Make Physical Activity a Priority for Heart Health

by Millie Gonzales, RN, BSN Cardiac Rehab Nurse


As seen in Odessa American Medical Matters:

With Heart Disease on the rise, it is vital to make cardiovascular exercise a priority. Most of us find it challenging to make time in our day to invest in our health. Although, rearranging your daily schedule and setting a reachable exercise goal every day is a start!

Benefits of cardiovascular activity

  • Decreases risk of coronary artery disease and stroke
  • Reduces symptoms and decreases chances of another heart attack
  • Improves heart and lung performance while creating healthy habits
  • Improves blood pressure, blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels
  • Maintains a healthy body weight
  • Increases energy and stamina while decreasing stress levels


How to get started and what to do. (Hint – Make it fun!)

Create a specific exercise goal including frequency, intensity, time and type of exercise. Make a personal commitment to your plan. And get started!

Walking is an easy, safe and effective way to begin. Be flexible and make it fun! Start slowly and build up gradually to at least 30 minutes a day on most, or all, days of the week.

Make this a priority for one month and work out at the same time every day. By doing so, it will become a habit. After a month, evaluate your progress and make changes accordingly.

With time, this will create great changes and benefits to your health. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as brisk walking and at least 75 minutes of vigorous activity, or an equal combination of both. Please note that heart patients and individuals with specific medical questions or needs should consult with their physician regarding what type of physical activity is safe for them.

Your health is so important and is worth the investment of time. Your heart will be happy you made this a priority!



Tachycardia: Don’t let the beat go on!

by Dr. Fernando Boccalandro


As seen in the Odessa American Medical Matters:

Frequently patients complain of a rapid heartbeat. The medical term for a rapid heartbeat is tachycardia, which is a heart rate above 100 beats per minute.

The term tachycardia comes from the Greek words Takhus meaning swift, and Kardia meaning heart. When the heart beats too fast, it may not pump blood adequately and can result in a rapid pulse, shortness of breath, a feeling of racing heart (or palpitations), fainting, chest pain or lightheadedness.

We have a complex and reliable electrical system that activates the heart in a synchronous way, approximately 100,000 a day since our birth. However, occasionally this electrical system can start to have problems resulting in episodes of tachycardia. A tachycardia can be related to a primary abnormality in the electrical system within the heart, but also can be secondary to other medical problems that accelerate the normal heartbeat making the heart pump faster. Exercise, stress, anemia, fever, alcohol, caffeine, medications, tobacco, recreational drugs and thyroid problems are some of the causes that can result in tachycardia.

Conditions that can damage the underlying structure of the heart like a heart attack, hypertension or congenital abnormalities can increase the risk of developing a tachycardia. The majority of the patients with a tachycardia have a favorable outcome. Nonetheless, some tachycardias can be serious, including the risk to form blood clots within the heart, causing a stroke or a heart attack, weakening the heart muscle resulting in heart failure, causing loss of consciousness and rarely resulting in sudden death. Because of this, it is important to evaluate patients with tachycardia with the goal to identify the cause and to recommend appropriate therapy when indicated.

If you feel that you heart races, please discuss your concerns with your physician to assure that your heart is not beating out of rhythm. Tachycardia can be serious if not treated. Don’t let that rapid beat go on!





Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

by Dr. Gerald L. Farber – Fellowship Trained in Hand Surgery


As seen in the Odessa American Medical Matters:

Many patients who are experiencing hand or wrist pain are given a diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome and then referred to a physician who specializes in treating orthopedic conditions affecting the upper extremities.

True carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is primarily associated with numbness and tingling in the fingers. There may be associated pain, but pain alone is not the primary symptom. The etiology, or study of cause, of these symptoms is compression of the median nerve in the carpal tunnel, located at the base of the hand.

Typical symptoms of CTS include numbness and tingling in the fingers, typically the thumb, index, and middle fingers. Symptoms are often worse at night and can cause awakening due to numbness and pain. Many people describe shaking their hands to relieve their symptoms. The symptoms may also be aggravated during driving, or prolonged grasping with the hand (writing, holding a book, etc.). In many cases where the nerve compression has been present for a prolonged period of time, there may be atrophy, or wasting of the thumb muscle in the palm. Some medical conditions such as diabetes may predispose someone to CTS.

Initial treatment for CTS can be as simple as wrist braces at night to prevent curling of the wrist while sleeping. If this is not effective, or becomes less effective over time, then it is time to be evaluated. The evaluation typically includes an examination to elicit signs of CTS. It may also include obtaining electrodiagnostic studies to confirm the diagnosis and severity … and also to exclude other causes of the symptoms such as a pinched nerve in the neck.

More advanced treatment may include cortisone type injections in the carpal tunnel and possibly carpal tunnel surgery. Carpal tunnel surgery is a relatively straight forward procedure and is typically performed as an outpatient surgery. The success rate is quite high, at approximately 95%. Recovery from the surgery is relatively short. They patient may experience some residual tenderness in the palm that typically resolves over six to twelve weeks after the CTS surgery.

If you or someone you care about is having symptoms that indicate Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, please visit your primary care physician or contact ProCare Orthopedics & Rehabilitation Center at 432-640-2790 to make an appointment.


Tips for a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle

Tips for a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle
by Fernando Boccalandro

As seen in the Odessa American Medical Matters:

Taking care of your heart is so important. Here are tips that can help you live a more heart-healthy lifestyle.

  • Check your blood pressure at least once every six months to make sure it is within normal limits and that you do not have hypertension.
  • Know your cholesterol levels. If they are normal, then you should check them at least every three to five years. If not in normal range, check them yearly.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes daily five days a week. Include moderate exercise such as walking, biking, aerobics, yoga, etc.
  • One can of regular soda has 126 calories of added sugars. Instead of soda, drink water, coffee, unsweetened tea or other calorie-free drinks. When you do drink beverages with sugar, go for milk or all-fruit juices that count toward the daily dairy or fruit intake.
  • It is important for your cardiovascular health to have a good quality of sleep for a minimum of seven to eight hours daily.
  • Be a hero for your heart and stop smoking today. MCH has a FREE Smoking Independence Class every Thursday at 6 p.m. in the MCH Cardiopulmonary Education Room.
  • One in three Americans has prediabetes … and only one in ten knows it. So know your risk for diabetes and get screened for it if you have not done so recently.
  • Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and losing weight can prevent diabetes. Diabetes largely is a preventable disease in the majority of patients.
  • Avoid salty processed food such as salty snacks, chips, packaged food and canned soup. Instead opt for fresh, frozen or canned foods without any added sodium, sauces or seasonings.
  • By you becoming your own chef and seasoning your own food at home, you can control how much sodium is used. Try out other herbs and spices to get the kick you want instead of shaking on more salt.
  • If you drink alcohol, do so with moderation. That means up to one drink a day for a woman and two drinks a day for men … as defined by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
  • The majority of the patients that have experienced a heart attack, have had a stent placed in the heart or have had a prior bypass should be taking one low-dose aspirin and a cholesterol medication for the duration of their lifetime. Make sure you discuss this with your doctor.
  • Stress management is very important for a healthy heart. The best ingredients to help manage daily stress levels are following a good diet, having a healthy sleeping pattern and continuing a daily exercise program.
  • Avoid food products with trans fats, which is known to increase your risk of developing heart disease.
  • Good dental hygiene has been associated with a healthy heart as well. Maintain good dental hygiene by brushing your teeth, flossing and visiting your dentist regularly.


You can do this. Living a heart healthy lifestyle will make you feel better and you can enjoy the things that are important to you. Take care of yourself … it’s important!

What fruits and vegetables are best for your heart?

What fruits and vegetables are best for your heart?
As seen in the Odessa American “Medical Matters”: What fruits and vegetables are best for your heart? by Dr. Fernando Boccalandro


A heart healthy diet is fundamental in preventing heart disease, even with the use of current prescribed cholesterol-lowering drugs. Thus, it is important to understand the value of a good diet in heart disease prevention.

Diets that are cholesterol-free, such as plant-based diets or low in cholesterol, processed and refined foods, can markedly reduce serum cholesterol levels and help to prevent heart diseases as part of a healthy lifestyle.

My patients frequently ask me what fruits and vegetables are best as part of a heart-healthy diet?

  • A handful a day of nuts such as almonds and walnuts. It’s filling and will help your heart.
  • Berries including strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and cranberries are very nutritious with phytonutrients and fiber.
  • Dark beans including black beans and kidney beans are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals.
  • Colorful vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers and acorn squash have carotenoids, fibers and multiple vitamins which complement a heart-healthy diet.
  • Spinach is a great leafy vegetable packed with great nutrients and can be used instead of lettuce.
  • Steamed or boiled asparagus is low calorie and has beta-carotene and fiber.
  • Broccoli is also a great snack with multiple vitamins, folate, calcium and nutrients.
  • Tomatoes are excellent either fresh or sun-dried. Sun-dried is a convenient way to enjoy them.
  • In general, fruits are rich in beta-carotene, vitamins, potassium, magnesium and fiber. However, fruits could have a high sugar content requiring attention in diabetics.
  • A small amount daily of dark chocolate with at least 70% of cocoa can also be heart healthy.


It is always preferable to eat these food products unprocessed and in their natural form … just as they come out of your backyard garden… rather than canned or already processed. If you do not want to grow your own, take advantage of the local Farmers Markets this summer. Your heart will glad that you did!



May is Stroke Month. Let’s learn a bit more about what a stroke is and available treatments.

May is Stroke Month. Let’s learn a bit more about what a stroke is and available treatments.  

by Karry Morris MSN, RN-BC
Cardiovascular Nurse – Medical Center Hospital Cardiovascular Services


Most strokes are caused by blood clots. It happens much like a heart attack does. A blood clot travels to a small blood vessel and becomes lodged, causing a blockage that results in a loss of blood flow and a lack of oxygen to the vital organ. When a blockage occurs in the heart, it is called a heart attack. When the blockage happens in the brain, it is called a stroke.

If brain tissue loses circulation and oxygen, the parts of the brain dependent on the blood supply of the blocked vessel may die. The death of tissue in the brain, and the resulting stroke, can lead to a lifetime of challenges for the stroke survivor.

Depending on where the stroke occurs, the damage can result in the loss of the ability to walk, talk, eat, think, move or even breathe. Fortunately, there is a medication that can “melt” the clot that is causing the stroke. But you have to call 911 and get to the hospital FAST!

The medication is called “Alteplase” or “Activase” and is a potent medication that essentially “melts” the clot causing the blockage, restoring oxygen-rich blood to the brain. The medication can literally prevent the lifelong effects of stroke … but only if you receive it within the first four and a half hours of stroke symptoms.

Alteplase is in a category of drugs known as “thrombolytics”. Many people know about drugs that they call “blood thinners” (such as Aspirin) that prevent clots from forming in the first place. Alteplase is much more powerful and is able to actually dissolve the clot that has already formed. They are often called “clot-busters” by the medical community.

As parts of the brain begin to die during a stroke, the effected brain tissue becomes more and more fragile over time. About four hours after stroke onset, the dying and dead brain tissue is becoming so fragile, it becomes too late to give the medication. The soft brain tissue, coupled with a strong thrombolytic, put the brain at a greater risk for bleeding at this point. The medication is considered safe and effective, and some tout it as a miracle … but it can only be used in the first four and a half hours. If you don’t arrive to the hospital in time, it may be too late to receive the treatment.

This is why it is so important to be able to recognize stroke and call 911 right away. Waiting any amount of time can make the difference in whether you are able to receive the medication or not. Receiving the medication can result is the reversal of the stroke, avoiding paralysis and even death. If you arrive too late, medical professionals are unable to provide the medication, and can only hope for the best for the stroke survivor.

For many years, there was no cure for stroke. Alteplase, however, can reverse the effects of stroke, allowing you to live your life without the often devastating results of stroke … but only if you get medical attention immediately.

Never ignore the signs of stroke. Time is brain!


Heart Disease – Causes and Risks

Heart Disease – Causes and Risks
by Karry Morris MSN RN-BC
Cardiovascular Nurse, Medical Center Hospital

Heart disease is the #1 killer in the nation, causing approximately one in three deaths every year. It is a great time to evaluate your own risk and take steps to reduce your chances of developing heart disease. If you have conditions that can contribute to the development of heart disease, keeping those under control can greatly reduce your risk:

High blood pressure:

110/70 is considered perfect blood pressure. Keeping your blood pressure around this range can often be achieved with proper treatment. If you have high blood pressure, see your doctor regularly, take your medicine faithfully (even if you feel good) and keep an eye on your blood pressure. We suggest having a cuff at home and checking your blood pressure often, recording these results for your doctor.

Many people have high blood pressure and don’t even know it. Many know they have it and don’t treat it. This can be a deadly mistake.

If you do not know if you have high blood pressure, find out! They call hypertension the “Silent Killer” for a reason.


The fluctuations of blood sugar associated with diabetes cause changes within the arteries that increases risk for heart disease. Keeping your blood sugar under control and reducing fluctuations can help reduce risk.

Like blood pressure, if you are diabetic, it is recommended you check your blood sugar often, keep a record and work with your doctor to help keep your sugar levels under control.

Overweight and Obesity:

Not keeping your weight under control not only increases your overall risk of heart disease, but it also contributes to development of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other diseases.

Keeping weight under control by eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly is one of the best things you can do to improve your overall health and reduce heart attack risk.

 Reduce your risk by:

  • Seeing your doctor regularly and take any medicine your doctor prescribes
  • Eat right and exercise
  • Keep your conditions under control – diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Knowing your numbers is great place to start. Make an appointment with your doctor to undergo testing and evaluate your personal risk for heart disease. Those with heart disease in their immediate family are especially at risk and should take proactive steps to reduce their own risk.

Lastly, be able to recognize an emergency and act!

Signs of heart attack include:

  • Pain, pressure, squeezing or fullness in the chest
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweat, nausea, lightheadedness, loss of consciousness

If you think you or someone else is having a heart attack, always CALL 911!

Driving yourself to the emergency room is not only dangerous, but can be deadly.
It is also a good idea to learn CPR, especially if your loved ones are at risk.







MEDICAL MATTERS: It’s blood pressure 102

MEDICAL MATTERS: It’s blood pressure 102

As seen in the Odessa American “Medical Matters”:

by Dr. Fernando Boccalandro

In my first article I discussed the basics of blood pressure and the definition of normal blood pressures values according to current guidelines. In this second article I will address some practical tips and tricks, to maintain an adequate blood pressure control.

Blood pressure tends to fluctuate due to multiple factors that affect the blood pressure including stress, level of activity, salt intake, fluid intake, etc. For my patients the goal is to keep their average blood pressure within normal levels over time, rather than focus on one, or another individual blood pressure number specifically. Think about the average of the blood pressures as the number to go by.

What are my pearls of wisdom for our readers, after diagnosing and treating hundreds of patients with elevated blood pressure?

  1. Know your numbers:Make sure that you measure and know what your blood pressure is, at least once or twice a year if you do not have hypertension. It is useful to have an automated blood pressure machine at home, especially if you are prescribed blood pressure medications to assure is well controlled. Bring your blood pressure machine to your appointments; to make sure is well calibrated and you blood pressure measurements.
  1. Do your homework:Keeping a diet low in salt (less than 2 grams of sodium a day), a healthy weight, decrease levels of stress and regular moderate exercise (at least 150 minutes weekly), can contribute to lower your blood pressure and will make you feel better. Take your medications as prescribed and do not discontinue your blood pressure medications without discussing it first with your healthcare provider.
  1. Plan for the long term:Hypertension in the majority of patients is a chronic disease, like diabetes, high cholesterol, etc. So plan for a lifetime commitment to monitor and control your blood pressure, it is well worthwhile to prevent any adverse consequences of uncontrolled hypertension.
  1. Get the best team:Successful blood pressure management is teamwork. It is important to involve your family to help you succeed in this lifetime goal if you have elevated blood pressure. And it is very important to be in close contact with your health care professional, to coach and advise you regarding goals and optimization of your blood pressure levels over time.

Don’t let your guard down with high-blood pressure! And please contact your primary care doctor if you have questions or concerns about your heart health.


Caring for a Survivor of Stroke

Caring for a Survivor of Stroke can be a Challenge
by Karry Morris MSN, RN-BC
MCH Cardiovascular Nurse, Cardiovascular Services

Caring for a survivor of stroke or any traumatic injury or illness can be a challenge. A stroke in a family can result in changes in relationship dynamics, increased stress, role changes and financial burden. Many caregivers feel stressed and often overwhelmed with their role as an adult caregiver. There are things that caregiver can do to better care for themselves, reduce stress and have happier lives while carrying such a responsibility.

Build a team

Build a team. Accept help from others. When others offer their help, most of the time, they really want to help. In fact, friends and family often feel helpless and feel they need to do something to help. Don’t be afraid to accept offers that are given to you for help. Assign someone a specific task, such as dinner on Tuesday or taking over for a few hours so you can have some time to yourself. Most people who truly care about you will jump at the chance to participate. They love them as much as you do and desire to feel needed and useful to you.

Rely on friends

Keep in mind, that many people do not know how to act or what to say to someone going through something like a stroke. Many stroke survivors say they learned who their friends were after their stroke. Old friends disappeared from their lives, but new ones came in … and some they had not heard from in a while came out of the woodwork. Try not to be surprised or hurt by the ones who don’t know what to do, or who can’t or won’t be there for you. You are going to make it with or without them.

Take care of yourself

Eat well and take care of yourself. Watch for changes in your mood and health and be proactive to improve it. Be realistic about your needs and take care of them. If you are not well, you are no good to your loved one. If you are sick, cranky or tired, you cannot do your best to be a caregiver. It is not selfish to take care of yourself first. Prioritize tasks, plan ahead and be prepared to reduce frustrations.

Let your survivor do what they can

Let your survivor do as much as much as they can on their own. This improves and hastens the recovery process. It’s normal to want to do everything for them, but you need them to do as much as they can on their own or they may lose the ability completely. You can enable dependence by doing too much. Give them the help they need without hesitation, but let them try and achieve things on their own. This greatly reduces the chances of suffering from depression, helps them feel useful, needed and more normal. It also helps take some of the burden off of you. Help your survivor feel like they are still an important part of the family.

Be patient

Be patient with your loved one. They are often doing the best they can and they are frustrated too. Take time to communicate with each other. Even if your loved one cannot talk, they usually have a lot to say. You will learn how to communicate with each other again with a little love and patience.

Take time to regroup

It is important to have time for yourself to regroup or focus on things you like to do such as hobbies and relaxation. Keep a positive attitude and assert your feelings without anger nor being passive. Don’t let hard feeling fester; let them out. You may not be able to vent to your survivor, but it is important to find a shoulder when you need one. Spend time with family and loved ones. Always take some time for yourself to regroup and relax. Seek spiritual and medical guidance when needed.

Ask questions

Ask plenty of questions and learn as much as you can about the diagnosis of stroke. Learn about the type of stroke your loved one had. Understanding where strokes occur in the brain can make a big difference in dealing with physical and mental limitations. Learn the signs of stroke and how to prevent another stroke from happening.

You are not alone! 

Manage stress, eat right, exercise. Don’t rely on alcohol or drugs. Seek out resources such as stroke websites, social media and live support groups so that you know you are not alone. If you begin to feel overwhelmed, talk to a loved one or your doctor. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and let your needs be known. You are not alone!

Medical Center Health System Stroke Survivor and Caregiver Support Group meets at noon every second Saturday of the month at the MCH Center for Health & Wellness. (Hwy 191 at Faudree Road in Odessa, Texas)


Medical Center Health System Stroke Survivor and Caregiver Support Group

“Not your typical support group”




The Deadliest Days

The Deadliest Days

by Brenda Myers, RN, BSN
Divisional Director of the Center for Heart Disease at Medical Center Hospital


Each year around the holidays, the media contacts the local cardiac experts about “Holiday Heart Attacks.”  It’s easy to dismiss the story as, “well, it must be a slow news day,” and perhaps it is a slow news day … but the reality is that around the holidays, there is a spike in heart attacks and heart problems. In fact, Christmas Day, the day after Christmas and January 1 are identified as the deadliest days of the year for heart disease. There are fifty percent (50%) more heart attacks in the winter months than in the summer months. Cold weather is hard on your heart and arteries … and when those arteries constrict the chance of having a heart attack increases. Stress, disruption in our normal routines and overeating and overdrinking all pre-dispose us to coronary events – and we do all of those things during the holidays. Many people do not seek treatment right away because they attribute their symptoms to indigestion or don’t want to be a bother. In the cardiac world, we have a saying – “time is muscle”. The longer a patient waits to seek treatment, the worse the outcome.

In addition to heart attacks, otherwise normal patients can develop abnormal fast heart rhythms after indulging in too much alcohol. And more recent studies also name marijuana as a contributor to fast heart rhythms. All of this creates an environment where anyone can end up in the hospital …and nobody really wants to spend the holidays in the hospital.

A few key things to avoiding the hospital:

Keep your heart healthy all year, not just during the holidays. Exercise at least thirty (30) minutes three to five times a week—and don’t miss just because it’s the holidays.

Don’t forget your medications. If you travel during the holidays, make sure you have your medications before you head out.

Eat and drink in moderation. Focus on spending time with friends and family, not on food and drink. All of the holiday foods that we love are high in fats, sugar and salt.  It’s the perfect storm for a heart event. No one expects that you won’t have a piece of fudge, but there’s a big difference between a piece of fudge and a plate of fudge.

Don’t stress out. We overload our plates literally (with food) and figuratively (with activities) during the holiday season. Set a schedule and stick to it. Don’t spend more or do more than you can during the holiday season.


Consider getting your Heart Health Checkup. For only $75 you will receive the following screenings so you will know your numbers!

  • Calcium Score, a fast, non-invasive, CT screen of your heart
  • Blood Pressure
  • Weight
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cholesterol and Triglycerides

No physician’s order required for this test and no insurance will be filed.

Call 432-640-2255 to make your appointment today!