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In observation of American Heart Month, we asked a FirstHealth cardiologist what he does to stay healthy — and the No. 1 thing we should do to keep our hearts in shape.

See his answers below — and if there’s any burning questions you’d like answered, send them to hello@itsthesway.com

Why did you choose to become a doctor? Why the Cardiology field in particular?

At a very early age I became fascinated with science and physiology, particularly the human body and it’s functionality. In addition, I had a lot of support and advocacy from my parents. This was primarily from my father who always had the aspiration to become a physician, and despite excelling academically was never afforded the opportunity to pursue a medical degree. I guess you could say I was on the path to become a doctor before I actually knew the field much at all.

Upon entering college at UNC I was fairly determined to seek admission into the medical school. As it turns out, my mother suffered a significant heart attack the first semester of my sophomore year. During her nearly 4-month hospitalization I was exposed to many aspects of cardiovascular medicine. These experiences catapulted my interest in cardiology, which was further solidified during medical school at UNC.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

I honestly think I have the best job in the world. Having the ability to positively impact someone’s life at such a crucial and vulnerable moment for them is such an amazing opportunity. As a cardiologist, and more specifically an interventionalist, I’m able to participate in some of the most advanced and state of the art treatments currently available in cardiovascular medicine.

The most challenging part?

As the field of cardiology continues to change at an astounding rate, it requires you to spend a considerable amount of time in and out of the hospital evaluating and reviewing new information. At times it can seem to be a daunting task and not everything you read is applicable to you and your patients. Moreover, as cardiovascular medicine has seen some of the most robust advances in current times, we are meeting and caring for patients at various stages of their illness — some end stage. As a physician you have a strong desire to heal, however it cannot overcome the oath to “do no harm” and to respect the natural course of life and fundamental right to peace, dignity and comfort.

So, what do you do in your time off?

I fell in love with the sport of golf at an early age, watching and playing along with my older brother and father. I’d be remiss to not admit this had a little something to do with me moving to Pinehurst. You’ll also find me spending time during the fall and winter months watching Tar Heel basketball, which I’ve been an avid fan of since the age of 5. Most importantly, I enjoy fatherhood and feel fortunate to be the father of my 3-year-old daughter, Emily Kate, and 1-year-old son, Brady William. My wife Amy and I really enjoy raising our family in this community. We’ve also found a wonderful church to call home at First Baptist Church of Pinehurst.

What do you do to stay healthy? 

Well, I believe we can always do more. I was raised in the South and early on learned to love a cuisine that you won’t necessarily find on a heart healthy menu. I’m not a fan of what you might call fad diets.  I simply try and cut back on portion size and stay away from fried foods as much as possible. Finally, it’s important to keep moving. When given the opportunity to park a little farther from the door or take the stairs, I often do.

What’s the worst thing I can do for my heart?

When thinking of the modifiable risk factors for heart disease I believe smoking may do the greatest harm. It may not be easy for some to quit, but smoking cessation can significantly reduce one’s lifetime cardiovascular risk. Preventing and controlling diabetes is also important and some studies show that a diabetic person will be at 3 times the risk of a heart attack as a non-diabetic person.

What are the “rules-of-thumb” the average person should follow to take care of their heart?

— Avoid tobacco

— See your doctor regularly to manage your blood pressure, cholesterol and prevent/manage diabetes

— Stay active and try to participate in 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at least 5 times per week

What do you know about from professional experience that everybody else should know (but probably doesn’t)?

 Most people who develop cardiovascular disease are unaware of it. Many people who have a heart attack never knew they had coronary plaque or were even at risk. This is particularly evident in women, as studies have shown as many as 40 percent of female victims of fatal heart attacks never reported prior symptoms. This illustrates the importance of preventive medicine and taking a proactive approach to managing your health before illness strikes.

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