John Moonin is in is late sixties. He is an Alaska Native; he lives in the native village of Port Graham. This village is located on the Kenai Peninsula near Nanwalek and Seldovia.
John had his heart attack in the late spring of 2003. He was outside working cutting alders when he felt an uncomfortable pressure in his chest and left arm. All that evening he didn’t feel good, he was having chest pains. Around midnight he couldn’t stand the pain anymore and he called the clinic. He was taken out of the village and he had heart by-pass surgery.
After surgery, he was told to not do anything for three months. He didn’t work for those three months, this was very difficult for him as he had worked hard cutting wood, fishing for subsistence in the summer, putting up fish in the smoke house and drying fish for the winter all his life.
He listened to his doctor and took it easy. He said that he was to eat nutritious foods and to walk. He only walked; he didn’t work at all during this time period. He watched his diet and was careful of the foods he ate. He did what his doctor had told him to do.
When he went back to see his doctor after his treatments, the doctor was pleased and asked him how he did it. He told his doctor that he had done what the doctor had wanted him to do. He said that he tried to do what he wanted him to do, he really did try.
As much as he likes to work now, he is a little afraid to do it. When he goes out to work, he can feel it and it worries him a little bit.
He can work, but he told me that he now listens to his heart. He repeated “that you must listen to your heart”. He now works more around the house; he takes more breaks than he use to. One of his challenges was that it was hard for him to do it and that he had to listen to what he knew he must do, not what he use to do. If he gets short winded, he comes into the house and takes a break and when he feels better he will go back outside and work a little more. He is very careful about what he does now.
When he was asked what he would like to pass on to others who are going through, or have gone through, the same thing (heart problem, his words).
He said that he was encouraged to talk to others with heart problems in Port Graham and Nanwalek, but he hasn’t yet. He wants to tell others what he went through and how they should change their lifestyle a bit, through diet, nutrition and exercise, to tell what he has learned from his surgery and heart attack and to tell what the doctor told him what and what not to do.
He has talked a little bit to some people who have a little trouble with their heart, he had tried to advise them on what they can do, before it is to late and
they need to go see the doctor as soon as they feel bad.
He told me that he should have walked/exercised more before his heart attack; that this is one thing that he definitely should have done. He said that he worked hard steady, which was one of his problems. He would keep going all day long. He smoked too, which didn’t help.
I asked him if he had some lifestyle changes now that he wished he had done earlier in his life. He said that he wished that he hadn’t started smoking and wished that he could have stopped earlier then he did. That he doesn’t want his grandchildren to smoke and to live healthier lives.
His doctor told him that the subsistence is the most medically healthy lifestyle in Alaska. He was told to eat more moose, seal, fish, more traditional foods, more healthy foods, less fast foods and foods that were too high in sugars and fats. “Both he and his wife hardly eat beef anymore” (his words). They eat more white fish (halibut, black bass) though.
After our interview, we just were talking about things around us when he mentioned that living a more traditional lifestyle was healthier. He also talked about how stressful our lives can be and that if we talked to each other more (say in talking circles), that we would be a lot healthier.
I just want to say that I enjoyed my interview with this man and his wife. Since his heart attack he has tried to live his life with his family more. He spends more time with his wife and his children who are all grown and have families of their own. He travels to Anchorage with his wife who has her own health problems at this time. He has encouraged her to stop smoking and have a healthier lifestyle. They are elders in my village and are looked up to for all the changes that they have made in their lives.
I wanted to do this interview with this man because he has made a lot of changes in his life. Not just because of his heart, but because he realized that if he wanted to continue in life and do the things he wanted to do, this was what it took.
John Moonin was interviewed July 18, 2007 in Port Graham, Alaska by by Deborah Meganack, CWA for Take Heart Alaska.