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Through with the drive-through

Holiday heart attack prompts former fast-food fanatic to revamp his diet, lifestyle
by: Photo courtesy of Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center Cardiac rehabilitation nurse Jill Wright, right, checks Ted Maier’s blood pressure during his physical therapy at Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center.

Up until this year, Ted Maier was a model customer for the fast-food industry.

On the way home from a golf or fishing excursion with his son or a friend, the 63-year-old moderately overweight, divorced bachelor found the glowing McDonald's and Taco Bell signs a welcome invitation to a tasty, convenient lunch or dinner.

'We'd get done on the river, and I'd stop and go through the Jack in the Box drive through,' he says. 'I was buying a lot of frozen foods at Safeway, things that are high in sodium. Now I realize that. At that time, I didn't think too much of it.'

A frightening experience on New Year's Eve would change the East County resident's way of thinking - and eating.

Game changer

It was around 10 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2010. While others partied about town in anticipation of a new year, Maier - suffering from a feeling of indigestion - hit the sack.

'I didn't feel good,' he says. 'I tossed and turned. The pain moved down into my arm and neck. Around 1 or 1:30 (a.m.), I decided I needed to go to the hospital.'

He drove himself to the Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center emergency room, where a nurse hooked him up to an EKG machine.

'They said I was having a heart attack,' Maier says. 'They brought a bunch of people in. They put nitro (glycerin) under my tongue. They were working on me.'

As fate would have it, Maier's daughter, Cindy White, a registered nurse, was on duty that night. She saw her dad's name on a patient admission list.

'It was kinda weird,' Maier recalls. 'She had people cover for her and came running down. She composed herself before she came in, so she wouldn't upset me.'

By Sunday afternoon, Jan. 1, Maier was released from Legacy Emanuel Hospital, where he was transported from Gresham. Surgeons inserted a stent to restore blood flow in Maier's blocked artery near his heart.

A positive report

Now undergoing cardiac rehabilitation therapy three times a week at Legacy, Maier - minus 23 of the 225 pounds he carried on Jan. 1 - is enjoying a new lease on life.

'It changed my lifestyle totally,' he says. 'I exercise every day. I've had no fast food since Jan. 1. I don't drink sodas of any kind. It's definitely made a big change in my life.'

Liz Ames, a registered nurse who works with Maier every week at Mount Hood's cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation center, says she's convinced her patient is committed to better health.

'The thing that impresses me most about Ted is he's single,' she says. 'Most guys who are single don't make one change, much less diet.

'A lot of people we see make little changes in their lifestyle, then revert back. Ted hasn't,' she adds. 'He continues to lose weight. He knows if he does it once, he might fall off the wagon.'

Self-motivation

Despite temptations to backslide into habits that led to his heart attack, Maier - who retired after 30 years in the sanitation business - says he feels the hardest part is already behind him.

'At first, it's that 'scared straight' kind of thing,' he observes. 'After awhile, it's easy to fall back into habits, to drive by (fast-food restaurants) and smelling those things cooking. That's hard. But I think I'm over that hump - past the point where I want to do fast foods that were detrimental to my health before.'

Still a few pounds above his initial goal of dropping below 200, Maier has incorporated healthy home cooking and exercise into a routine where the former was infrequent and the latter almost nonexistent.

The long hours and physical strain of a sanitation worker, he explains, took their toll on his off-time routine.

'I think it just boiled down to being lazy,' he says. 'I'd go to work at 5 in the morning and get home at 4 in the afternoon. I'd put in 14-, 16-hour days. It was easy to eat fast food when I got home.'

Walking away

Now working as a quality control technician for Harris Food Group on Northeast Airport Way, Maier allows time to take better care of himself.

'Exercise is now the thing I do when I get up,' he says of his Monday-Wednesday-Friday walking routine. 'It's to the point now where I feel guilty if I don't head out the door and exercise.'

Diet, exercise helped Maier with weight loss

When he suffered a heart attack on New Year's Eve 2010, Ted Maier carried 225 pounds on his 5-foot-9-inch frame.

By late March, just a few days before his 64th birthday, Maier - who underwent surgery Jan. 1 to insert a stent in a blocked artery - hovers just a few pounds above 200, the mark he'd hoped to drop below.

While he's confident he can achieve that goal, Maier is less sure of reaching what doctors called his 'ideal' weight of 160 pounds.

'I can't imagine myself being 160,' he says, noting he hasn't been close to that mark since his school days.

Still, Maier is determined to let his new diet and walking regimen melt more pounds away.

'If I get under 200, then I want to get under 190,' he says.

He walks vigorously at least three times a week, in addition to exercise at his cardiac pulmonary rehabilitation sessions at Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center.

His typical home-cooked dinner may include a baked chicken breast, green beans, salad with light dressing and a piece of oat bread. For breakfast, he'll have a bowl of Cheerios and a slice of oat-bread toast.

'I just take it day by day,' he says. 'I've got more energy now than I've had in probably the last 10 years or so.'