Paul led an active life. He traveled the world; he ran marathons. Although he’ll be the first to admit he wasn’t the fastest, he can boast completing 16 of them, including the Berlin Marathon the year the Wall came down and the hometown favorite, the Boston Marathon. He also participated in triathlons and charity bike rides like the Pan Mass Challenge and the Tour de Cure for diabetes.
Paul was confident in his activity level and enjoyed his lifestyle overall—until his hips began to hurt every time he exercised. About a decade ago, he stopped his physical regimen “cold turkey,” and the number on the scale increased.
To correct his hip pain, Paul underwent hip replacement surgery and felt better…for about 16 hours. He passed out in the hospital, and upon waking was told he had a massive pulmonary embolism that needed to be urgently treated, so physical therapy for his hip would need to wait. Without the PT support, he was less active than he should have been or wanted to be, and his weight crept higher. On top of it all, the lingering effects of the pulmonary embolism left him out of breath when he exerted himself even a little.
Then, about four years ago while he was in New Hampshire, Paul began to experience leg and stomach cramps. Despite a scan at the hospital that appeared clear, he knew something wasn’t right. Upon his return to Massachusetts, he went to see his long-time primary care physician, Dr. Paul Feiss, at the Medford practice of Harvard Vanguard.
After evaluating him, Dr. Feiss immediately transferred him to Mount Auburn Hospital, where they discovered numerous blood clots in his legs. Paul was prescribed Coumadin to manage the blood clots.
While the clotting was under control, the lingering impact of the pulmonary embolism remained. Even climbing half a flight of stairs left him severely out of breath, making exercise nearly impossible. Under Dr. Feiss’s care, they tried everything that was medically appropriate and possible, from inhalers to medications, but nothing was making enough of a difference.
Three years ago, in October 2011, Dr. Feiss laid out several options to help Paul lose weight, hoping that positive lifestyle changes might specifically improve his breathing and improve his health overall. Paul decided to see Heidi Duskey, Health Coach at Harvard Vanguard.
When asked to describe what she does as a health coach, Heidi says she helps her clients make lasting and sustainable behavior changes to improve their health.
“I help people thrive,” she says. “Most people know what they have to do, they just don’t know how to go about doing it because often, they have preconceived notions about what it will take or don’t know how to see a situation differently.”
Paul admits he didn’t know what to expect at his first visit with Heidi, but she made it easy by helping him tackle one lifestyle change at a time. The first month, he was to add a protein to every meal; the second, swap white bread for whole grains.
She also helped him begin to rebuild his stamina and make meaningful and lasting changes in incorporating exercise into his life again. While unable to run like he used to, Paul progressed from only being able to walk two-tenths of a mile to four miles…and he keeps going further, step by step. He has also started swimming again. When he first started working with Heidi, he could swim for about 10 minutes. One lap at a time, he has been able to increase his stamina and can swim for 70 minutes several days per week.
Reflecting back on his time with Heidi, Paul says, “Working with Heidi was exactly like working with a coach. She can inspire you. It wasn’t like talking to a doctor. It was like talking to a buddy.”
After working with Paul for about a year and a half, Heidi felt he could use some additional support that a nutritionist could best provide, so she, with Dr. Feiss’s agreement, referred Paul to Jen Bonczek, a registered dietitian at our Medford practice, in February of 2014. Under Jen’s direction, Paul has continued to lose weight. He’s 63 lbs. lighter now and still chipping away at it, pound by pound.
Paul maintains a very pragmatic view of his weight loss journey: “When I lost 35 pounds, Heidi asked me what my next goal was, and I said, ‘36 pounds.’ Not 40 or 45 – it’s one step at a time. My philosophy is to change one small thing, and when you can achieve success, it makes it easier to keep going. ”
“My travel is still extensive, and losing 63 lbs. has made a huge difference. I can fit in the seats comfortably now. I’m not as worried about hoofing it between tight connections in the airport, and most especially, I can really enjoy walking around and exploring my destinations after the business is done.”
Paul believes in celebrating his birthdays, too, which have also become a celebration of his accomplishments. For his 65th birthday, he created his own triathlon: 65km of biking, a 65-minute hike and 65 minutes of swimming in the Saco River. For his 66th birthday, with a couple of friends in tow, he explored the historic Route 66 back roads from its beginning in Chicago to the middle of Illinois. The highlight for him was walking across the Chain of Rocks old trestle bridge that crosses the Mississippi River between Illinois and Missouri. He’s now planning his 67th celebration…stay tuned!