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Staying on Top
Even Heart Attacks and Retinopathy Can’t Keep Craig Cohen Down

Craig Cohen couldn’t get up, even though the fire alarm was going off and all his colleagues were streaming out of the room. He had pain in his arm and his lower chest felt tight. When co-workers came back demanding to know why he didn’t follow alarm procedures, he told them he was just too tired. One of them took him immediately to the hospital. He ended up with a quadruple bypass. He was 34.

Craig [R] and his younger son Joshua scale a peak in the Canadian Rockies.When Craig awoke he had no idea what had happened and tried to get right up. The doctors told him he could not drive or do anything for six months. He tried to listen to their instructions but started going stir-crazy. “I had to get out,” Craig says. He began walking and tried to go a little farther each day. After four months, he was back at work.

That was 19 years and two more heart attacks ago. Craig, who has been managing his Type I diabetes for 44 years, has never looked back. After the bypass he realized that he needed to “enjoy life every day” and not worry. He took stock of his life and decided there were so many things he wanted to do that he just couldn’t spend time worrying. He used to get upset if he had a disagreement with his boss, he says, but now he doesn’t waste energy on that. “You say what you have to say and just move on,” he says.

And move he does. He rides the biggest roller coasters, climbs the highest mountains, rafts rivers, and celebrated his father’s 75th birthday by taking him in a glider. Craig had wanted to be in the Air Force but couldn’t join because of his diabetes. Now that exceptions are allowed for civilian fliers, he plans to get his glider’s license.

Craig has always been active. He played racquetball and was in a competitive baseball league before he had his first heart attack. But during that time he noticed that he was unusually tired and short of breath. He mentioned the symptoms to his doctor, who told him not to worry. After the attack, he found a new doctor.

Craig checks his gear in the Canadian Rockies.“One thing I have is great doctors,” Craig says. He’s been seeing them since the 1980’s and calls them “great guys” who support his active lifestyle. Their advice to Craig? Keep doing what he’s doing. Craig recounts telling his cardiologist that he was planning another adventure. “He says to me, ‘You know your limits, take your best shot,’” he says with a laugh.

Craig keeps his diabetes in check by using a pump and “never, ever sitting around.” He sees his Certified Diabetes Educator, Gary Scheiner (see p. 8), regularly to stay on top of management techniques. He also volunteers for diabetes clinical trials and was in the first Diabetes Control and Complications Trial from 1983 to 1993. He learned then that complications were reduced by tight control. He also learned that he had diabetic retinopathy. His vision is sometimes a little blurred, but he makes sure to have his eyes checked every six months.

Craig is vigilant about his health. Years ago his doctor recommended cholesterol and blood pressure medicines as a preventive measure to protect his heart. He takes an aspirin a day and uses the pump to regulate his insulin. He watches his diet carefully, though he admits that when he first got the pump he gained weight. “I thought I could eat anything and just shoot up with insulin,” he confesses. He now knows better. He calls the pump “a total lifestyle change” that allows him to maintain his active life.

Keeping a positive attitude is part of his health plan. People ask Craig all the time if he’s afraid to be active after three heart attacks. His answer is no— he thinks his heart would have gotten worse if he had slowed down.

And now that he’s had three heart attacks and recovered, he’s fearless. The second one came in 1994, and the last one in 1996. The treatment for these was much more minor than for the first one; doctors catheterized his arteries and used angioplasty once to insert a stent. It’s been a good dozen years without an attack.

Craig’s sons Joshua, 27, and Ariel, 29, are companions in his adventures. His younger son has had Type I diabetes since he was 4, but Craig says it never deterred him from being active. Because his son was used to seeing Craig take care of his blood glucose, the boy was not alarmed when he was diagnosed himself. Craig encourages him to be as active as he can. One of their best trips, Craig says, was white-water rafting on the Colorado River. “We hung on for dear life but it was a lot of fun,” he chuckles.

As the operations manager for a busy trucking company, Craig doesn’t have time to play baseball these days. But he’s looking forward to joining a 55-and-over league in two years. He’ll make the time then.

In the meantime, he and his wife, Rebecca, attend the Adventure Expo each year and dream about trips. The next big one will be to the North Pole. “We found an outfitter who takes you on a retrofitted icebreaker boat,” Craig says excitedly. Each year they take a family trip with their sons and Ariel’s wife, Lauren. Last year it was Disney World.

So what’s next for Craig Cohen? “I’m still waiting to jump out of a plane.”


Elizabeth LuntAbout the Author
Elizabeth Lunt, MS, has worked in publishing and libraries for many years. She is the editor of Voice of the Diabetic and would like to hear your
comments about this article or any other in the magazine. Please send Letters to the Editor to: Elizabeth Lunt, Editor, Voice of the Diabetic 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, MD 21230 or [email protected]