Apollo-Ridge Healthy Heart Expo to feature heart-attack survivor, fitness activities for all

| Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Chris Clark had planned the perfect way to spend the last Saturday of the summer before returning to work as Apollo-Ridge School District's director of Customized Student Services in August 2011.

He and a friend would watch a morning scrimmage football game between Apollo-Ridge and Clark's alma mater, Valley High School, then take his wife, Chrissy, to a family picnic with his extended family and friends.

The 37-year-old didn't plan on having a heart attack that day.

He started sweating profusely while watching the game, nearly soaking his T-shirt. He went home and started having chest pain in the middle and right side of his chest.

Still, Clark attended the picnic, but after a half-hour, told his wife he wasn't feeling well. He stuck it out, though, not wanting to miss the opportunity to be with his family. The pain eventually subsided.

“I took a bite of a hot dog, and then the pain just grabbed me,” Clark says.

He went home, where his wife and a friend persuaded him to go to the hospital.

That Monday, instead of preparing for a new school year with his colleagues, Clark was having a stent placed in one of his arteries, which was 95 percent blocked.

“I thank my lucky stars that the man upstairs gave me another chance,” he says. “I was 37 and had a heart attack. I was embarrassed that I ignored the warning signs for so many years: I was a diabetic. I had high blood pressure. And I weighed 360 pounds at my heaviest.”

He knew his days of going to all-you-can-eat buffets and participating in hot-wing eating contests with his friends had to end, and that it was finally time to heed the advice doctors had been giving him since high school: Lose weight.

As the family cook, Chrissy Clark took the lead in bringing healthier foods into their home. She read food labels, looking at sodium content.

Clark says it was an adjustment to get used to the blander, low-sodium foods they were eating at home, and to eliminate eating out as a normal part of their lives. They used to eat out four times a week on average.

The first time he and his wife ate at a restaurant post-heart attack, they split a burger.

“I couldn't bring myself to eat even one french fry,” Clark says. “I actually cried, I was so afraid of what eating one fry would do to me.”

“I was a food addict, and I was angry and afraid when I started this journey,” he says. “I'd yell and say, ‘I can't do this.'”

But he did do it. Clark has dropped to a healthier 218 pounds.

“The charts say that I should weigh 180 pounds, but I don't care about the number on the scale,” he says. “My blood work is fantastic. My cholesterol is under 100. I am no longer a diabetic. I haven't been on medication for six months.”

Clark incorporated exercise into his wellness plan under the guidance of the Cardiac Rehabilitation program at Armstrong County Memorial Hospital in East Franklin. He started by walking slowly for 20 minutes a day, three days a week. He now can run 5 miles at a time.

“I had to be taught how to exercise, how to pace myself,” he says. “There's no quick fix for losing weight and getting healthier — you just have to put in the work and do it.”

He regrets not getting his health and weight in control earlier.

“High blood pressure wasn't enough, diabetes wasn't enough, but the heart attack was a wake-up call,” Clark says. “The heart attack saved my life.”

And it also led to the creation of a new life.

The Clarks tried to conceive a child for 12 years. In the process of helping her husband lead a healthier lifestyle, Chrissy lost more than 70 pounds of excess weight. Their infertility seemingly melted away with the pounds.

The Clarks' baby is due March 19, and will be born to healthy parents.

Jill Henry Szish is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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