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I'm Aware That I'm Rare: the phaware® podcast

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Doug Evans - phaware® interview 362

Nov 16, 2021

Doug Evans is a Pulmonary Hypertension patient from Florida.

In this episode, Doug discusses his time in the military as a bomb loader, why he had to move from Colorado to lower altitude due to his PH, and how his treadmill and passion for Team PHenomenal Hope helped him lose over 80 pounds by simply walking.

My name is Doug Evans. I'm a 20-year veteran of the United States Air Force and retired from Comcast as an engineer. In late 2014, I was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension. Now I’m living in Florida where I no longer have to wear oxygen, which if your doctor says to move to a lower altitude, by all means, if you can do it, go. It was a lifesaver.

I'm originally from western New York near Buffalo. In the mid-'70s, there was actually no jobs in the western New York area. So myself and almost all my buddies from high school enlisted in the military. I enlisted in the Air Force and ended up loading bombs for a living. It's one of those jobs that very few people volunteer for. You end up getting assigned to it, because of a lack of manning. I ended up actually enjoying the job once I learned it. I spent 20 years loading bombs. I was in Germany, Italy, Spain, Turkey, stationed in North Dakota on B-52s for quite a long time. Korea, Guam, Hawaii, New Mexico, where I finally retired.

Imagine my shock when I discovered that there were very few airlines hiring bomb loaders. So I had retired and rejoined my family in North Dakota, and it was getting near Christmas time and there was an opportunity to work for Fisher-Price toys as a computer technician. They were going to provide all the training that you would need since Fisher-Price is originally from my hometown area, I said, "What the heck, I’ll give it a try." It was some interesting computer products for little kids, and I was doing phone support for them. They were really good products. We got very few calls. So I hung out with other contracts that were in the same building, the same call center, and one of them was Gateway computers.

I would sit in on their training, and I probably got more training on Gateway than the Gateway technicians. I ended up working there and ended up a senior lead, and it just kept compiling. I would move to a different contract, and eventually when that call center closed, I ended up moving back to the western New York area and ended up working for Adelphia cable. After Adelphia cable went bankrupt one winter, we had seven feet of snow in one storm, and I was really not happy with all that shoveling. A friend called up from Denver and said, "Hey, do you want a job with Comcast here in Denver? They'll move you." I was there before she could hang up the phone. I remained in Denver for close to 15 years until I got laid off, and I had enough time in to convert that to retirement. By that time, I had already contracted pulmonary hypertension.

I was stationed in Denver in the early part of my career in the Air Force. I noticed the altitude did affect the human body, because the altitude in Buffalo is like a hundred feet and you'd go up to 50 to 80 feet, you've run out of breath really quickly. In the Air Force they would... For the first two weeks when you stationed there, you'd just do a lot of marching and walking to get used to the altitude. I eventually did get used to it. So when I moved back, I expected that, and it was just a lot harder to get used to it.

By this time, my folks had moved to Florida. Whenever I would go visit them, of course, in Florida, I'd feel great. Then going back to Denver after a week or two vacation, it was really, really tough to get used to it. I lived on the second floor of an apartment building and climbing those stairs was just awful, and it just slowly got worse. One day I had to move a server in my workspace from a cubicle to the warehouse. It wasn't a big distance and it wasn't real heavy servers, so I just picked it up and carried it. By the time I got to the storage area, I couldn't breathe. Well, I could breathe physically. I could feel the air going in and out of my lungs, but it was like it wasn't doing any good.

I remember my boss just staring at me saying, "What's wrong with you?" I said, "I don't know. I'm just not breathing right. Something's wrong." Eventually, one day not long after that, we had a big family occasion at the house for the holidays. I moved from the kitchen, walked through the house to the living room, and I almost didn't make it. I was so out of breath. When I got to my recliner and I sat down and I bent over and I'm trying to get my breath. I was almost ready to faint. My wife says, "You okay? Do you want to go to a hospital?" And I said, "Yes." And she thought I was going to die because I never want to go see a doctor. So yeah, she really freaked out. She almost called an ambulance. That's the day I found out I had pulmonary hypertension.

I ended up in the emergency room at the local hospital, and they also found a congestive heart failure, which has never reoccurred. That was like a one-time thing. I went through all kinds of stress tests. Boy, I never want to do some of those again. They punch you full of chemicals and you just suddenly feel like you've ran a dozen miles. All kinds of CT scans. They said, "Yeah, you got pulmonary hypertension." I said, "What's that?" "Ah, it's a condition." That's about it. At the same time, my wife was going to National Jewish Health, one of the top respiratory hospitals in the nation. She has asthma. So she set me up with an appointment with her doctor, Dr. Amy Olson. Went to see her for what they suspected was sleep apnea. I also signed up for their pulmonary hypertension clinic. When Dr. M. Patricia George took over, that's when I finally started to understand what was going on. She really took a lot of time to sit down and explain to me exactly what was happening. She was really a blessing to have in my life.

My recovery, if we want to call that, really started when we got a treadmill for Christmas. I had more fun putting it together than I really thought I'd ever have fun with a model kit. It was a really nice treadmill, and you could program a route anywhere in the world, and it would show you through Google Street View where you're walking. I just started walking. I programmed my old route I walked to school, and I was really upset that I couldn't do that. So I kept practicing over and over until I could walk that three-quarters of a mile to school. I had a high output oxygen concentrator, and I turned it up higher than my prescription said, and that really helped. I'm going longer and longer routes.

At this time, it was only a year ago that the real estate market in Colorado was just going crazy. People were buying houses as fast as they could get them. The equity in my house shot up through the roof. I remember at one time, Dr. George said, "It would be good if you move to a lower altitude." My wife and I talked about it, and the friend who got me the job in Colorado was now living in Florida. She and my wife were very good friends, and we decided let's move to that area. We ended up finding a real nice house in Hilliard, Florida.

The whole time I'm on the treadmill. I'm keeping track of every workout, and I was over 300 miles total. That was only about five months. I just started out just a little bit every day, and just tried to add a little bit more with every workout, if I only added five minutes. In pulmonary hypertension, we have these bad days where we we're just exhausted, and they just come out of the blue. I did everything I could to work on those days. I call them crash days. We eventually just said, "The heck with it." We got a good price on our house. We packed up and moved. We couldn't take the treadmill with, so I got down to Florida and I just started walking on the streets, and it's so much easier to breathe down here.

I went to a local pulmonologist. She said, "Yeah, you don't need to wear oxygen in the daytime. You're responding so well to the lower altitude." So I started walking maybe a mile a day outside. It's so much different than a treadmill. I just kept increasing every day, a little bit more, a little bit more. I found that those crash days come further and further apart, and sometimes they're not as bad as others. So that's a big plus. When I got moving, I found that I didn't have those days where the exhaustion just overwhelmed me. I track every step I take. I got a smartwatch and a smartphone, and that does a great job tracking your activities and stuff like that. For 2020, including the time on the treadmill and everything, I logged 1,141 miles. In 2021, I'm still going. I'm up to five miles a day.

Now, I do have back issues and hip issues from my service. That really kind of limits me to five miles. The arthritis starts kicking in. So I will try to walk a second walk in the evening, to extend that five miles daily. As the weather gets better down here, I'll be doing that more often. The one thing I'd say is just get up and move. I know it's difficult, especially on those exhausting days, but get a phone or something where you can play music, put on your headsets and just go for relaxing walk. For me, it was the best thing I can do, and I hope everyone can give it a try. If you can't go outside, if you're stuck up in the north, see if you can find a treadmill. Don't set out to walk a thousand miles. Set out to walk a mile. Set out to walk a half mile, and then tomorrow just do an extra 20 feet.

But yeah, it really helps. I've lost 80 pounds just walking, no real major change in my diet other than I'm doing a lot better on portion control now. When you get pulmonary hypertension and you get those days you're so exhausted, the only thing you can do is watch TV and eat, at least for me. I gained a lot of weight and I'm sure a lot of folks in my position do. It not only helped me, it helped my dogs. My dogs were getting really chubby too. So I walked them with me. I was walking every day, a little bit more each day. I never really concentrated on doing it faster, but I did concentrate on doing it better, trying to keep the cadence the same and always talking to my doctor about what I'm up to. Not only am I talking to my doctors, I'm talking to my past doctors.

I'm always in contact with Dr. George back in Denver. I mentioned to her what I was up to, and she said, "Well, the Team PHenomenal Hope is having a Tour of PHenomenal Hope. It's going to be like a bicycle race. It's set up in stages, but you can walk, you can ride a bike, you can swim. You just track all your activities on this free application called Strava. I joined up as an athlete. I didn't really tell anybody except Dr. George that I was a PH patient. Being retired, I could put in as much time as I wanted. That was one of the things that we're measuring was total time. I was putting in about almost 15 hours a week, just walking, occasionally riding a bike, not too often, because it is getting to be winter down here. That put me in the lead, and I wonderful for the total time invested. Then, that's when I told the organizer that I was a PH patient, and she was just ecstatic. And next thing I know I'm doing a podcast.

My plan for 2021 is to try to get as many of my brothers and sisters doing this. I would like to see the number of patients outnumber the number of doctors in 2021's Tour of PHenomenal Hope. We don't have to win. We just have to be there. Go for a walk, 20 minutes a day. Just let them know that we are trying. In my personal life, my wife has been injured, her mom has been injured, so I am now the caregiver in the house. That's going to eat up a lot of time, but I'm going to continue to walk. I want to spend more time on my bike, and I want to spend as much time as I can encouraging my PH brothers and sisters that we don't have to sit down and take this. We can actually physically do something.

My name is Doug Evans, and I'm aware that I'm rare.

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