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Bypass recovery

09/02/03 12:00AM By John Morton
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(Host) Commentator John Morton has run many miles over the years, but his most recent race has been on the road to recovery.

(Morton) Three months ago, I had a coronary bypass. The procedure went smoothly, and soon I was headed home.

My chest cavity had been opened down the sternum, which like other bones, takes six weeks to heal, so some activities were off limits for a while. I wasn't permitted to drive, since my chest couldn't withstand the potential inflation of an air bag. I was instructed to avoid any lifting, so hauling laundry was out, although doing the dishes was okay. Wouldn't you know.

On the positive side, gentle, aerobic exercise like walking was encouraged. I advanced from shuffling out the driveway, to longer treks around the neighborhood. Another facet of my recovery was cardiac rehab class. I resisted these sessions because I figured, with my coaching and racing background, I knew how to get myself back in shape. The fitness experts at the Cardiac Rehab Center dispelled that misconception pretty quickly.

At my first session I met the other members of my class; men and women of various ages, physical condition, and occupations, who were linked together by heart disease. After a four minute warm up, we did three, ten minute sessions of work on the various exercise machines: treadmills, stationary bicycles, and rowing ergometers. There was a cheerful, cooperative atmosphere, perhaps from the awareness that we had all been given an early warning, or in some cases, a second chance.

Some of our workouts were followed by lectures about heart disease. The first lecture discussed the risk factors which contribute to coronary artery disease: smoking, saturated fat, high blood pressure, obesity, stress, lack of exercise and family history. Although I have never smoked, I'm not significantly over weight, and I get plenty of exercise; there might be a history of heart disease in my family, I certainly could be more careful about what I eat and I need to develop better techniques for dealing with stress. It has been helpful to identify these risk factors so that I can take steps to minimize them.

A month after the operation, my wife and I met with the cardiothoracic surgeon. He was pleased by the progress of my recovery. I was cleared to resume driving, a convenience which most of us take totally for granted. He gave me the okay to try cycling, on flat terrain at first, being sensitive to chest pain. But he advised holding off on running for a couple of weeks, and suggested it would be autumn before I'd be ready for hard work like splitting fire wood.

If I cross the finish line at next years Vermont City Marathon, it will be thanks to the incredible, technological advances of American medicine, and the caring, dedicated people who deliver that technology.

Now, I've gotta run.... This is John Morton in Thetford.

John Morton designs trails and writes about sports. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.
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