Heart Center News

With a new found sense of motivation derived from the Cardiac Metabolic Syndrome Program at the Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center, at age 51 Anne Elise O’Connor competed in her first-ever triathlon.

Patient participates in triathlon

03/Sep/2007

When Anne Elise O’Connor was diagnosed with myocarditis, a potentially fatal inflammation of the heart, she did what any other rational person would do—went home and dramatically announced she would lie down until it was over.

“Fortunately, it was the Fourth of July, and there was nothing on TV. So by the end of it, I was so bored that I decided to get up and move on,” said O’Connor.

And O’Connor did move on, though it took 20 more years for her to make healthy lifestyle changes. With a new found sense of motivation derived from the Cardiac Metabolic Syndrome Program at the Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center, at age 51 O’Connor competed in her first-ever triathlon.

She explained that it took the first half of her life to truly understand the importance of exercise and nutrition in general health. Even following her initial diagnosis, she ignored exercise recommendations from her cardiologist.

“I almost failed gym for lack of interest,” O’Connor laughed.
One Challenge After AnotherAt age 30 and again at age 33, O’Connor had a viral form of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. Due to the nature of her condition (a rare, viral infection), there was no readily available medical treatment, and her body did not receive enough oxygen.

“The first few months, all I did around the clock was rest. I slept about 18 to 20 hours per day.”

O’Connor continued to avoid exercise until she got the wake-up call of her life—a diagnosis of breast cancer at age 48. After researching the disease, she discovered the strong connection between lifestyle factors and general health.

“It finally made sense to me, and I finally understood the importance of being healthy and taking care of your body—21 years later,” said O’Connor.
A Program Tailored for SuccessAt this point, Diane Fingold, MD, an internal medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, referred O’Connor to the Mass General Hospital Heart Center Cardiac Metabolic Syndrome Program.

A 12-week program designed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in high-risk patients, the Cardiac Metabolic Syndrome Program helped O’Connor understand her risk factors and make proactive lifestyle changes.

Through the program, she learned about healthy nutrition choices, participated in aerobic exercise and strength training, and reduced the level of stress in her life. She also tried yoga and guided meditation exercises.

“It was a combination of high-tech medicine, a supportive atmosphere and common sense,” O’Connor said.

Paul Huang, MD, PhD, Director of the Cardiac Metabolic Syndrome Program, explained that patients see real results when participating in the program.

“We’ve been running the program for more than two years now, and it is extremely popular. Patients lose significant amounts of weight, lower their blood pressure and cholesterol levels and have better blood sugar control. Most importantly, they say they feel so much better,” said Huang.
Embracing the ChallengesAfter completing her first triathlon, O’Connor is ready to take on three more before the season ends. The training is time-consuming, but now she is an enthusiast. Today O’Connor rises to the physical challenges demanded by triathlon training, and it keeps her heart in top condition.

“It was just completely against everything that I had done the first 51 years of my life, but somehow the Cardiac Metabolic Syndrome Program absolutely changed my attitude,” said O’Connor.

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