“I like preventing sudden death,”

Nash Mazza was used to working long days jam-packed with a hefty load of stress. But this one day, Feb. 26, 2016, (he’ll never forget it) Nash felt a sharp pain in his left arm. Tightness and pain in his chest. Nash, 41 years old, was having a heart attack.

“At my age, you don’t think about that,” he said.

Fortunately, as the director of environmental services for Virginia Mason Memorial hospital, he didn’t have far to go for help. Staff called a Code Blue and, using his office chair as an ambulance, wheeled him directly from his office into the Emergency Department.

Nash made it. However, doctors discovered he was suffering from severe blockage in his coronary arteries. On March 3 he had open-heart surgery, a quintuple bypass.

Nash got the message. “If I had this at home, I probably would have died,” he says.

Then he made a plan. Almost 12 months later he’d lost 70 pounds and became that guy who begins his days with an hour of cardio, heads to the gym after work and plans healthy menus for every meal.

Nash’s cardiologist, Dr. Dave Krueger of the Yakima Heart Center, is passionate about drilling home his message of a healthy lifestyle as the best way to ward off heart health issues. he says.

Major cardiovascular diseases – heart disease and stroke – are the leading cause of death in Yakima County and throughout the United States. High cholesterol, obesity and high blood pressure are the three leading factors.

“We exercise less than we think. We eat more than we think,” says Krueger. “But you really do need to change your life. That means 45 minutes of exercise every day, eating a healthy diet – and absolutely no smoking. I don’t care if you’re 18 or 80! If you exercise every day you’ll feel better, live longer and happier, and, you’ll be more aware of how you feel.”

Of the 1,000 people who die suddenly in America of cardiovascular disease each day, half had warning signs. Nash had a big one in autumn 2015. He went to get a new prescription for his glasses and the exam showed eye trauma. “Hardening of the arteries,” says Krueger. “The back of your eye has small arteries; you can actually see the hardening.”

Mazza knew he should go see his doctor. But he was busy. He had a staff of 90 and hardly enough time to eat. When he did, it was fast food and Coke Cola. He also knew about his family history: A grandmother and two uncles died of heart attacks. His birth mother has diabetes.

Nash stands 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed 280 pounds. He knew he was overweight, but he still didn’t think he could have a heart attack. But the signs were there. The day before, Nash woke up with a heartburn kind of feeling. The day it happened, he felt “weird.”

But that’s all behind him now, and Nash’s cardiologist, Dr. Krueger, would like everyone to know that even with inherited traits for heart disease, “You can change your life. A healthy lifestyle is the best medicine.”

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