My health story

I didn't want to lose my eyesight. I listened to doctors. And got serious about health habits.

click to enlarge My health story
McMenamin, a Springfield alderman, marks his workouts on a calendar. He has kept his marked calendars since 2016 as a reminder that hard work pays off.

In early 2016, at the age of 63, I started losing central vision in my left eye. Through the guidance of medical experts and better health habits, my eye has returned to normal without expensive long-term treatments.

The problem

In 2016 I started having trouble reading the morning newspapers. So I went to my optometrist, Dr. Michael J. Bruce, who feared I had possible Branch Retina Vein Occlusion (BRVO), often caused by high blood pressure. He described BRVO as a type of micro-stroke in the eyeball caused by swelling of blood vessels. He recommended an immediate appointment with an ophthalmologist.

When I met with ophthalmologist Aleksandr Kagan, D.O., he examined the eye and recommended right then and there a needle shot into the eyeball with an expensive medicine called EYLEA. Without the shot, he said, I faced eventual permanent loss of central vision. I took the needle shot that day and he set a return appointment in a month. At the return visit, he said the swelling was down but not gone and he recommended another visit in a week. By the next week the swelling was returning to dangerous levels. He gave another needle shot. This continued for months and he prepared me for a lifetime of needle shots.

However, from research and common sense, I knew that needle shots themselves pose risk to the eyeball. The more needles, the more risk.

Action plan

So, I decided to concentrate on improving health habits to normalize blood pressure, as follows:

• More exercise – I marked up a dedicated calendar of treadmill runs and workouts.

• Regular at home morning blood pressure readings – with a log.

• Took off 10 pounds – and maintained a log of regular scale readings

• Adjusted blood pressure medication

• Implemented some intermittent fasting – no snacks after 7 p.m. and no breakfast before 7 a.m.

• Maintained a healthy diet with a wonderful evening chef – not a problem with good spouse Lynn

• Less stress – reduced pressure situations at law practice and city council

click to enlarge My health story
Seven McMenamin brothers with their father in a 2008 photo. (The seven brothers have five sisters.) Joe, the middle brother, is front row left. The brothers are aware of genetic heredity, as five of the seven have been treated for prostate cancer.

Results

I took six expensive needle shots during 2016, but my last shot was Feb. 2, 2017. None since then. Dr Kagan was impressed and said my outcome is uncommon among his patients. He praised my efforts, but continues to monitor my eyes, now about every four months.

Maintaining healthy habits is not easy for many of us, and we all have setbacks, get lazy and suffer the consequences. That is a good reason to have health-minded friends, and motivational coaches like Mike Suhadolnik. Suhadolnik is a former math teacher, entrepreneur and home builder with 400-plus employees. Now in his late 70s, he spends his time pushing, coaching, counseling, writing and educating towards positive health habits at CrossFit Instinct on South Grand Avenue.

But healthy habits are not the end-all be-all in life. Fate and circumstance play a massive role. We are not all born with equal body structure and genes.

Heredity is a fact of life

Now 69 and the middle brother of seven, five of us have undergone radical prostatectomies due to cancer. One brother is in watchful waiting. The youngest brother remains free and clear, so far. We all communicated our prostate experiences with each other, the eldest leading the pack. We all took precautions with regular PSA tests (a good habit as one ages). One brother however, who may be the fittest and healthiest among us, went too long without a PSA test, not knowing his aggressive cancer was spiking. He had his surgery recently and is not out of the woods yet in the short run, and none of us are out in the long run. But this gets back to habits. Get PSA tests after age 50, especially if there is family history of prostate cancer.

Past, present and future

I have kept all my workout calendars since 2016. They serve as a reminder and a motivator. Earlier in life, for 30 years, I kept copies of my Army National Guard Physical Fitness Test scorecards. They served as memory and motivation in a similar fashion back then.

In summary, God bless. I wish everyone the knowledge that hard work often promotes good luck.

Joe McMenamin of Springfield is an attorney at law, and Ward 7 alderman.

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