Vancouver doctor adjusts to life after heart disease diagnosis

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Doctor Theopolis Williams described himself as a perfectly healthy gentleman until five months ago. That’s when the 55-year-old family practice physician at Kaiser Permanente’s Orchards clinic in Vancouver found out he had heart disease.

His reaction was quick, he recalled with a chuckle: “Why me, Lord?” Then Dr. Williams remembered his family tree, and took stock of the branches.

“I actually have heart disease in my family,” he said. “My father had bypass surgery at age 63 and did not make it out of recovery. My sister died at 55 , my age, of heart disease. My 43-year-old niece has three stents.”

The list goes on.

Still, Dr. Williams wondered why. “I did all the right things. I exercise, I had a low cholesterol level, I exercise more than the average person.” (He’s a black belt in tae kwon do and karate).

And diet? “Well, maybe that was my downfall.” Even though he stopped eating beef and pork decades ago, Dr. Williams says he loves the traditional African American diet, and “never turned down a dessert.”

Now that he’s got a stent of his own following the angioplasty procedure, Dr. Williams is focused on making lifestyle changes. At 5-foot-9 and 250 pounds, he knows he needs to lose weight. “Let’s just say I’m big boned. Solid. When I was a boy we shopped in the Husky department.”

Dr. Williams says the key is to stay active. He helps out coaching the wrestling team at Skyview High School, a natural fit for the two-time All American wrestler at Whitman College. Now, he spends hours training in the martial arts. He advises his patients to “find something you like to do.” Some of his heart patients are now also into martial arts. Dr. Williams says those that have stuck with it have made it a family activity.

He advises his patients to try to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, and he has simple advice for those with unhealthy habits. “Some of my patients smoke and are overweight. I tell them they’ll end up like me if they keep doing some of those things.”

This February, Heart Month, Dr. Williams is trying to eat healthier. “Grapes, apples, bananas. I had one piece of chocolate on Valentine’s Day.” Still, he says it’s not always easy to stay on the right path. “Temptation is the devil out there, asking you to sit around and eat fatty foods.”

Dr. Williams also believes exercise is great for stress management. “The martial arts helps. The more physical activity, the better I do with stress relief.”

But right now, Dr. Williams feels grateful for each day. “I’m pretty lucky. I was getting ready to die. My daughter convinced me to get seen. I just thought I had a cold. You have to get in touch with that feminine wisdom.”