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Johns Hopkins Bayview News - Taking It to Heart

Fall 2012

Taking It to Heart

By: Nicole McFarland
Date: September 3, 2012

Cardiology patient takes active role in his own health

Colonel Gerald Altman, cardiology patient, reading to a fellow resident of his assisted living home
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Colonel Gerald Altman reads to a fellow resident of his assisted living home. Altman aims to stay busy and keep his mind and body as active as possible.

“He doesn’t just sit back and let a team of people care for him,” says Gerry Altman’s cardiologist, Sheldon H. Gottlieb, M.D. “He does everything possible to see that he is as much a part of the team as anyone else. That kind of involvement is key in managing, or even preventing heart disease.”

Owings Mills, Maryland, resident, Colonel Gerald Altman, 88, has had coronary heart disease (CHD) for as long as he can remember. Despite having fought in active duty during WorldWar II, Altman would agree that protecting his heart has truly been the fight of his life. First, in 1979, he had triple bypass surgery in Wisconsin. Since then, he has received care from cardiologists at Johns Hopkins Bayview. He has had several angioplasties (a procedure used to clear plaque from narrow or blocked coronary arteries) and a defibrillator surgically implanted (a device that shocks the heart when it detects a rhythm disturbance). More recently, Altman was diagnosed with a thoracic aortic aneurysm, a weakened area in the upper aorta, which requires close monitoring by a cardiologist. Surprisingly, none of this has slowed him down.

Altman is anything but inactive. He is an avid walker and he spends much of his free time updating fellow residents of his assisted-living facility on local and world news, even reading to them from newspapers to keep their minds active.

His lifestyle is remarkable for a man whose heart has been assaulted by CHD, the most common type of heart disease and the number one cause of death for both men and women. CHD is marked by the buildup of plaque inside the coronary arteries, which prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching the heart muscle. Preventing and/or managing the condition can be tricky, but Altman’s dedication to his health has led to a robust zest for life, and constant involvement in his own medical care.

Becoming your own health advocate

Dr. Gottlieb stresses that awareness and involvement in your medical care are crucial when it comes to heart health. He encourages all of his patients to pay special attention to what he calls the three best physicians, “Dr. Diet, Dr. Exercise and Dr. Happiness.” Balancing those three elements can work wonders for current heart disease patients, as well as patients who are focused on preventing heart disease. Altman knows these “doctors” well. He makes a conscious effort to eat a balanced diet, he walks almost everywhere he goes, and he maintains a positive outlook on life.

“Gerry puts these principles to work in his own life,” says Dr. Gottlieb.

Altman’s Johns Hopkins doctors are very pleased with his efforts, and Altman is just as appreciative of their extraordinary care.

“I’m a lawyer by profession, and I’m extremely cynical. But I think even the most skeptical people in the world would lose their cynicism if they had physicians like these to work with,” Altman shares.

The relationship between Altman and his doctors epitomizes the art of caring. “We care for him and he cares for us,” concludes Dr. Gottlieb. “We wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Key Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Next time you visit your primary care doctor or cardiologist, be sure to ask these important questions:

  • What is my overall risk of heart disease?
  • What are my risk factors (i.e. family history, obesity, poor diet, past or present smoking, lack of physical activity)?
  • What type of plan should I follow to protect my heart?
  • What does my blood pressure mean for me?
  • Do you have a suggested diet plan?
  • What else should I do to lower my blood pressure?
  • What do my cholesterol numbers mean for me? Are they a problem?
  • What foods should I avoid to lower my cholesterol?
  • What else can I do to lower my cholesterol?
  • Do I need to lose weight?

To help prevent heart disease or catch symptoms early, studies show that adults ages 50 and older should have an annual cardiovascular assessment—even younger if you have a family history of heart disease. Is it time for your heart check-up? To make an appointment with a Johns Hopkins Bayview cardiologist, call 443-997-0274.