by Dr. David Sabgir
I was surprised but happy when I saw Nancy drive up to the park shelter on that Saturday in April. Already, scores of people were milling around the picnic tables, their jackets zipped up against the early morning chill. Chatting and laughing, they helped themselves to coffee, water, fruit and energy bars, while a dozen or so nurses and doctors administered blood pressure checks.
After many months of planning, I was thrilled that my efforts to bring cardiac patients and doctors together for weekly walks were paying off. But I was especially thrilled to see my patient Nancy (not her real name). At 375 pounds, Nancy had difficulty getting around. Even moving from the car and walking the 30 or so steps to the pavilion were a chore.
Although she was only in her late 30s, she was likely in worse physical condition than a lot of the 70-somethings in attendance that day. I had worried that her health risks would soon catch up with her if she didn't change her sedentary lifestyle.
When the morning's official greetings and announcements were over, most everyone took off in pairs or groups along the mile-long trail loop. Nancy went by herself, moving slowly. I stayed behind a few minutes to answer questions, but soon I came across her standing on the trail, red-faced, sweaty and extremely winded.
"I have a request," she panted. "Would you mark the trail in tenths of a mile so I can see my progress each week?"
What a morning of surprises. Nancy not only had come out for today's walk but also seemed determined to keep walking. I felt like shouting, then and there, "Yes! This is what it's all about!"
The next week, though, Nancy didn't show, and my heart sank. Had we lost her? Had her motivation slipped away? But my fears were unfounded; the following week she arrived on time, stepping out of her car more confidently as if moving around had become less of a burden. We walked together, and although we stopped several times, we covered a quarter mile.
She was eager to tell me that she had begun taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator, and it had become a game for her to see how many times she could climb them each day. She was happy, but I was even happier. Here was a woman who could barely move not so long ago, and now she was actually enthusiastic about walking.
Nancy steadily made progress over the next few weeks, and I dared to dream that in autumn she would be able to complete the mile loop. To my delight, this happened sooner. On a walk in early June, Nancy started out strong. Her pace was the best it had been, and we stopped only once on the trail.
By the time we got halfway, Nancy and I both knew she was home free. She smirked, trying to conceal a smile, and said, "I guess there's no turning back now." I covertly phoned an alert to the staff members at the pavilion.
They knew Nancy's story, since my pride in her had made it a topic of conversation. Our dreams had been expedited: Nancy returned to a hero's welcome. Amidst all the applause, my heart filled with "Nancy pride." And we knew then that Walk with a Doc had legs.
A board-certified specialist in cardiology and internal medicine, Dr. Sabgir practices with highly rated Clinical Cardiovascular Specialists Inc. in Delaware, Ohio, near Columbus. He started the Walk with a Doc program in April 2005 and, since then, the program has spread to other cities, including Cleveland; Denver; Tulsa, Okla.; Baton Rouge, La.; and Wilmington, N.C. For more information, visit walkwithadoc.org.