Heart attack victim urges exercise, awareness

LAWRENCEVILLE -- If it can happen to Porky, it can happen to anyone.

Don't let the nickname fool you -- Oliver "Porky" Byrd is a long-time tennis pro and decided to become a vegetarian last November. The 64-year-old was in "pretty doggone good shape" last month when he had what he calls "an episode," one that resulted in a trip to Gwinnett Medical Center's new Strickland Heart Center and a pair of heart stents.

"I had no previous signs of anything," said Byrd, an instructor at Collins Hill Racquet and Fitness Center. "It was very shocking."

February is American Heart Month, designated by the American Heart Association to raise awareness for both cardiac disease and cardiac health. Byrd -- who got his nickname at about six weeks old when his hair stuck up "like a porcupine" -- came out fine after his unexpected procedure, but said he knows he was lucky he lives only about five minutes from GMC, and that he has such a strong heart thanks to exercise.

He urged others to take better care of their hearts and be aware of what the symptoms of a heart attack are.

"I just tell everybody to be aware and that it's better to be safe than sorry," Byrd said. "It's better to go to the hospital or the emergency room than to wait too long."

Gwinnett Medical offered several heart healthy tips for exercising:

-- Each week, aim for 2.5 hours of "moderate" activity to keep your heart healthy.

-- Pick an exercise you enjoy. Your heart rate doesn't distinguish between walking on a treadmill or taking a hike in a beautiful spot.

-- If you can't fit a 30-minute exercise session in all at once, break it into three segments of 10 minutes each throughout the day.

-- Almost anyone can add more movement to their normal daily activities, like walking the dog an extra block, parking a little farther from the store or taking the stairs.

-- Add a bit of exercise to your TV viewing time by marching in place, doing calisthenics, riding a stationary bike or walking on a treadmill.