Webster schools physical education teacher Dan Graf routinely encourages students to participate in the American Heart Association’s jump-rope and basketball fundraisers because it helps people who have heart disease. Graf never expected to be one of them.
Graf suffered a heart attack Nov. 8 and cardiologists at UR Medicine’s Strong Memorial Hospital restored his heart function. Though he is still recovering, Graf is sharing his personal story to serve as a learning opportunity for youngsters.
“I’m reminding kids that they are helping doctors and researchers develop new ways to save lives for people like me,” said Graf, who lives in Walworth with his wife and two children.
The 49-year-old outdoorsman was hunting in Bristol when his heart attack occurred. Friends called for help and emergency responders transported him to Strong Memorial Hospital where doctors implanted a stent to open up a blocked artery. On Jan. 4 UR Medicine Heart & Vascular cardiac surgeon Peter Knight, M.D., performed coronary artery bypass surgery.
Graf is grateful for the progress he has made with his UR Medicine care team. Now he is raising awareness about healthy choices because for him, the heart attack was a call to action.
“I took a hard look at my diet and had to make some serious changes,” said Graf, who has lost more than 40 pounds since November. “I haven’t had a soda or a candy bar since then and I used to be someone who drank 5 or 6 each day and that’s just one small step that has helped make a big difference.
I’m telling kids to choose a piece of fruit over junk food – it’s really good if you give it a try.”
Heart attack facts
Every year 735,000 Americans suffer heart attacks. Symptoms of a heart attack can vary a great deal from person to person and between men and women. Common symptoms include chest pain or pressure; pain in one or both arms, back, neck or jaw; nausea and/or vomiting; lightheadedness or fainting; or shortness of breath.
If you think you may be having a heart attack but aren’t certain, call 911. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Tips to reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke:
- Get active and get your heart pumping.
- Monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. If they are high, see your doctor and take prescribed medications.
- Cut back on the amount of salt you eat to reduce your risk of high blood pressure, which can cause heart disease.
- Watch your weight.
- Exercise regularly – at least 30 minutes per day. Walking is a great start.
- Choose a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, grains and low-fat meats.
- Don’t smoke.
- Avoid or closely manage diabetes.
UR Medicine Heart & Vascular is the region’s largest heart team with more than 50 doctors dedicated to providing comprehensive care – from hypertension management to heart transplantation. U.S. News & World Report gave UR Medicine’s Strong Memorial Hospital the highest scores for Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery among hospitals in upstate New York in its 2015-16 rankings of America’s Best Hospitals.