Ray Rivera – Heart Health and Hispanic Heritage Month
Ray is 66 and lives in Pasadena, California. He has retired from television broadcasting and currently spends his time traveling, working on various personal projects and staying healthy. Ray writes in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.
I’ve always been a pretty healthy person. Exercise has always been a part of my life.
Up until I was 61 years old, I never had any serious health problems. In fact, over several years, I had walked around fifteen hundred miles through Spain, Portugal and France along the Camino de Santiago - a pilgrimage that people have walked for over a thousand years.
Then, during a routine physical, my doctor noticed that I had an irregular heartbeat and sent me to see a cardiologist. Over the next year and after many tests, the cardiologist sent to a specialist who determined I would need heart surgery.
The fact is, I was a bit of a mess. I required an aortic valve replacement, a mitral valve repair, a couple of bypasses, a maze procedure for Afib, and I had an aneurysm that needed to be repaired. Up to this point, I had always bragged about how strong my heart was. I always thought it was the strongest part of me, but it turned out to be the weakest. The curious thing was, I never had any symptoms. While I was able to do many things physically, I was actually slowly getting worse. When I asked the specialist if I could take one more long walk in Europe before the surgery, he said it wasn’t a good idea and I had my surgery a few weeks later.
One thing I didn’t know is that Hispanics have a high likelihood of having cardiovascular disease. My brother had heart surgery a few years prior to me having it, but I foolishly thought, he, unfortunately, just wasn’t as healthy as I was. I didn’t know that heart disease doesn’t always have symptoms.
I was fortunate enough to have a doctor who discovered that I had an irregular heartbeat, and I was smart enough to do something about it.
My surgery turned out well and I followed the recovery advice. Within six months I was back in Europe walking several hundred miles again and did it every six months after that for a couple of years.
A few years later, another brother ended up in the hospital with heart issues. He also never really had any symptoms, but perhaps being Hispanic, we were prime targets. I now suggest to all my friends, Hispanic or not, to get their heart checked, even if they feel fine.
Two years after my surgery, I got an infection and required another heart surgery. As difficult as it may have been, I felt confident knowing that with today’s technology heart disease is not a death sentence but just the opposite. A few months after my second surgery, I was back walking long distances again and playing tennis without any real problems.
Heart disease is the number one killer of people around the world and here in the United States, but the truth is it doesn’t have to be. If you haven’t gotten your heart checked, well, it might be a good idea.
For more information on how to live a longer, healthier life, visit heart.org/NuestrasHistorias