This article is the latest installment in EBN's BeneFIT Success series, which chronicles employers' and employees' wellness triumphs. The entire series is available at ebn.benefitnews.com, keywords "benefit success series."

We've all heard the story. One day some unfortunate guy at work unexpectedly dies of a heart attack. We are shocked. He was too young. He had a family. He was a great guy. However, as our respectful consideration of his life subsides, we privately focus on the fact that he was overweight, had poor eating habits, smoked and never exercised. As we begin to identify with him and his bad habits, we pause right at the brink of resolving to change and slowly shift our thoughts to something else. We are certain that we are not like that guy and that his miserable fate will not be ours. (Read more about this thought process and how to reverse it to achieve wellness success in "5 cycles of change and how they affect health habits" in EBN October.)

Sixty-one-year-old Edmund Herrera, a maintenance employee at VIA Metropolitan Transit, was almost that guy. In the summer of 2009, Herrera began to experience uncomfortable pressure in his chest, followed by intermittent bouts of shortness of breath. The persistence of his symptoms led him to see his doctor, who immediately performed an electrocardiogram. The EKG determined faint signs of a possible heart attack. As a precaution, Herrera was ordered to have an echocardiogram (a heart sonogram), which revealed that the left side of Herrera's heart was enlarged. Further, two arteries were significantly blocked,; one was 90% clogged, and the other was 97% clogged. Herrera was on the brink of a massive heart attack, and his only option for survival was to have immediate surgery. On August 18, 2009, he underwent double-bypass heart surgery.

After surgery, Herrera was emotionally and physically drained and considered retiring. He'd been with VIA for 20 years and was fearful that he wouldn't be able to perform his regular duties. However, he set aside thoughts of retirement to focus on recovery and in January 2010, Herrera began cardio-rehabilitation. It was at cardio-rehabilitation where he was introduced to exercise. There, Herrera was required to walk on a treadmill, use a hand-mill and lift weights. The emotional and physical despair that Herrera felt after surgery slowly faded and was replaced by a renewed appreciation for life. He took retirement off the table and set two goals. First, he decided that not only did he want to return to work, but he wanted to return at 100% functionality. His second goal was to live.

In March 2010, Herrera returned to work and was pleasantly surprised to see that VIA had introduced a wellness program. An advertisement for a VIA Boot Camp piqued his interest and he consulted his physician. Although his doctor advised against beginning boot camp at the time, Herrera was given the green light a few months later, and he took part in his first VIA exercise program. He persevered and continued to participate in every VIA fitness program since.

Under the guidance of wellness coordinator Justin Cruger, Edmund has effectively engaged in aerobics, calisthenics, stretching, resistance training and dynamic training for one hour, twice a week.

Herrera fully credits VIA's wellness program in helping him reach a new level of well-being and fitness. "It's working for me," he says, having lost a total of 28 pounds and gaining untold years of life. As a result of his new commitment to wellness, Herrera no longer requires medication to control his diabetes and high blood pressure. He's now VIA's biggest cheerleader for its wellness program, saying, "This is the best thing that VIA has done for its employees."

Herrera continues to be an advocate for wellness, believing that no one should suffer life-threatening complications like he did to spark a commitment to health and wellness. He suffered miserably to get to the understanding that proper nutrition and exercise could have prevented his condition and now encourages his fellow employees to participate in VIA's wellness program. Whether it is an exercise class, a seminar or a personal consultation, he's certain it can make a difference in someone's life. Although Herrera easily could have been that guy who unexpectedly died of a heart attack, he's now the guy inspiring others to live.

Daniel R. Rodriguez is an employee services specialist at VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio, Texas. EBN has reprinted this article with permission from VIA Metropolitan Transit.


 

Vote for your favorite BeneFIT success story

Throughout 2011, EBN has brought you a series of inspiring and informative wellness success stories.

As we prepare to conclude the series, we want to know which one was your favorite. Email your votes to EBN Editor-in-Chief Kelley M. Butler at kelley.butler@sourcemedia.com, subject line BeneFIT Success vote.

* Luann Watkins, Heffernan Insurance Brokers; "Uphill battle, downhill momentum," EBN March.

* Maria Giambeluca, Ivoclar Vivadent, Inc.; "Popular wellness program proving to be common link for diverse company," EBN April 15.

* Debbie Perry, SHPS; "Taking a page from its own book, SHPS bolsters fitness and wellness program," EBN May.

* Matt Napper, Fidelity Bank; "Cool aid in the form of weight loss challenge transforms 'Kool-Aid' employee at Fidelity Bank," EBN August.

* Connie Carrion, Becker Electric; "Diabetes diagnosis, pregnancy leads to physical and financial wellness breakthrough," EBN Sept. 15.

* Randy Hall, Welch Allyn; "Health coaching program helps formerly sedentary engineer lose 80 pounds," EBN October.

* Edmund Herrera, VIA Metropolitan Transit.

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