Diagnosis spurs Westfield woman to make lifestyle changes

“When I got my diagnosis, it woke everyone up.”

Jazz singer Theresa “TC” Eckstein was devastated when she was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure. Then 40, she was forced to go on disability and adjust to her new reality.

In 2016, Eckstein, who lives in Westfield, Massachusetts, also found out that she had developed Type 2 diabetes. The diagnosis provided the crucial motivation she needed to make significant lifestyle changes.

“My doctor told me I couldn’t afford to have diabetes with my other heart conditions,” she said. “He scared me to get back on track and do the work.”

Eckstein’s heart failure diagnosis came after a decade of troubling symptoms following the birth of her daughter in 1995. Her weight fluctuated significantly more than 100 pounds in the years that followed, which she later learned was because her body was retaining fluid. She struggled to control asthma she developed during her final months of pregnancy and had repeated bouts of pneumonia that sent her to the emergency room.

After a series of hospitalizations, additional testing in 2005 revealed Eckstein had cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure, and that her heart was working at only 25 percent of its capacity. Doctors also found evidence that her heart had been damaged by undiagnosed rheumatic fever as a child.

Eckstein was working two nursing jobs to support her family, and had to go on disability. In 2009, doctors determined that medication wasn’t doing enough to forestall further weakening of her heart, and implanted a pacemaker/defibrillator.

After her Type 2 diabetes diagnosis, Eckstein worked with a nutritionist to overhaul her diet and manage her blood sugar, moving away from the fried, rich foods she grew up on, cutting back sugar and sodium and adding more fruits and vegetables. She also began an exercise regimen, lifting light weights, walking and doing exercise videos at home, while being careful not to overtax her heart.

Eckstein has lost 95 pounds and says her outlook has turned around. She is active in the #GoRedGetFit Facebook group to stay inspired and share motivation.

“It’s a big struggle to get going each day, but it’s getting easier,” she said. “You can’t afford to not care for yourself.”

Eckstein knew her dad died of heart disease at 55, and even though she worked as a nurse, she didn’t recognize how a family history of heart disease could increase her risks.

When her dad underwent triple bypass surgery, “it was just assumed it was because my dad was a drinker and a smoker and wasn’t taking care of himself,” she said. “When I got my diagnosis, it woke everyone up.”

Eckstein’s older brother also died of heart disease at age 55 and an older sister required a pacemaker following a heart attack when she was 55.

Eckstein’s diagnosis also spurred family members to take their health more seriously, including changing their diets and making exercise a priority. One brother learned he had high cholesterol and started running to bring it under control. Now he runs marathons.

“Everyone is a lot more health conscious now,” she said.

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