Neyma Mendez lives with a permanent reminder of what can happen when one’s heart isn’t healthy. She has a scar from her collarbone to her stomach, indicating where doctors cut her to perform quadruple bypass open heart surgery. It stemmed from years of bad cholesterol in her veins.
“I had a pain in my stomach and then in my arms,”said the 77-year-old, who is also diabetic. “I went to the doctor, and they told me they had to operate.”
Mendez was at a seminar for heart disease at the North Bergen Housing Authority’s Cullum Building March 1, hoping, along with her fellow seniors, to learn about heart health.
“We have to eat healthy,” Joanne Foster, a social worker for CarePoint Health, told the elders. “I know we think it’s healthy to eat a piece of bagel with cream cheese. It’s not good.”
CarePoint runs several hospitals and urgent care centers in Hudson County, including Hoboken University Medical Center and Bayonne Hospital.
She said after the event that heart health is particularly important for seniors. “They’re no longer cooking,” she said. “They’re just eating out all of the time. They’re not walking as much. They don’t have access to the gym. They don’t have the ability to get around like we do. For those, we need to show them healthy types of exercises that they can physically do. A few weights here and there, maybe some aerobics exercises.’
Foster also suggested seniors can walk for 20 minutes a day, and do their best to lessen carbohydrates, for a stronger heart overall.
A family issue, too
Not everyone impacted by heart disease at the seminar had suffered physically. “My mother, she was having a lot of problems with her heart,” said Mary Alvarado, 60. “She had open heart surgery. They changed the valves in her heart.”Unfortunately, the procedurewas unable to save her life. “She passed away two weeks after that. They rushed her to the hospital when she was having a heart attack, and then they found all the problems she was having. I don’t know why they never found [those problems] before.” Alvarado’s mother also had thyroid disease, which increases one’s risk of contracting heart disease.
Though Michele Matullo, 67, always did her best to keep a healthy heart, she almost fell into vices. One day, many years ago, she decided to light a cigarette, for reasons she still doesn’t know. Problem was, she did it in front of her son.
“He was having a fit,” Matullo, 67, said. “And he slapped it out of my hand. He just took it from me and he said, ‘You’re not smoking.’ I was like, ‘Okay, no problem.’”
She hasn’t smoked since.
Hannington Dia can be reached at email@example.com