Dave Jensen (far right) and the rest of the Jensen family have been attending Heart and Stroke's Ski For Heart event in Lake Louise for the past 16 years.
Photo courtesy of Dave Jensen
EDMONTON, AB — This past October, 2160 Canadians (18 or older) were surveyed about their heart health by the Heart and Stroke Foundation. The survey found that an astounding 80% of adults in this country don’t do enough to prevent heart disease and stroke despite being aware of the consequences of their actions (or lack thereof).
Three quarters of those surveyed said they would live healthier lives “if they could,” and that the major barrier for following through on their promise is time. One in three Canadians die from heart disease and stroke every year.
I recently spoke with heart transplant survivor Dave Jensen, and what I learned from him was that, if there’s anything we have as people, anything of true value, it’s time. To that point, the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s winter celebration of heart health, Death Defying Challenge (formerly Ski for Heart), promotes making that commitment to yourself and the ones you love by choosing to live longer, healthier lives.
“Ski for Heart, now the Death Defying Challenge, is an annual reminder for me and my family to live every moment to its fullest,” said Jensen, who has attended the event every year since his operation. “You can’t sweat the small stuff. All those clichés you hear are true. This event is a stark reminder every year of how close I was to death and how far I’ve come since.”
The Death Defying Challenge is simple: the Foundation is asking Canadians to commit to 10 hours of physical activity from January 1-29. Studies have shown that with just 2.5 hours of physical activity per week you can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. At the end of the month (January 27-29), participants are invited to gather at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise to celebrate their health, their hearts, and their fundraising success.
The celebration in Lake Louise features a bevy of winter activities, for young and old alike. Your kids will love it!
Photo courtesy of Heart and Stroke Foundation
By committing to the Challenge, and raising a minimum of $500, you will be helping Heart and Stroke Foundation gather much-needed funds that go towards research and healthy promotional programs.
For Jensen, his experiences in Lake Louise have brought his story full circle. “Now I have a daughter and I can understand how my ordeal affected my whole family. It isn’t just the patient; heart disease and stroke affects everyone attached to that person.”
It was 16 years ago when Dave Jensen travelled to Holland with the Calgary Stampede Showband. During the trip most of the band became ravaged by illness, yet somehow Dave escaped unscathed. A month later, back home in Calgary, he started having chest pains and suffering from fatigue. Six months after returning from his Europe trip, after trusting his instincts and visiting his doctor, Dave learned that, at just 21 years of age, his heart was, inexplicably, failing.
As it turned out, his time in Holland wasn’t as benign as first thought. He had indeed contracted a virus that attacked his heart directly, causing it to swell to three times its regular size, a condition called dilated cardiomiopathy.
Over the next 15 months Dave tried medication after medication, to no avail, and was eventually placed on the heart transplant list. Amazingly, Dave’s new heart came just two months later, saving his life.
Jensen's story is different than most, in that his heart failure occurred without warning, to a seemingly healthy young man. “When you’re that young and something like that happens to you, it makes you pause and realize that you want—need—to live your life differently. I certainly didn’t feel immortal anymore (after the transplant).”
16 years later, Jensen is doing extremely well. He’s now a middle school music teacher for the Calgary Board of Education, and an activist for heart and stroke awareness. He’s also one of the most present faces at the Foundation’s annual event in Lake Louise every January.
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise will play host to the end-of-January celebration from the 27th-29th.
Photo courtesy of Heart and Stroke Foundation
The challenge the Heart and Stroke Foundation experiences every year is galvanizing people who haven’t had first- or second-hand experience dealing with the disease. It’s out of sight/out of mind for many in this country. According to the aforementioned survey, about 80% choose to ignore the grave reality that may one day catch up to them.
Dave Jensen is a perfect example of how important our health is and how quickly it can be taken away from us. Whether you’ve suffered from the disease or not, it’s an ever-present danger, but, luckily, it’s one that can be prevented. 2.5 hours a week is all it could take. It’s all your heart is asking for.
So Defy Death this January and commit to 10 hours of physical activity, whether you’re fundraising or not. For those looking to get involved, head over to www.defydeath.ca and learn more about the Death Defying Challenge and the end-of-the-month celebration in Lake Louise.
“Don’t be afraid to ask people for fundraising help,” Jensen said. “The worst they can say is ‘no.’ And if you can’t go door to door, there are other great alternatives. Throw an event and charge $10 at the door as a fundraiser. Or go to the Death Defy website and you can send out an email that informs your friends of your fundraising goal. All it takes is one click and they’ve donated.”
The Death Defying Challenge and celebration in Lake Louise is a great way to start 2012. Make your 10 hours a New Year’s resolution. Commit to it. Get active in as many creative ways as possible. Go cross-country skiing. Try snowshoeing for the first time. Join a spin class. Whatever excites you, whatever you have the time for.
Because, whether you think you do or not, you have the time. Time is all you have.
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