In June 2006, Mike Smith got an uncontrollable nosebleed. He needed surgery to stop the bleeding. Subsequent test results showed Mike’s body was shutting down due to extremely elevated levels of cholesterol, lipids, and blood glucose, and he also showed signs of the onset of diabetes. He couldn’t even be put on medications to control his high blood pressure because his liver was functioning at an extremely weak level due to the percentage of fat compressed around the organ. Weighing in at almost 330 pounds, Mike was informed by his doctor that his blood pressure and weight had to drop immediately.
Mike went to a nutritionist, who taught him how to read and understand the dietary facts on supermarket foods and set guidelines for his intake of carbohydrates and fats. Mike also learned how to use a blood glucose machine every morning to keep himself on track. It was evident that this wasn’t going to be a diet, but rather a lifestyle change that would take hard work and commitment.
“I could eat with the best of them, but the news from my doctor scared me. Being an NVFC Director, I knew of the Heart-Healthy Firefighter Program and decided to start there and follow their guidelines, which were in line with what my doctor had suggested,” says Mike. He also went to a trainer friend of his to learn ways he could burn fat and build muscle without having to depend on the use of a gym. “He taught me how to do sit-ups and stretch correctly,” says Mike.
Mike looked to his friends and family for support to help him begin exercising. He started by walking every morning and eventually switched to jogging. His daughter now joins in the morning ritual. However, it took time to build up his endurance. “My good friend, Mike Heidemann, went on my first walk around a seven-mile lake near Tahoe with me,” he recalls. “It took me over six hours to make it nearly halfway around when the park ranger had to come by and pick me up.” This July, Mike will be going back to that lake and plans to make it all the way around as well as compete in a one-mile “fun run.”
Like many challenges, staying heart-healthy is an ongoing process. In March, Mike was screened at the Heart-Healthy Firefighter booth and realized his cholesterol numbers were again on the rise. This caused him to re-evaluate a few habits and enforced the fact that he should continue to monitor his dietary needs. According to Mike, getting and staying heart-healthy has been worth it. “My outlook on life has changed and I really feel like a whole new person,” he says. “I no longer have the need to take the medications I once did, like my asthma inhaler, since I actually had weight-induced asthma. Being able to breathe is one of the best things that has happened to me.”
When Mike Heidemann, NVFC Alternate from Nevada , was asked how his friend has changed over the past year, he observed, “His energy level has changed immensely, and the neatest thing is he did it by working out and eating healthy. If Mike can do it, anyone can.”
Mike’s goal is to lose 20 more pounds, continue to lead a healthy lifestyle, and inspire others to begin on their own heart-healthy path. “I’d like to offer this advice: find out your numbers and start your own heart-healthy program that will best suit your needs. You don’t need a computer or a gym. Just get started, and don’t wait until it’s too late.”
Mike Smith is the NVFC Director from Nevada . He works in Fire Administration at the Nevada Division of Forestry.