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Learning to age well

When it comes to healthy aging, we all have our own path to follow. For Moda's Doug Edwards, that path has been a bit of a bumpy road.

Two decades after a life-threatening bout with Sepsis, he suffered an unexpected heart attack in November. While both health crises have given him a new perspective on healthy aging, his path back to better health and wellness includes giving back to others who are less fortunate.

Barely into his 40s, Doug came down with a case of Sepsis, a condition where bacteria in the bloodstream creates harmful inflammation in multiple organs throughout the body. His kidneys shut down, leaving him in a drug-induced coma and on dialysis for five months. After being hospitalized for 30 days, his health plan called for a special diet of green veggies, salmon and other healthy foods. While this put him on the right track, he admits once he got a clean bill of health from his doctors, it wasn't long before he was back to his old ways.

"I was on a pretty strict diet for about eight months," he said. "But once I got a clean bill of health and my kidneys were functioning properly, I started sliding again, eating ice cream and buttery T-bone steaks."

Underlying conditions

Doug has lived an active lifestyle. Along with gardening and doing yard work (which he says helps keep him young), he enjoys more vigorous outdoor activities like skiing and hiking. He also spent years coaching his daughters' basketball and soccer teams. He attributes a more active lifestyle for getting him through both health scares. However, the one thing he said he overlooked was his family's health history.

"Before my heart attack, I really didn't take into consideration that my dad had a double bypass when he was three years younger than I was," he said.

Leading up to his heart attack, Doug was upgrading his yard. This included lifting and moving three dump-truck loads of gravel and four pallets' worth of large mason stones. While relaxing and playing darts with a neighbor one evening, he began having chest and jaw pains. Knowing something wasn't right, he called his doctor. Before going in the next morning, his wife recommended that he take aspirin.

"I was little naive to the signs as they were happening," he said. "I'm very fortunate, and give my wife credit for thinking that aspirin would help. I think it did more than just help."

Several tests over the next few days confirmed that he had a heart attack. Luckily, he did not have permanent heart damage. He was given blood thinner medicine to bring his blood pressure down. After weeks of relaxing, he is currently following a cardio rehab plan that includes time on the treadmill two times a week.

Giving back

Over the past year, the Covid-19 pandemic and his heart attack have interrupted Doug's time volunteering with the Children's Cancer Association (CCA). As part of the CCA's Joy Rx Mentorship, Doug is a mentor to nine-year-old Xavier "Xay" Waldow, who suffers from several health conditions resulting from a stroke in the womb and epileptic seizures he had as a baby. While Doug continues to talk with Xay virtually, including playing chess, the time they can spend together is important and meaningful to him.

"I wanted to give my time to somebody who needed it," he said. "I was looking for more one-on-one volunteer time, which is what drew me to the CCA. As a mentor, you are individually assigned to one patient. I feel fortunate that Xay is not terminally ill. He's got health problems that need to constantly keep on top of because of it. Spending time with him is very relaxing for me."

Volunteer advocate

Along with volunteering with the CCA, through a Moda partnership with Meals on Heels, Doug has also volunteered his time delivering food to homebound seniors in the Portland metro area. Having a positive impact on the lives of others is fulfilling for Doug, who credits Moda for being his top volunteer advocate.

"Moda is an A-plus, number-one morale builder when it comes to supporting employees who give back to the community," he said. "I really can't say enough about how they are willing to work with me."

Not only does giving back help the causes Doug cares most about, studies show that volunteering your time to help others can also have health benefits, too, such as reducing stress, lowering the risk of depression and having a sense of purpose.

For everything Doug has been through, his path to better health and wellness has taught him some valuable lessons about healthy aging. He has shared some important tips on things we can all do to age healthy. They include:

  • Make your annual checkups — If it wasn't for the health events in his life, Doug admits he would have never made annual checkups a priority. He says annual checkups are key for healthy aging. Whether it's an annual checkup or screening for your gender, get it taken care of. Follow any guidelines for annual checkups.
  • Pay attention to your family history: If you have hereditary health issues, pay attention to them. In hindsight, Doug said he should have taken into account that his father already had a double bypass before his own heart attack. Sharing your family history with your doctor is critical to preventing or treating similar health conditions.
  • Stay active: Doug attributes an active lifestyle for surviving Sepsis and his heart attack. Had he stuck to a healthier diet following his bout with Sepsis, he believes he would have been in much better shape.
  • Take your doctor's advice: Three years before his heart attack, Doug's doctor recommended he get on statins, which are cholesterol-lowering drugs. Instead, he chose to rely on improved diet and exercise to help lower his cholesterol level. Looking back, he said he should have taken statins to help manage his cholesterol.

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