FRIDAY, Aug. 6, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Maybe competing to see who has the lowest blood pressure is a bit extreme. But for former professional athletes Nancy Lopez and her husband, Ray Knight, it has taken a team effort to keep him healthy after his heart attack.
Knight, a former third baseman for the New York Mets, had a heart attack nearly two years ago, just before his 50th birthday. He readily credits his wife for the fact that he was diagnosed correctly.
"I went to Colorado to hunt, and in a two-mile hike up a mountain felt a tingling in my chest that I thought was indigestion connected to acid reflux that I had," he recalled in an interview Thursday from New York City. "But when I came home, Nancy had me at the doctor's."
Lopez, a former champion golfer who was named Ladies Professional Golf Association's (LPGA) Player of the Year four times, had a simple explanation for her reaction. "I know Ray and I can tell when he's not feeling right. You can't have indigestion all the time," she said.
The doctor told Knight that he had had a heart attack, and that he had 100 percent blockage in one of the major arteries of his heart. Only the fact that he was an athlete and had developed a healthy network of collateral blood vessels that carried blood to and from his heart saved him from a more dire outcome, Knight said.
"I came that close the biting the dust," he added.
Both and he and Lopez were shocked by the diagnosis, because he is relatively young for a heart attack, has no family history of heart disease, doesn't smoke or drink, and had kept his cholesterol levels low through medication and diet.
"I was scared to death because he had a heart attack," said Lopez, whose father died two years ago from congestive heart failure.
But their shock spurred them to action, and now the two share the mission of keeping Knight healthy while spreading the word that families can return to normal activities after a heart attack.
"We want to make people aware that you can live a full and happy life after having a heart attack," Lopez said.
The couple, who live in Albany, Ga., are currently on a cross-country tour to launch a "Back in Full Swing" campaign. It's sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, the drug company that makes the beta blocker drug Coreg, which Knight takes to keep his blood pressure down.
Key to good follow-up care is eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and taking the prescribed medicines, and Lopez helps Knight stay compliant.
"I'm sure he thinks I'm a nudge," Lopez said of her efforts to improve his diet. But she added that she joins him in eating well and exercising.
"Every night we take our blood pressure together. As competitive as we are, we try to see who has the lowest blood pressure. And I got two treadmills for us. I see this as a partnership," she said.
"Even after something as catastrophic as a heart attack, we still have tremendous problems with compliance," said Dr. Lori Mosca, director of preventive cardiology at New York Presbyterian Hospital and a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association.
Many insurance companies pay for cardiac rehabilitation for about three months following a heart attack, but after that compliance often drops off sharply, she said.
"After three months, people don't fill their prescriptions," Mosca added, even though the drugs can decrease the risk of another heart attack by 25 percent to 30 percent.
The problem seems to be that it's hard for people to take something that doesn't make them feel better.
"It's hard to stay motivated because you're asked to take something to prevent something in the future. There's no instant gratification," Mosca explained.
"So if you have a support network, either of a spouse or a friend or other family member, which will support you in a positive way, it can improve the rates of compliance and reduce future heart attack deaths," she said.
The importance of compliance after a heart attack is detailed by the American Heart Association.