News-Miner opinion: Attorney General Kevin Clarkson gave Alaskans something to think hard about when he detailed his in-flight heart troubles in a column earlier this week.
The message of his column was clear: Take care of your heart, including getting your cholesterol checked; know the warning signs of heart trouble; and don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help.
That message is one that should be carried year-round, but it is certainly timely for the Fairbanks area given that the annual Heart Walk of the American Heart Association is Saturday.
Mr. Clarkson’s story is important.
It began on April 26 as the Alaska Airlines flight in which he sat was about 30 minutes away from Seattle. He would turn 60 when the clock reached midnight.
As that leg of journey home from Louisiana neared its end, he began experiencing tell-tale symptoms: “Pain and tightness spread across my chest and upper shoulders and radiated down my left arm, cold sweat formed on my forehead, shortness of breath, indigestion and nausea,” he wrote in his column, which was published Monday in the Daily News-Miner.
He walked to the aircraft’s bathroom and splashed water on his face. That didn’t help, he wrote.
“This cannot be happening to me; I’m the guy who runs or walks 3-5 miles every day,” he thought to himself. He returned to his seat and looked at the call button above his ahead but figured the plane would be on the ground in Seattle soon enough. He could wait.
“But something inside my head said, ‘Stop fooling yourself,’” he wrote. “I reached up and hit the button, an act that likely saved my life.”
With that simple yet difficult action, a series of events quickly unfolded. The Alaska Airlines crew found a nurse among the passengers. The nurse took Mr. Clarkson’s blood pressure, revealing trouble. A radio call to the SeaTac airport led to medics boarding the plane as soon as it arrived and tending to Mr. Clarkson before others were allowed to deplane.
The presence of the medics proved vital minutes later. Mr. Clarkson had a heart attack not long after he walked off the plane with the medics.
How could that be, though, for a man who runs or walks 3-5 miles a day? It turns out he had a partial buildup of plaque in a blood vessel. It was small, though, so he had no symptoms. But it broke loose and became a blockage, causing the heart attack.
Mr. Clarkson was fortunate to have been in the presence of a nurse and others — the flight attendants — who knew what to do.
Most times, however, we won’t have a nurse or flight attendant around to help.
The best thing to do is to reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke. And that means taking care of your heart.
The American Heart Association’s Heart Walk begins starts at 10 a.m. Saturday at Veterans Memorial Park, 700 Cushman St., in downtown Fairbanks. Prewalk activities start at 9 a.m. Participants can choose to walk 1 mile or 21/2 miles.
Entertainment will be provided along the route to add to the enjoyment of being out with friends and strangers. A heart-healthy lunch will be served at the end of the walk. The event is free, but a $25 donation would be a big help.
Come out by yourself or form a team and walk with friends or co-workers. Bring the kids in wagons or strollers, too.