Real Women, Real Stories: Theresa Eckstein, 52

Courtesy of the American Heart Association

Jazz singer Theresa “TC” Eckstein was diagnosed with heart failure after a decade of troubling symptoms following the birth of her daughter in 1995. Her weight fluctuated by 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. Additionally, in 2016, she was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

“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.”

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 implantedpacemaker/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 eating, 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’s father passed away 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 father 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 her older sister required a pacemaker following a heart attack at age 55.

Eckstein’s diagnosis spurred her family members to take their health more seriously, including changing their diets and making exercise  a priority.

One of her brothers 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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