CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Sean Tiwanak held an impromptu jam session this week with his wife, Maile, left, and sister, Lei Medeiros.
A Second Chance
Most of us have had times in our lives when "life" happened and we were suddenly blindsided by disaster, heartache or a financial setback. "Life" happened to Sean Tiwanak early last year when he contracted what initially seemed to be nothing more than an unusually persistent case of the flu.
'And the Beat Goes On'
Sean Tiwanak speaks on "The Life and Times of a Heart Failure Patient"
When: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: St. Francis Medical Center, Liliha
Admission: Free; on-site parking $3.75
Tiwanak was running a contracting business when the illness hit, and he kept up "a solid 60- to 80-hour work week," but eventually he became so weak that he was forced to take time off for a series of diagnostic tests.
A doctor gave him the bad news: Tiwanak had contracted viral cardiomyopathy, and the muscle tissue of his heart had been damaged so severely that it was pumping at less than 15 percent of normal.
Tiwanak had previously worked as a respiratory therapist, and also as a pharmaceutical representative for Merck and AstraZenica, promoting advanced medications for heart failure patients -- so he knew that 60 percent of those diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy die in a year or less.
But Tiwanak decided to beat the odds -- and he did.
He moved back home to Hawaii, made radical changes in his diet, made time to exercise and lost 50 pounds.
"Everything is a factor when it comes to your cardiovascular health," he says.
Tiwanak will talk about his experiences as a heart-failure patient and the techniques he uses to handle stress and overcome the devastating effects of viral cardiomyopathy, in at St. Francis Medical Center in Liliha on Tuesday. He'll also preview a song or two from his soon-to-be-released album, "Home To Me."
When faced with such a devastating change, he says, it is important to deal with the physical and mental stress that results.
"Whether you are trying to recover from a major health illness like me, or you're a sophomore in college trying to make it through finals, managing stress and getting the most out of your life is something we all want."
Tiwanak adds that stress can be more dangerous and physically damaging than the circumstances that cause it.
"If someone cuts you off in traffic, there is no harm to you, but the emotional experience can ruin your entire day. Deal with your mental and emotional state first. Find a sense of calm excellence within, make a solid plan to deal with the problem, and then let go of it mentally. Once you've done what you can do, then get off the subject or play some music. That's what I do."
Tiwanak says stress can be defused by deep breathing, or by thinking about something you can be thankful for. It also helps to have a sense of humor and "spiritual consciousness."
"Developing a spiritual consciousness and having faith in something really helps, especially when you are facing life-and-death issues," he says.
"I made a personal decision on my 39th birthday this year to limit my worrying to 5 to 10 percent of my day. I've tried worrying 95 percent of the time already, so at this point in my life, I'm ready for something new. Having faith that you are part of something larger also helps to put things into a different perspective."
Tiwanak acknowledges that putting these concepts into practice can be easier said than done. On the other hand, he's proof that it is possible.
Each new day is a new opportunity to move forward.
"Besides eating right, getting exercise and taking my medications every day, the priorities for me are getting lots of rest and good sleep, and then taking time in the morning to set myself up to have the best day possible. The first hour of your day is the most important hour of your life. It is really important to take some time to find your thoughts and center your emotions. Every day is really just a battle of the mind. You can set yourself up at the beginning of the day so that you are able to fend off the negative influences that come your way. Bombs go off in our lives daily, but you have to learn to be thankful for what you have, regardless."
Goals are also important. One of Tiwanak's is staying alive long enough to benefit from the experimental stem-cell therapy used in Thailand to save Don Ho's life in 2005.
"The general principle in my lifestyle program is to set myself up for the greatest chances of success for the future. Identify what you want to accomplish in your life, then stack the odds in your favor today so that you create an environment that gives you the greatest likelihood of success. ... Even if you are facing life-and-death odds like me."
Tiwanak's overall program for staying alive includes restricting his consumption of salt to 2,000 mg per day, taking supplemental antioxidants and vitamins, and practicing "diligent portion control." He drinks a small amount of vinegar after meals, and "lots of green and jasmine tea."
He advises consulting a doctor to identify a target weight, then adjusting your diet to consume more whole fresh foods, keeping portions moderate. "Cutting down on salt and adjusting your body's fluid level can help a lot of people drop 10 or 15 pounds of excesses water bogging down your system," he says. "Try to stay away from a lot of canned, processed, or 'convenience' food. You are generally not doing yourself any favors here. You might as well just shoot yourself in the foot if you are trying to lose weight."
"It's not easy to do at times, but the secret to success really boils down to plain, old-fashioned will power. If you can find the will power inside of you, anything is possible."
Viral cardiomyopathy can strike anyone.
"People get sick with these viruses all the time, but I believe the take-away message is to take care of your health when you are sick. Excessive amounts of stress, especially during an illness, can lead to prolonged illness and physical degeneration ... I was very physical at the time, due to the fact that I was a contractor, but everything in life adds up. I call it the Law of Compounding Effects. It's never just one thing, but a cascading series of events and choices.
"All my energy was going out and there was nothing left over for me. Things eventually caught up with me in the end, but I feel like I've been given a second chance to have a life again."