Individuals & Families Employers Brokers Physicians Health & Wellness


Health care success stories told by the people who lived them


A Good Reason to Get a Move On

Joseph Podufalski

UnitedHealthcare member Joseph Podufalski wasn't someone you'd expect to have a heart attack. The 64-year-old maintenance mechanic from Gramercy, La., exercised regularly and had no personal or family history of heart trouble. His blood pressure was good. And, his cholesterol, though slightly high, was nothing to be too alarmed about, his doctor had said. But, in March of this year, he got news that shocked him.

A dance floor discovery

For some time, Joseph had been experiencing shortness of breath, often during his regular neighborhood walks. "I noticed that I was getting winded," he says. "But, I would fight it off, overcome it and just keep on going." He assumed he felt this way because he was just getting older. A snowmobiling trip to Lake Tahoe brought on similar breathing difficulties. However, he attributed it to altitude.

It wasn't until a night of dancing with his wife that Joseph realized something was truly wrong. "We like to dance," he says. "We danced a fast song. When I was walking back to the table, I noticed that I was breathing heavily and she wasn't. I said, 'This is not right. Something's wrong.' That's when I went to see my doctor."

The doctor ordered an EKG followed by an angiogram that created pictures of his heart. It revealed something Joseph hadn't even thought possible: four blockages, limiting 90 to 95 percent of the blood flow to his heart. He was a heart attack waiting to happen. Joseph was scheduled for quadruple bypass surgery the very next day.

The surgery was major. But, after a 4-day hospital stay, Joseph returned home, eager to get walking again – with something his surgeon had said playing like a recording in his head. "He told me, 'If you hadn't been as active as you were, you'd have probably died cutting the grass in your backyard, or sitting in the lounger watching TV. That's how bad you were. Just that little bit of exercise kept you going,'" Joseph recalls.

Back on track

In no time, Joseph returned to his active habits. "I walked the cul-de-sac," he says. "Then, I was walking to the end of the block, and then I started walking around the block." Finally, he headed to the track. "It got easier and easier all of the time."

These days, Joseph regularly walks two miles and bikes almost 10. In between, he works out with a weight system. He's dancing again too - as well as remodeling his bathroom and hunting.

What he isn't doing is sitting around – or allowing other people around him to be inactive without getting some friendly advice. According to his doctor, Joseph's simple decision to be active saved his life. So, he urges everyone who's willing to listen to adopt an active lifestyle.

"It just goes to show you that a little bit of exercise can go a long way," he says. "I preach to friends all the time. I say, 'If you don't exercise, do something. Walk around the block. Do anything. You don't have to do a lot.'" But, as he always points out, every little bit helps.

Joseph feels fortunate that he trusted his instincts when he knew something was wrong. And, he's grateful that he no longer is short of breath, especially when he's on the dance floor – jitterbugging like never before. He's appreciative of the support he got from UnitedHealthcare, too. "They were great," he says. "They helped me a lot."

More than anything, however, Joseph is aware that he's lucky to be alive. "I count my blessings when I think about that," he says.

Return to Storytellers articles | Storytellers home