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Heartfelt advice from Mark Pilgrim

Having suffered a heart attack at the age of 38, Mark Pilgrim (veteran radio jock, TV presenter and motivational speaker) urges Unisa staff and students take control of their health and most of all, know your cholesterol level.

“I’ve been asked why I’m such a doting dad. Why do I always talk about my two daughters and put them before anything else. The answer is simple. They almost never existed.” These are the reflective words of veteran radio jock, TV presenter and motivational speaker, Mark Pilgrim who shocked the country when he suffered a severe heart attack in 2008 at the age of 38.

Pilgrim, like many other South Africans, never imagined this would happen to him as he led a healthy lifestyle. However, cardiovascular disease (CVD) can be brought on by a number of factors (both inherited and lifestyle-related) but high cholesterol alone accounts for a whopping 56% of coronary heart disease. Pilgrim’s case alone proves that heart attacks are not just the curse of the old man or woman.

Taking some time out of his busy schedule, Pilgrim spoke to the news team as he wants to get his message out to Unisa staff and students who think a heart attack could never happen to them. “I was the poster boy for fitness and I still had a heart attack. If it can happen to me, it can happen to you, especially if you lead a stressful lifestyle, don’t exercise regularly or eat poorly,” Pilgrim explains.

Unfortunately Pilgrim has a family history of heart disease. “Even though I was eating well, my cholesterol was raised genetically. I am only alive because I had the heart attack while sitting in my doctor’s office,” he says. His advice to Unisa staff and students (both young and old) is to “Eat well, try and do a bit of exercise and please know your cholesterol level. Anything over 5 means you need to work on it. Generally, anything over 7 is a red flag. I had the heart attack at 5.8.”

It’s scary a fact that heart disease and stroke are the second biggest killers in South Africa – second only to HIV/AIDS. And whilst CVD remains the leading killer worldwide, 80% of these deaths are preventable.

You can start by squashing that last cigarette because if you are a smoker, you are twice as likely to have a heart attack than a non-smoker. Next, cut down on salt as too much of it can cause high blood pressure, which increases the risk of developing CVD. You also need to monitor your diet and alcohol (remember you are what you eat and drink), get active, learn to manage your stress levels, check your family history of heart disease and get your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked by your GP.

And whilst you get your heart on track, make sure you can still recognise early signs of CVD and, in extreme cases, symptoms of a heart attack. Tightness or discomfort in the chest, neck, arm or stomach which comes on when you exert yourself, but goes away with rest may be the first sign of angina, which can lead to a heart attack if left untreated.

Tuledi Makua, Lecturer in Unisa’s Department of Health Studies, warns that an ever tired body is a sign of a tired heart so urgent action is needed. “The heart does not take care of itself, for any human being to be productive in any activity you need a healthy heart that will effectively supply your brain with blood for proper thinking and agile decision making,” says Makua.

Gerry Rantseli-Elsdon, Mark Pilgrim and Liezel van der Westhuizen are taking a strong stance in creating CVD awareness though the ‘Think Red’ campaign.

Tuledi Makua (Lecturer: Department of Health Studies, Unisa) warns that an ever tired body is a sign of a tired heart so urgent action is needed.

Remember that a healthy heart starts today. Much is being done in South Africa to the fight against preventable heart disease with the aim of seeing fewer South Africans suffer premature deaths and disabilities. The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA) is a leading role player in this fight with a number of ongoing and short term projects creating a mind shift and change of hearts in this country.

In addition the HSFSA, together with Unilever, launched a hard-hitting new awareness campaign, ‘Think Red’ with seven celebrities:  Pilgrim, Robert Mawara, Gerry Rantseli-Elsdon, Michael Mol, Uyanda Mbuli, Kerishnie Naicker and Liezel van der Westhuizen all lend their support to the campaign by talking about how they have personally been affected by CVD. This campaign illustrates that no-one is immune. ‘Take action against heart disease, it’s closer than you think’ is the message of these seven celebrities.

*Article by Kirosha Naicker

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5 comments to Heartfelt advice from Mark Pilgrim

  • Shareen Inder

    Encouraging article. Its scary that you come across many individuals whom donot have any interest on their healthcare or lifestyles. I am an Indian female 50+ age group – I too much of an extent watch what I eat, karate three times a week, belly dancing once a week and Sunday 7 km walk. Got to stay on top of yourself. Work is stressfull. Its not about living forever, its about living healthy and happy.

  • Tinyiko

    I used to get tired easily and sweat a lot and one day in 2009 i decided to go see my Doctor. she advised that I do all blood tests and I did that. Almost everything was normal except cholesterol which was above 7.6 she told me that it is at a danger level and I took it lightly until I googled it. i read the Mark Pilgrim story and it made me realise how serious it was. I had to really and seriously change my lifestyle and I did that. I check my cholesterol level every year and in November of last year mine my cholesterol level is at 4.2 which is an improvement. I dont drink nor smoke which meant that I probably inherited it.

    A must read article. hopefully many students will read this.


  • Vanessa

    Needed to hear this – same thing almost happened to my father despite a healthy lifestyle. It’s genetic in our family – It’s made me aware of my health!

    Could do more!

    Thank you for the inspiration!!!

  • Dineshree

    I agree with this article. I usually suffer with work and stress which can be hectic at difficult times. I never really consider my health at the same time. This article has really taught us that our health is important. We need to urge South Africans that we eat the right foods, get proper exercise and ensure our cholestrol levels are normal. I am definitely take action and ensure my health is stable.

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