Dan Savoy couldn’t believe what the doctors in the emergency room were telling him – he was having a heart attack at just 26 years old. The medical staff was also shocked, and Mr. Savoy recalls their first reaction.
“They wanted to know what drugs I was on because that’s usually the cause when someone my age has a heart attack,” he says. “I assured them I didn’t take drugs, and later, after they conducted tests and discovered I had heart disease, they apologized.”
So, he had heart disease in his twenties – that was also a jolt, but Mr. Savoy wasn’t yet ready to significantly change his lifestyle. “When you’re 26, you feel bulletproof. After the doctors cleared the blockage in my artery, I felt great!
“I continued to live my life pretty much as I had done before – I still smoked and didn’t change my diet much. I told myself, ‘This isn’t going to happen again.’”
That was 24 years ago, and Mr. Savoy’s assumption wasn’t accurate. In the years since, he has had four more heart attacks, and he has type 2 diabetes.
A recent My Heart Matters survey found a knowledge deficit among Canadians with diabetes. Most Canadians with type 2 diabetes (93 per cent) say they are knowledgeable about their disease management, but one in two have no idea their diabetes alone significantly increases the risk of heart attack, heart failure, and stroke.*
Several risk factors are also common to type 2 diabetes and heart disease, including being overweight, inactivity, high blood pressure and smoking. Heredity may also play a role in both diseases. Heart disease and type 2 diabetes are both common in Mr. Savoy’s family. All six of his siblings have heart disease, and two of them also have type 2 diabetes.
Today, Mr. Savoy, 50, is speaking about his experience to help others understand the strong links between heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and to encourage them to seek medical support to manage their risks.
“I found out I had type 2 diabetes about three years after I had my fifth heart attack. Before that diagnosis, I struggled with prediabetes for a few years. My blood glucose (sugar) levels were elevated for a while, and I developed type 2 diabetes, just as my doctors had warned.
“You can imagine my reaction,” he says. “After having five heart attacks, being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes was the last thing I expected. Before that, I really didn’t understand the connection between diabetes and heart disease.”
Mr. Savoy learned that the fact that he developed diabetes elevated the risk that his heart disease would worsen and he could have another heart attack. He knew he had to take serious action, and today, he is successfully managing his health on both fronts.
“I quit smoking. I’ve also made changes to my diet, and my fiancée and I stay active – including taking regular walks – and my sugar levels are now well controlled. The first year after my diabetes diagnosis, it was a struggle to get those levels in balance, but now, my endocrinologist says I’m her ‘star pupil.’”
After having a quadruple bypass several years ago, he manages his health with the help of medications, including a diabetes treatment to provide additional protection for his heart.
Mr. Savoy hopes that other people who hear his story will take steps to lower their risk of diabetes-related heart disease.
“I didn’t take things seriously enough when I was young and ended up having five heart attacks and developing type 2 diabetes. I want to encourage others to talk to their doctor about their own risks and get the help they need to stay healthy.”
*Source: Environics Research Group. “My Heart Matters Survey”: Online survey conducted among 1,500 Canadians over 18 years of age was completed online between April 13 and May 4, 2018.
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