Living a fulfilling life, chronic conditions and all
Despite 30 years of chronic diabetes and recent heart bypass surgery, there’s been no stopping Mr. Kajornkiat Kongwanichkitjaruen from living a full and fulfilling life, for seven decades and counting.
The pillars of good health have become common knowledge for most people – eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, visit your doctor routinely and have regular check-ups, as well as routine follow-up tests. But knowledge doesn’t equal good health; good health comes from a proactive approach. We choose to be responsible for our individual health and use that knowledge to make better decisions at every stage of life.
Even the healthiest among us struggle with turning knowledge into positive actions. But there’s no doubt that it can be done, and Mr. Kajornkiat Kongwanichkitjaruen is living proof of that.It would be hard to find a more inspirational role model than Mr. Kajornkiat – now in his early 70s and still an avid amateur runner – to show the many rewarding benefits of putting knowledge into good use. He has lived nearly half his life with chronic diabetes. More recently, he narrowly survived a serious heart problem requiring surgery and a long period of rehabilitation.
Three decades earlier
Thirty years ago, Mr. Kajornkiat was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Fortunately, his specific condition was fairly mild, meaning his condition could probably be controlled with medication, regular exercise and healthy living. “I’ve been living with diabetes for a long time,” he begins. “It hasn’t been so difficult for me because I’ve been able to maintain my active lifestyle, and I was being treated with diabetes medications prescribed by my doctor. It never crossed my mind that I might end up with a serious heart condition.”
The first ominous signs emerged a few years ago. “It was about three or four years ago,” Mr. Kajornkiat recalls.
“At the time I was training for an upcoming 25-kilometer marathon, and I had set a goal for myself to extend my practice run distance to 30 kilometers. The training began and I gradually pushed myself to run a bit faster, but I started to feel some pain in my muscles. So after I finished my workout, I took some muscle-relaxant medication – the only problem being that I didn’t realize I was about to have a serious allergic reaction to it.”
Mr. Kajornkiat continues: “I quickly decided to go see my doctor, who was able to determine that, as a result of the allergic reaction to the medication, I had suffered some temporary muscle deterioration. At that time, I thought that my failed attempts to sprint were the result of muscle deterioration.”
As he processed the news of his muscular weakness diagnosis, Mr. Kajornkiat decided to make some changes to his normal exercise regimen. “I stopped running and instead focused on swimming and jogging,” he explains.
“I stuck to this new routine for about a year; then, one day I felt a tightening in my chest and had trouble breathing.
I lay down for a while but that didn’t seem to help. So I asked my son to take me to Bumrungrad right away.”
“A doctor performed a thorough examination and determined that I was likely suffering from coronary artery disease,” Mr. Kajornkiat explains. “Imaging tests produced highly detailed pictures that showed all of my arteries were severely clogged. Believe it or not, I was actually very lucky; all those years of being active and exercising frequently made my capillaries strong enough to handle blood flow to my heart, even with little or no help from my nearly useless arteries.”
His doctor initiated a discussion about various treatmentoptions, pros and cons. The goal of the treatment was to restore blood flow so the heart could resume its normal, healthy functions. “Since I wasn’t a good candidate for balloon angioplasty,” Mr. Kajornkiat says, “bypass surgery was the only remaining choice. The procedure didn't take very long – a life restored in just a few hours!”
Home from the hospital
After surgery, recuperation continued at home. “I found being at home quite depressing, perhaps from staying in bed most of the time,” Mr. Kajornkiat recalls. “I lost all interest in the things I used to enjoy. Eventually I lost the desire to get out of bed. Sleep became so difficult that I was totally dependent on sleeping pills. I thought my life was coming to an end; I even had my will prepared.”
It wasn’t until Mr. Kajornkiat had spent nearly six months confined to his bed that something positive finally happened. “During a post-surgery follow-up evaluation at the hospital,” he recalls, “my doctor (Cardiologist Dr. Chaianan Chaiyamanon) informed me that he found absolutely no signs of physical improvement – even though many months had passed since the bypass surgery. He explained that my muscles had grown weak and were in definite need of rehabilitation. I gladly agreed and soon after I enrolled in the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, supervised by Dr. Num Tanthuwanit.”
Refreshed and renewed
Taking his doctor’s advice to enroll in a Cardiac Rehabilitation Program turned out to be a life-changing event for Mr. Kajornkiat. “The first test the doctor put me through involved stretching and walking on a treadmill,” Mr. Kajornkiat recalls. “I could barely keep my balance at first, and they had to have someone watch me and help support my back.”
“But by the fourth or fifth session, I could definitely notice my progress,” he continues. “I felt so refreshed. I could walk on my own unaided, and I could do almost everything else without help. I felt that I’d really and truly recovered. I was back to eating normally, I was able to sleep again, and I felt happy again.”
There’s one remaining goal to reach before Mr. Kajornkiat can truly consider himself fully recovered:
being able to run at his pre-surgery performance level. And he’s well on his way. “I’m now able to swim non-stop for 20 laps in a 50-meter pool,” he explains. “My next step is to get back to running in Lumpini Park like I did before. My arteries are clear and the rest of my body is back where it’s supposed to be.”
His face beaming with a wide, confident smile, he offers a final prediction: “I think I can run better than ever before.”
Rehabilitation Program for Heart Patients
Mr. Kajornkiat’s successful recovery offers some valuable insight into a new generation of successful treatments. Today, many complex procedures (including coronary bypass surgery) employ advanced technologies and techniques that are less traumatic and require much shorter recovery times.
Dr. Num Tanthuwanit, a cardiac rehabilitation specialist, describes the rehabilitation program at the heart of the “newer and better life” enjoyed by Mr. Kajornkiat and many other patients following their decisive surgeries: “Our successful rehabilitation program for cardiac patients isn’t solely about medical treatment. We want every patient to enjoy a high quality of life from the moment they leave the hospital. This is the philosophy that guides our Cardiac Rehabilitation Program designed for heart patients and patients at risk of developing heart conditions.”
The Cardiac Rehabilitation Program consists of two parts. The first part focuses on educating patients about self care to reduce the risk of future recurrence of the disease, and it also includes emotional support.
The second part of the program includes exercise advice and an exercise regimen aimed at restoring cardiovascular fitness and rebuilding muscle mass; each patient’s heart rate and performance are closely monitored via a cardiac telemetry unit (continuous EKG monitoring) during the exercise program to assess heart health and to identify any potential problems.
“With Mr. Kajornkiat, we began with treadmill walking,” Dr. Num recalls. “We quickly detected a cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). We then assessed the situation together with the cardiologist and recommended a treatment strategy that ended up resolving the problem successfully.”
“During the rehabilitation process, the patient and I establish a primary goal. Along the way, we make changes and adjustments to the exercise programs to ensure the best possible outcome. Being able to notice real and measurable improvements encourages patients to try even harder to reach their goal.”