PORTLAND – It wasn’t a bug bite, after all. It was just a boil.
Bug bite or not, Anne Bacon says, it’s a darn good thing her nephew kept pestering her to see a doctor. It could have been a tick bite, and Lyme disease is a serious issue, Skip Graf kept telling her.
It was a serious thing, all right. The Portland resident finally heeded the advice of her nephew, and her son Joe, and saw a doctor. Bacon learned something totally unexpected: She had a heart blockage that required the implantation of a stent, and on top of that, she suffered from type 2 diabetes.
It so happens that, according to the website of Scripps Health, a nonprofit health system based in San Diego, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease are the top two health challenges facing baby boomers. The Centers for Disease Control reports that in 2011, people ages 65-74 were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes 13 times as often as those 45 or younger. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women age 60 and above.
Moreover, people with diabetes are two to four times more likely to suffer from heart disease or stroke.
For Bacon, her diagnosis was a game-changer, to say the least.
“I didn’t go to doctors, as a rule,” said Bacon. But her nephew “kept pushing me, and then my son started on me, and then I thought something was weird because I was getting this weird feeling in my chest.”
Both Bacon’s mother and her grandfather had suffered from heart disease.
“She told me many years ago, if you get this feeling of a lump in your throat, to go to the doctor because this could be the beginning of angina,” Bacon said. “I noticed it in early October.”
In mid-October, Bacon went to a doctor, and quickly was hooked up to an EKG (electrocardiogram). Her primary care doctor and a cardiologist happened to be in the same building. Later, she failed a stress test on the second level, and blood tests showed an elevated blood-sugar level in the 170s. Doctors concluded there was a heart blockage, and there was diabetes.
Prior to the placement of the stent, Bacon and her husband of 37 years, Bill, had taken a trip to New York to visit their son, Kevin. She recalled having an “episode” there, experiencing chest pain. She canceled her activities and returned home.
In early November, doctors implanted a permanent stent to relieve the blockage in Bacon’s chest.
“It was very fast-moving,” she recalled. “It was a very busy month. I was shocked. I was very overwhelmed. It became a little scary. Something could really have happened. Doctors said we caught it early. (The blockage) was more like clay than stone.”
Bacon, an office manager at Aurora Financial Group of Portland, took a little time off from the job. The hospital stay for the procedure was three days.
“My boss has been wonderful through this whole thing,” she said.
Bacon, 60, said she was living a “pretty typical” American lifestyle. She was 20 or so pounds overweight, and ate fast food from time to time. Then came the wakeup call.
“It was a genetic thing,” she said. “This was going to happen.”
Today, Bacon is on a new diet and exercise regimen that deals with both the heart and blood sugar issues. She eats breakfast now, and breakfast is oatmeal. She eats more fruits and vegetables. She consumes fish twice a week, avoids red meat and substitutes it with poultry. Salads are the rule, not the exception. Green tea has replaced coffee.
She exercises three times a week at a cardiac rehabilitation center, and twice weekly at home on a treadmill.
Bacon has lost 10 pounds, feels better and has left behind a lifestyle.
“Things are better,” she said. “I’m grateful to be alive. I’ve had fabulous support from my family, which has put me mentally in a good place.”
The Bacons spent Thanksgiving with their son Chris in Boston. She had a taste – just a little taste – of the holiday treats.
“I didn’t gain any weight, I’ll say that,” she said. “I do believe this is a lifestyle change.”
Throughout her ordeal, Bacon’s sister, Ellen Sue Aden, has been with her every step of the way. Her brother, John Aden, also is part of a supportive family.
“My sister is the finest caregiver in the entire world,” Bacon said. “She’s my rock. She’s the one who’s there when I don’t know what to do. She knows what I’m thinking, and she’s one step ahead of me.”
Aden said she was simply acting as a sister would.
“I know she would do the same for me,” Aden said. “We always have each other’s back.”
Aden, of course, also has the same family history.
“It did open up my eyes,” she said. “The same thing could happen to me. I feel like we’re in this together. I’m only three years younger than her.”
As Bacon noted, there can be differing dietary restrictions for someone with heart disease and someone with diabetes. Red meat, for instance, isn’t necessarily problematic for diabetes. Too many carbs can be a problem.
So far, Bacon has avoided the need for insulin.
“That’s why I’m being very careful,” she said. “A new life has begun.”
Larry Grard is a staff writer with Current Publishing.