In the late 1960s, Professor G. S. H. Lock was engaged in the development of the artificial heart to address cardiac conditions for which other alternatives were not available. Forty years later he writes, “Today it is difficult to argue that technological intervention on such a scale is really necessary on a routine basis. Even intervention through angioplasty and the insertion of a stent may offer little more than temporary relief.”
In this article, adapted from a longer feature in The Lown Forum, Professor Lock shares his experiences as a cardiac patient and his observations on the use of medical technology in cardiovascular care. The Lown Forum is a publication of the Lown Cardiovascular Research Foundation; ProCor is one of its programs.
President, Lown Cardiovascular Research Foundation
From the patient’s perspective: Effectively treating heart disease through diet, exercise, lifestyle and medication
G.S.H. Lock, Professor Emeritus and former Dean of Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
My story begins, as it often does, with the onset of mysterious chest pains. My family physician immediately diagnosed it as angina, meriting further investigation. After numerous tests on treadmills and in machines whose operations are still a mystery to me, I was confirmed as a high-risk patient with a plumbing problem, usually described as coronary arterial occlusion. An angiogram was recommended and scheduled within two weeks. However, this seemingly routine procedure created a special problem for me because three of my colleagues had failed to recover from that very procedure. With apprehension, I listened to the consulting physician explain that the risk of complication was minimal (about 1%). I asked if there was an alternative. I shall never forget his answer: “Death.”
Needless to say, I was not reassured by this response from a very able doctor who was obviously bound by prescribed procedure. Even though he was careful enough to prescribe appropriate medication while I waited for the angiogram procedure, I sought a second opinion, at another hospital. This proved to be an equal waste of time. The physician simply described the use of angiography as a “no brainer” because he viewed it as the natural prelude to intervention. No other possibility was even considered.
These experiences led me to conduct my own extensive research on heart disease, its diagnosis, and treatment. The majority of cardiologists seem to favor intervention, with all of the technology that accompanies, if not drives, it. I, however, could not support such an approach except in emergencies or when surgery was clearly the only means by which a patient’s life could be improved if not saved. Through the Lown Cardiovascular Center I was able to confirm that a healthy minority of cardiologists are not interventionists, but believe instead that in the majority of cases, heart disease may be treated more effectively using medical therapy with its four components: diet, exercise, lifestyle, and medication.
At first glance, I thought that each of these would prove to be distasteful – something that would destroy the quality of life – but I found instead the very opposite.
Luckily for me, my wife is an excellent cook – dare I say chef? – and has developed the standard Mediterranean diet into such a variety of dishes that I eat better now than I did two years ago. This alone took my cholesterol level down well below the established safe limit.
Exercise, too, has improved my quality of life. My cardiologist at the Lown Center, Dr. Vinch, is himself and athlete and he reminded me that the heart is a muscle that needs to be nourished and exercised like any other muscle. Under his guidance, I began various walking exercises. At first, using a nitroglycerine spray to decrease the resistance of the peripheral vascular system, I took my daily walks in the river valley where I live. Gradually, the walks became longer and steeper. Today, I can briskly walk up and out of the river valley and then jog up 12 flights of stairs without any angina, and without using the nitroglycerine.
Date Posted: 9 April 2008