My dog saved me.
My puppy Tacoma, a Lab/pit bull mix, did it by chewing up my only pair of eyeglasses.
At the time, in May 2008, I was 44 years old and weighed about 155 pounds. That was down from my peak of 180, but it was still too high for my 5-foot-5 frame. In fact, one of the reasons we adopted Tacoma was to get more exercise by walking him.
When I went to the optometrist, she took my blood pressure and could not get a reading below 201/154. Since I had been known to have "white coat syndrome," I was not concerned. But when she dilated my eyes, she could see from my blood vessels that I had a dangerous condition called hypertensive retinopathy.
The optometrist wanted me to go to the emergency room that night. But I felt fine, so I promised I would see my regular doctor the next day. When I did, I was referred to a heart specialist right away.
Upon entering the waiting room, I discovered I was probably the youngest person there. It was a reality check. The doctor took my blood pressure on every limb and could not get a reading below 225/174.
Thus began my journey to better health. The cardiologist prescribed a medication that was a combination ACE inhibitor and calcium channel blocker. He doubled the dose a week later, then added a diuretic a week after that, which finally brought my blood pressure down to a normal level.
My big epiphany occurred during the initial appointment, when the doctor ordered an ultrasound of my heart. Lying on the table, I flashed forward to my future and realized that I might not live to see my grandchildren because of the way I had been treating my body. I had smoked for 32 years, I drank three to four times a week and I ate lots of processed foods.
I vowed to change. Quitting smoking would be the best thing I could do for myself. And the doctor said that for every 10 pounds I lost, my blood pressure would go down by 10 points.
Within six months I had lost 13 pounds. I improved my eating habits and cut all the added salt from my diet. After 10 months I had quit smoking and was drinking only at social occasions. I swore I would not gain the weight back, so I signed up for a Pilates class. For the first time in my life, I found an exercise that I loved.
Now I do Pilates two to three times a week. I also do yoga weekly. My current weight is 130 pounds, and my waist size has gone from 36 inches to 30 inches. My arms are sculpted. I am discovering a level of fitness that I have never known.
These days, I take only one blood pressure pill a day, and I'm hoping to get off of that by my next doctor appointment in six months.
As for my lifesaver Tacoma, he and I are still walking every day.
Gibson is a senior project manager for a Herman Miller furniture dealership. She lives in Los Angeles with her dog Tacoma.
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