Home  >  Carol LeBeau  >  Carol's Health Journal | 01. February 2010

Dr. Dennis Leahy, "The Surfing Doc"

01. February 2010

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S. Ironically, it’s also one of the most preventable diseases. Good science is proving more and more a healthy lifestyle can save lives.

Why aren’t more Americans willing to make the necessary changes? I asked Palomar Health cardiologist Dr. Dennis Leahy about the phenomenon. He’s been treating cardiovascular disease at Palomar Health for nearly 30 years. He not only sees the difference exercise and healthy eating makes in the lives of his patients… he lives by example.

In a recent interview with Dr. Leahy, the dedicated doctor talked about two of his passions… keeping his patients healthy and surfing!

Carol: Do you support the scientific findings about the relationship between a healthy lifestyle and the prevention of heart disease?

Dr. Leahy: Absolutely. The good, old-fashioned things like lean body weight, low cholesterol and an active lifestyle really work.

Carol: So why aren’t more of us on board?

Dr. Leahy: There is resistance. We’re too busy… too distracted and too set in our ways. We’re a fast-food society and it’s hard to change habits.

Carol: As a doctor, does that frustrate you?

Dr. Leahy: Sure. We’re doing so much in medicine to save lives, but many patients continue to live exactly contrary to what we know works.

Carol: Have you seen positive changes in your patients who do make healthy choices after a heart event?

Dr. Leahy: It’s wonderful to see someone have a major epiphany when they realize they really do have to change. These tend to have the most success.

Carol: How so?

Dr. Leahy: I see him four months later and he’s a whole different person. He looks better… feels better… sleeps better… and has a great chance of avoiding future problems.

Carol: As an avid surfer, you practice what you preach!

Dr. Leahy: I’m an ocean person. You know what that’s like. The ocean experience is unique… almost inexplicable, physically and mentally. It can be very physical… paddling, getting out through difficult breaks and strong currents.

Carol: And the mental?

Dr. Leahy: For me, getting in the ocean, even just a couple of waves, changes my perspective. It’s very primal. Very simple. It’s just a board and the waves.

Carol: Simple? No way! I love the water, but I can’t ride a wave!

Dr. Leahy: It’s the concept that’s simple. It’s like skiing, but the snow’s moving. I’ve been doing it for 30 years, but I’m just an average surfer.

Carol: I happen to know you surf the big stuff.

Dr. Leahy: Not too big, but I have had great fun surfing around the world. Hawaii. Indonesia. Had a pretty good adrenaline rush surfing “Cloudbreak” in Fiji. Clean-up set cam in… bounced off a reef… a real-attention getter!

Carol: Where do you go locally?

Dr. Leahy: Carol, you know surfers never reveal their secrets spots! I’ll just say Carlsbad!

Carol: And when you’re not surfing?

Dr. Leahy: I do some form of exercise every day. If I can’t surf, I do something… pilates… the gym. If I go a few days without exercise, I don’t even want to be around me!

Carol: Thanks Doctor. See you at the beach!

Note: While Dr. Leahy does stress the importance of prevention, he says it’s also critical to know your risk factors and what to do in the event a heart attack does occur. Know your family history, cholesterol numbers and blood pressure.

If you’re at high risk, don’t discount chest pain as “something else.” Know the symptoms… heavy chest pressure, sweating, shortness of breath.

Don’t drive to the hospital. Call 911. Palomar Medical Center’s Cardiac Alert Team will be waiting to administer treatment that could save your life. The first hospital to use wireless EKG’s on the field… Palomar’s team gets heart attack patients the interventional care they need to open blocked arteries within 90 minutes of calling 9-1-1.

Contact Carol by emailing her at Carol@palomarhealth.org.