Rev Andy Gifford

I have always been someone who has exercised, eaten well, and tried my best to care for myself. As a youth I found myself joining the the York High School Gymnastics team with a passion to work out and improve. My senior year I was recruited by the University of Iowa to be a part of their Men’s Gymnastics team and graduated in 1988 after competing there for four years. During my collegiate physical, at the age of 19, I was diagnosed with hypertension and it was later discovered that I was born with a bicuspid aortic valve. This condition did not stop my desire to stay in shape and compete. Following college, I competed in the sport of sailboat racing, and running road races. The only health issue I considered was to act in a manner that controlled my high blood pressure. In September of 2015 my wife Sandi (An Advocate Bromenn Registered Dietitian) elected to join the newly opened Health and Fitness Center. I spent time being evaluated, establishing several work out programs, being trained on the equipment, and swimming in the pool. At that time I was exercising more consistently and became more dedicated to the results. In the summer of 2017 my workouts became more labored then expected and I equated it to simply feeling the effects of now being over the age of 50. I was no longer able to exercise at the level I was accustom and desired. It was decided that I undergo a stress test. I was able to spend 13 minutes on the treadmill and I thought I had done well. My results were forwarded to cardiologist Dr. Frank Cetta of the Mayo Clinic. Upon his review I was invited to Rochester for further testing and a surgical consultation. On December 20-21, 2107 I under went several more tests and examinations the result being that I had three coronary arteries with major blockage, an aortic valve with with severe aortic stenosis, and an aortic aneurism. I was sent home to enjoy the Christmas holiday, On January 4th I returned to the Mayo Clinic and underwent open heart surgery. Today I have a triple bypassed heart, an artificial aortic valve and a repaired aorta. My lifestyle has changed as far as my diet and being acutely aware of what my body tells me, but I have also been blessed with a new lease of life. Having major open heart surgery gives one real perspective on the gift of live, the blessings of family, and the understanding of God’s grace. I have been given a new lease on life and look forward to the work of the kingdom that I am being called.

Are the improvements you’ve made affecting more than yourself?
As a man married to a clinical dietitian I have much to be thankful for in the way she has educated me and established a healthy home environment. Sandi models her profession and has created a home food environment that allows for healthy eating. Our diet consists of, low fat, high fiber, reduced sodium and reduced refined sugars. A result in my improved diet is a controlled blood pressure, a 111 total cholesterol, a normal blood sugar, and a body weight the same as my college graduation weight. What I have found is if you don’t have unhealthy food in your house you don’t eat unhealthy food. Snacks typically end up being fruit or nuts, rather than chips and queso. Evenings out with my wife are more often meeting at the gym to work out and catch up followed by going home cooking for ourselves the foods we choose. We seldom eat out as we have realized the difficultly in determining what is in the foods from a restaurant. Cooking for yourself as also placed more emphasis growing our own food and raising our own poultry. We live on a small five acre farm that allows for a large garden and an ability to raise chickens for our own use. Time spent tending to daily chores has given Sandi and I more opportunity to work together for our well being. The bonus is the often extra produce and eggs that come about that we are able to share with family and friends.

What have your biggest challenges been?
The biggest challenge I have faced working out at the gym pre and post heart surgery was that of adapting to a changed body. Before surgery I was able to push beyond normal activity, knowing that the discomfort of breath, sore muscles and fatigue would erase itself the better shape I could achieve. I understood max heart rate but that was judged more on feeling then an actual number. Following heart surgery I needed to learn from the beginning the limits that are safe to exercise. That included weight limits, types of exercises, and max heart rate thresholds. This was learned through a 12 week cardiac rehabilitation program at Advocate Bromenn Medical Center and then continued and supported at the Advocate Bromenn Health and Fitness Center. I have had difficulty adapting to my new physical limitations but have learned that I am both my own best advocate and motivator to maintain my physical conditioning.

What are your triumphs you’re most proud of?
Approaching my Heart surgery of 2018 I began to establish goals of recovering. I also established goals of physical recovery. The first was to return to work as a minister one month following surgery. My surgery took place on January 4, 2018, and on February 4, 2018 I offer a sermon. In the following weeks I would work just a few hours then go home to rest. My next goal was to compete in my 27th Chicago to Mackinaw sailboat race in July of 2018. I was able to compete on the sailboat Eagle the result was we won our section of 20 boats and place in the top 20 of a 300 boat fleet. Fitness goals eventually developed into completing a one mile swim, which was completed on New Years Eve and to compete in a 5K running race. On October 5th I completed one such race in 31:50

What are you looking forward to next?
I look forward to many years of activity, health and wellbeing. It brings me great joy to go to the gym exercise while very few even realize the surgical ordeal I underwent. It is my hope I continue to carve out time and make it a priority to exercise and live a healthy life style. I can say that I don’t miss eating out as much as I once did. I really don’t miss bacon and Italian sausage as much as I thought I would. Yet I truly enjoy giving great thanks for the blessing of my extended life. The next goals are yet another mile swim, and a sub 30 minute 5k.

How has Advocate BroMenn Health & Fitness Center helped you accomplish these triumphs?
Advocate Health and Fitness Center has done a great job being there to support my fitness needs and desires. The staff has done a wonderful job modifying my workouts over the course of pre and post heart surgery. I joke with them to look for me but I am thankful they continually monitor peoples workouts as they walk though the pool and track. I also enjoy conversations about new techniques and variations modifications to existing workouts. The facility is well maintained and always remains clean, the custodial staff does an excellent job an really takes ownership in their duties.

What do you look forward to about coming to Advocate BroMenn Health & Fitness Center?
I will continue to make efforts to get to the gym, exercise, care for myself, eat right and live a healthy life style. It is joy being a smiling staff and all those willing to help and improve your health.