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Jeff Leiper talks about life as a heart attack survivor

By Alyson Queen – 

“Things are excellent.”

Generally, Jeff Leiper says he feels well. It has now been a couple of months since his very public heart attack. He sat down recently over coffee to reflect on his journey, not long after his 49th birthday.  

Kitchissippi Councillor Jeff Leiper

Councillor Jeff Leiper updated KT on his health, and his challenges.. Photo by Alyson Queen

“Everything that has happened to me has been clichéd from the start. You think you’re invincible, you don’t bother with doctors and then you ignore advice and go shoveling. It was the most Ottawa way to have a heart attack.”

He was back at work two weeks after his heart attack. 

Taking medication for the first time in his life has been an adjustment. Checking in for cardiac rehab is now a reality. But the Ward 15 Councillor, who is back at work full-time, openly admits that although life goes on (thankfully), it is different.

He still wants to smoke

Jeff always knew that smoking was bad for his health. He started when he was 18, when he admits he should have known better. But quitting has been tough.

“I really wanna smoke,” he says. Jeff is completely transparent that quitting the puff isn’t easy – and particularly as a means of stress relief. “I am used to going out on my back deck and smoking my brains out, smoke after smoke after smoke, working through whatever issue. Out of habit, I am used to responding to stress by smoking. So that’s going to take a while.”

He’s on a patch, has nicotine inhalers and gum. He also acknowledges that it’s a long road ahead, especially given his lifestyle. 

“For four years, this job has been all that I do in the course of a day.” The rest of his day – from the moment he gets up around 5:30 a.m. until around 9:30 p.m. – is spent working. Now, he needs to find time to do other things that include cooking and resting – and not smoke. 

Watching the first season of Mad Men while off, however, was probably not his best convalescent activity; the opening scene showcased the main character considering how to re-brand Lucky Brand cigarettes. 

Can he be a difference-making statistic?

It’s a common thread wherever he goes, with people walking up to talk to him, genuinely asking how he is doing. In fact, one such random conversation happened during this interview. 

But there is a second type of conversation now, with those reaching out because they know the ropes of having heart disease – and are recipients of incredible and life-saving care at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. “There’s a group of (primarily) guys, who are 50-55 years old, and they’re like ‘I’m a graduate too! It’s amazing what they do, you feel like a million bucks!”

But he has come to realize that heart disease is more likely to kill women. 

Research indicates that heart attacks tend to strike men younger – but the survival rates are worse in women, with less awareness and research to support prevention and management.  

Check your cholesterol

“It’s remarkable to me now that I’ve had this scary event. I should have dealt with this 15 years ago,” says Jeff.

Instead of managing his cholesterol when first raised as an issue, he stopped going to the doctor.

Jeff hopes that his situation inspires others to take action for their health – earlier – and to pay particular attention to cholesterol levels. He is asking men and women to do what he didn’t: have their cholesterol checked with a simple blood test and if high, to listen to doctors and deal with it. 

“There are lots of very healthy people who don’t smoke, who eat right, who get felled by heart attacks because they had that cholesterol issue that has never been identified.”

Jeff may ride a bike often and look healthy, but the worst-kept secret is that he is not a natural fan of veggies and is still not a healthy eater despite his heart attack scare.

“People in this ward have three-year-olds who are better eaters than I am,” he says. On the bright side, he is making progress. He now chooses a peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread or an apple rather than his go-to cool ranch chips and bowl of ice cream. 

But he needs help. Kitchissippi Times readers, the challenge is on: Jeff has agreed to receive your suggestions for quick and tasty recipes that will help him eat healthier while on the run. Send them to editor@kitchissippi.com. We’ll collect them and pass them along.   

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, during this interview he chose the lemon loaf as a snack. He’s also planning to post a help wanted sign for snow shoveling next winter.

 

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