Americans throughout the nation were saddened to learn that former President Bill Clinton was facing an escalating battle with heart disease. Earlier this month, Clinton was admitted to a New York hospital with chest pain. An angiogram identified a blocked coronary artery and two stents were placed to open the clogged blood vessel. After a short stay, he returned home. Here in Arkansas, the dean of the Clinton School of Public Service released a statement indicating that a complete recovery was expected and the president would return to his full schedule very soon.
Unfortunately, the dean is wrong. Coronary artery disease is a chronic illness and Clinton should not expect a “full recovery.”
Clinton has a serious history of heart disease. Four years ago, at the very early age of 59, Clinton had quadruple bypass surgery and one year later another procedure was needed to remove scar tissue and fluid that had accumulated in the pericardium, the sac that surrounds the heart. His recent symptoms of chest pain indicate that rather than arresting or improving his coronary artery disease, the illness has progressed. Andbecause he has narrowing in his coronary arteries, the risk of vascular disease elsewhere, including the kidneys, carotid arteries, brain and lower limbs, is high.
If Clinton continues on the same path without making serious lifestyle changes, further problems are almost guaranteed. So, why has his illness progressed? We know Clinton exercises regularly, he has maintained an ideal weight, and hopefully his physicians are treating him with the essential medications to reduce the risk of further problems.
Anyone who knows or has worked with the president understands that he is a man of enormous energy, a multi-tasker who is passionately involved in the most important worthy causes, from AIDS in Africa and tragedy in Somalia to earthquakes in Haiti. His tasks are of vitalimportance and his role as a national statesman puts huge demands on his schedule. He is burning the candle at both ends and, whether he believes it or not, the stress and frantic lifestyle are the root cause of his problems with heart disease. Mr. President, it’s time to listen to reason and make some changes.
For any successful and busy person, the idea of doing less or becoming less involved is not an option. There are millions of people, myself included, who have coronary artery disease and remain unable to slow down. Sooner or later, the physical stress of intense work will result in continued chest pain. For me, the turning point in my own battle with heart disease came through the valuable guidance of a well-trained therapist.Thanks to her, 12 years later, I am working harder than ever but I have also learned to cope with stress.
Here is some sage advice for Clinton. First, he must understand that learning to control stress requires just as much effort as eating right and exercising. Research has shown that short, five-minute relaxation exercises that use breathing techniques and imagery (imagining being ina safe, familiar and calming place) can dramatically reduce every marker of stress. Regular meditation is the single most powerful way to reduce the risk of another heart attack. The more actively he addresses stress management, the better he can control his heart disease. It’s that simple.
There are other important tips. Clinton must learn to put himself first and make sure his needs are met. He must learn to say no, to be kind to his body and to seek health throughout each day. He must learn to let go of the little things, to recognize the triggers that stress him out and to rely on the help of others. Many people in themost important leadership positions do not handle conflict well, are always working, and do not maintain boundaries between work and home.
If you have a heart problem or know of someone who does, they too may be in the same position as the president. Reach out, persuade them to change, their future depends on it.