I gleaned was this notion of choosing two out of three appealing options. It was said that of playing a varsity sport, having a vibrant social life and excelling academically, a student could select two priorities. To establish all three was a rarity. I opted for the latter two (not that I had a choice at that point – I definitely wasn’t good enough to play varsity soccer at UR).

Fast forward to today, and I once again feel forced to choose two out of three desirable options. One – continue to pursue my career at full speed; two – rebuild a social life; three – take the best possible care of my heart. I’ve struggled over the past several months to balance all three, and it’s tough. I don’t want to pick two; I want to have it all.

I think the secret to having to having it all is quality over quantity. While I will never be able to maintain a pace that allows social plans several nights each week, going out with friends every other week is certainly doable. While I cannot exercise five times a week and get the amount of sleep I need, I have been able to establish a rhythm of working out twice a week that works with my schedule. While my work is strenuous and time-consuming, I’m focusing on being more efficient and am planning to cut my commute in half over the next few months with a move to Princeton.

In college it was said maintaining all three priorities was a rarity – not an impossibility. Refer to “Beating the Odds” to see if I’m going to try.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Just Another Day

Man, this whole “job thing” is really getting in the way of my blogging! Sorry for the slow-going these days. The below will give you a peek into the ridiculous life I continue to lead…never a dull moment!

A Day In The Life Of This Heart Transplantee

It’s an ice-cold Monday morning, I’m ready to start my day.
I’ve some unique errands to run, then I’ll be on my way.

On my feet there are boots, on my head a warm hat
In my hands three vials of poop and some pee in a vat.

Slipping on the snow and ice on my way to the lab
With my dignity in check – should’ve taken a cab.

For 24 hours I collected excretions of various styles
In a bright orange biohazard jug and three miniature vials.

Remember those old tiny film canisters?
They’d be fine to collect stool from hamsters.

But I’m slightly bigger than those wee animals
So it was a bit like fitting a square peg in a round hole.

Imagine collecting stool in three of these, okay?
It’s definitely not an ideal way to spend the day!

Needless to say I didn’t leave the house,
Didn’t have guests either…not even a mouse.

I have special instructions for two of the four –
These spend the night in the cold, outside my door.

For once I’m glad for the cold weather instead of summer.
Cuz putting the goods in the fridge would be a big bummer.

So off to work I go with my poop and my pee,
Just another day in the life of this heart transplantee.

YES, the canisters came with their own sporks built in!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

This Friday Is National Wear Red Day!


This Friday (2/4/11) is not only the day that I fly south in search of warmer weather (and people who want to buy what I sell) – it’s also National Wear Red Day! This special day takes place on the first Friday of February each year to raise awareness of heart disease being the #1 killer of women and to raise funds to further the fight against heart disease.

I’ll be rocking my red and screaming my story (as usual!) and ask that you join me. Would you commit to telling at least two people some simple facts on Friday? Spreading information is the first step in fighting heart disease! For the record, I already have one friend that essentially converted her office into a heart disease awareness center (you da man, Dawn!) and another (to remain anonymous) who has promised to wear red undies – can you top these guys?! I would LOVE to see some fun/crazy “I wore red and_________________” stories in the comments! (For those technically-impaired, e-mail me and I will post the goods myself!)

FAST FACTS

• Heart disease is the #1 killer of women.
• More women die from cardiovascular disease than from the next four causes of death combined – including all forms of cancer.
• A woman dies from cardiovascular disease every minute.
• Only 1 in 5 women believes heart disease is her greatest health threat.

KNOW THE SYMPTOMS

Since my end-stage heart failure was originally misdiagnosed, spreading awareness of symptoms is particularly important to me so that people can advocate for themselves in the future. My story could have been very different if I had recognized my symptoms.

Heart Failure

• Shortness of breath, especially while lying flat
• Swelling due to fluid retention (often in the legs and other limbs, mine first showed up in my abdomen)
• Increased heart rate
• Tiredness, fatigue; persistent coughing or wheezing; lack of appetite, nausea

Heart Attack

• Chest discomfort (pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain)
• Upper body discomfort (one or both arms, back, neck, jaw, stomach)
• Shortness of breath
• Cold sweat, nausea; lightheadedness

I am so grateful for all of the support thus far in joining the fight against heart disease and driving awareness of organ donation. I hope you will join me in wearing red on Friday! For more information, go to www.goredforwomen.org.

GO RED!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Fashion Over Function?



Ever since having my transplant and developing diabetes, various people have been encouraging me to wear some sort of medical alert device. I agree that would be prudent, but I’m 29-years-old. I don’t want to rock some weird old lady bracelet all the time. I don’t want to be automatically stigmatized as “sick” upon meeting new people. The medical alert jewelry industry has developed quite a bit, some of the options are relatively attractive, but they all prominently display the medic alert symbol. I just can’t get on board with that. I almost always prioritize function over fashion, but I just can't do it here.

So I tried writing the critical information on the inside of my green “Donate Life” bracelet that I wear every day, but even the permanent marker I used did not stay on for long. Instead it left my wrist appearing to have a Sanskrit tattoo or something equally bizarre.

It occurred to me that I virtually always have one of two things with me – my keys and my work id tag. So today I researched personalized key chains and id tags to attach to both things. I found a solution in Road ID. The company was founded to provide runners with critical personal information to be used in case of an accident and now sells a variety of identifiers. I chose one I could affix to my key chain and to my work id. It features the date of my transplant, the fact that I am diabetic and emergency contact information.

I would encourage all of you runners, hikers, cyclists, diabetics, transplant recipients, asthmatics, etc. to check out http://www.roadid.com/. The story of how the company got started is pretty compelling.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

2 + 3 + 3 = EIGHT

You know those cars that can go from zero to sixty in like three seconds? For that to happen, the car engine obviously has to react as soon as the gas pedal is depressed. Well, that’s essentially how most people’s hearts work. Your body tells your heart it needs to hustle as soon as you exert yourself, which provides you with the proper physiological support. A transplant recipient’s heart operates more like a little four-cylinder vehicle, which works fine once it’s warm but needs some time to catch up after the gas pedal is pushed. Because some nerves are cut during transplantation, it takes time for my heart to figure out that my body needs it to pick up the pace.

So while most gym-goers hop right on the treadmill or elliptical and pump it up to full speed, I need to start out very slowly and work my way up. I begin walking at a leisurely pace, then increase the speed and introduce increasing amounts of incline to get my heart moving. Because I’m only able to get my heart rate up to about 120 walking (resting is 105), my first episode of jogging is really quite miserable. However, once my heart is beating at between 140 and 155 beats per minute, jogging becomes worlds easier. The trick is to insert the right amount of walking between each jogging spurt so that I get a bit of a rest but maintain the high heart rate.

So what in the world does 2 + 3 + 3 = EIGHT mean? That’s the number of minutes I jogged on Sunday as a part of my most intense post-transplant workout yet! I felt like Rocky afterwards. I slowed my pace a little from earlier jogging efforts per my dad’s sage advice and felt much better and was able to run longer, both in terms of time and distance. I spent 35 minutes on the treadmill with eight total minutes of jogging (two minutes, then three minutes, then another three minutes). My new pace is 12 minutes/mile or 5 mph. Not exactly breaking records, but making progress!

I completed the same amount of time on the treadmill tonight, again with the 2 + 3 + 3 jogging format. However, tonight’s experience was pretty brutal. I know everyone has tough workouts sometimes, but it’s frustrating to have ONE good workout and then a bad one. It’s hard to get myself back into the gym after feeling bad, but I’ll try to keep Sunday’s Rocky workout in my brain instead of today’s crappy one. I know my workouts will become more pleasant as my body gets more and more accustomed to being pushed. It’s just sometimes difficult to transition knowing something into actually doing it.

I have a new goal, which will help keep me motivated. Donate Life New Jersey is holding a 5k run/walk on June 12, and I intend to participate. I intend to RUN. Don’t get too excited, I won’t be ready to run the whole thing by then, but my goal is to run at least a mile straight. Who’s coming with me?