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Taking heart and finding happiness

Health care success stories told by the people who lived them

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Taking heart – and finding happiness

Sue Berger

It was a cause dear to her heart. For years, Sue Berger raised money for the American Heart Association and worked to promote heart disease awareness. She even won awards for her efforts.

But, she'll be the first to admit she didn't take the message to heart for herself. That is, until at age 48, Sue's need for awareness became very personal.

A cardiologist stood at her bedside and delivered a warning – one she knew she had to take seriously. "If you don't change your life," he told her, "you're going to die."

Just hours earlier, Sue was in the ER with chest pain. When she arrived, her blood pressure was dangerously high. She carried more than 270 pounds on her 5-foot-3-inch frame. And, her blood sugar levels showed she had prediabetes. Then, tests revealed one of her heart's major arteries was 50 percent blocked.

As the doctor explained, she was in serious danger of a heart attack.

Time for a change

For a long time, Sue had been putting herself low on her own list of priorities. After her divorce years ago, she focused on her two small children.

"I wanted to be the best mother I could be. I was the best employee I could be. I was the best neighbor. I really had to learn how to put me first."

In order to do that, Sue drew on something she was good at doing – problem-solving. As an IT technician for the city of Arlington, Texas, she was often called on to analyze problems and come up with solutions. Now was the time to put her skills to work for herself. And, she began by developing a plan of action.

First, she knew she had to rethink her lifestyle and health choices. She wasn't sure she could do that on her own. So, she turned to United Behavioral Health to find a mental health professional – to assist her with what she called "getting my mind right."*

"I had a wonderful counselor who really helped me change my way of thinking," she says.

"I learned to say, 'Yes, I can go to the gym. Yes, I can get up... and do things and feel better.' Those are things that I just wouldn't do before." This support empowered her – and helped free her of feelings of guilt and failure, she says.

Eating for success

With her new mindset, Sue took a hard look at her diet. As a busy mom, she had gotten lax about eating healthfully.

"I knew that I had to stop eating out," she says. "I couldn't control portions. I couldn't control salt. I couldn't control fat. I had to take control."

She found a wealth of nutrition information on myuhc.com®,** she says. And, that inspired her to build her own unique spreadsheet – a list of the foods she ate and the amount of fat, protein, carbohydrates and calories they contained.

She used it to log her eating habits – and to keep herself on track. When she exceeded the limits she had set for herself, she would adjust her plan.

A fun discovery

Sue also knew exercise needed to be part of her plan. She hired a personal trainer. She worked out nearly every day – an hour with her trainer on workdays and swimming or other cardio on the weekend. Physical activity became a priority rather than an afterthought.

Eventually, she put a gym in her home – complete with treadmill, punching bag, yoga mat and a TV for exercise videos. Her workout program helped her get stronger physically and mentally. For the first time in a long while, Sue was proud of herself – a feeling she loved.

And, to her surprise, she enjoyed exercising. "I never in my life would have thought of it as fun," she says. "But, it is."

The road to wellness

Within 10 months, Sue had lost about 70 pounds – and was feeling much better. And, she was healthier, too. As pounds started dropping, so did her blood pressure. She used the blood pressure tracker on myuhc.com to see how her readings got better.

Her improved health showed in her medications, too, she says. When she had left the hospital, she had to take 17 or 18 pills a day. Now, with her weight down, her blood pressure in check and no sign of diabetes, her doctor has taken her off nearly all her prescriptions. Sue can easily access her medical history and medication record at myuhc.com. Being able to see how much she's improved is very motivating for her, she says.

Today, Sue says she's a much happier person. She still has more weight to lose. And, like many people, she's encountered occasional setbacks. But, she sees them as bumps in her journey, not roadblocks.

"My weight loss really is just an outward expression of the work that I've done inside," she notes.

"I'm never going to be the 120-pound cute thing that I used to be," she says with a chuckle. "But, I'm going to be healthy. That's the bottom line."

**Though some may recognize the myuhc.com health portal by different URLs, all members can access the same valuable information. Oxford members, visit www.oxfordhealth.com. UnitedHealthcare West members, visit www.uhcwest.com. River Valley members, visit www.myOptumHealth.com. Medica members, visit either mymedica.com or myuhc.com. You'll find your website on the back of your health plan ID card.

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