By Mary Best
Robert Borum has suffered three heart attacks, but is living a good life thanks to steps he took to live a heart-healthy lifestyle and his volunteer efforts to help other heart patients.
"Robert is walking proof that you can have a good life after a heart attack," says Sue Borum about her husband, a survivor of three heart attacks and numerous surgeries. But the couple, married 56 years and now retired from the naval shipyard in Charleston, S.C., have traveled a rocky road to safeguard Robert's health.
Robert's heart troubles began in September 1999, when he was getting luggage out of the car after visiting their daughter. He felt chest pains severe enough to prompt a visit to the area hospital. After being checked out, the doctor sent Robert home with nitroglycerine tablets. But later that evening, he returned to the emergency room and went into cardiac arrest. A catheterization showed multiple blockages. Robert had immediate surgery and received five bypasses.
His second heart attack came two months later, when one of the bypasses closed. This time, in addition to a catheterization, the surgeon performed an angioplasty and implanted a stent. Three days later, Sue drove Robert home through the snowy Southern Appalachian Mountains.
"I figured if that drive didn't give me a heart attack, I was in great shape," Robert adds.
In the summer of 2001, doctors discovered another irregularity in his heart. During the examination, he went into cardiac arrest. "It scared the heck out of my wife," Robert remembers. He was operated on and doctors installed a pacemaker, which was replaced after five years.
"Robert is walking proof that you can have a good life after a heart attack."
Surviving—and thriving—after such extensive heart damage required dramatic changes in the Borum household. Robert's family background and previous habits were special challenges.
"Heart disease is rampant in my family," says Robert. "My grandfather and all my uncles died of heart attacks. Before mine, I ate what I wanted, as much as I wanted. Other than playing golf, I didn't really exercise," Robert adds.
But all that changed after nearly losing his life. He began a program of regular rehabilitation, as well as walking and playing golf several days a week. And with wife Sue's help, he modified his eating habits.
Robert and Sue's life has changed in other ways, as well. Since February 2001, they have been active members of Mended Hearts, a National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) partner organization and affiliate of the American Heart Association that offers support to heart patients and their families. The couple regularly visits hospital patients, offering empathy and compassion, attends monthly meetings, and travels to the organization's annual conference.
"We have a deep faith," Sue says, "and we want to return the help we received."
"It's a real high to leave the hospital after you have helped someone," Robert adds.
For more than 50 years, Mended Hearts has offered services to heart patients and through visiting programs, support group meetings, and educational forums. For more information, visit www.mendedhearts.org