Changing My Diet to Manage My Disease: Jimmy Wilson

October 11,2018

Up until May of 2017, I was a husband, father, and deputy sheriff. On May 19 of that year, I was diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension. That day my life changed forever. I learned I needed to make some lifestyle changes. For me, the change that made the biggest impact was my diet.

I was born and raised in San Francisco, where food is king, and, for my family, the dinner table was where everybody got together. I grew up eating everything. How could you not when San Francisco has, in my opinion and some may argue, the best Chinese food, Mexican burritos, and best Italian food outside of Italy itself? I enjoyed eating. My love of beer didn’t help either, and, boy, did my body show it.

I worked in the sheriff’s department, mainly in jails, where food options were limited. We usually ate what they provided us. It was always buffet-style and free, which meant we could load up our plates and go back for more. It was not the healthiest of food either. Occasionally, we would order out. Since I worked the midnight shift, late-night food options were limited to mostly burritos and pizza. I always got super burritos and ate two to three slices of pizza. And, yes, cops do eat lots of donuts. I was not a picture of health.

When I was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary arterial hypertension (IPAH), my specialist told me I needed to go on a low-salt diet and to not drink alcohol because of my medications. The seriousness of my diagnosis forced me to change my diet completely. It was hard at first, but once I figured things out, it got easier. I learned how to read labels and cook using herbs and spices to enhance the flavors of food. I stay away from fast food as much as I can, but, on rare occasions, I do treat myself. It’s my way of rewarding myself for being so good. I don’t over do it. I will have a slice of pizza, maybe a quesadilla instead of a burrito. I know if I treat myself, I need to take an extra water pill to help flush me out. I was so happy last year when the holidays were coming, and my specialist said I could eat what I wanted as long as I take an extra water pill. That totally made my holidays even better.

My wife and kids have given me so much support. When I started the low-salt diet, they went on it as well. Since I do the cooking in our house, they were forced to do it, actually. But they adjusted and have not complained about it. Recently, my wife had a burrito, and she said she hadn’t realized how salty they were. I laughed and replied, “You’re welcome.”

I may be one of the few people, or maybe the only person, to say that being diagnosed with IPAH has helped me. It truly has. I eat better, walk more, and my overall health has improved. I will always have this disease, but I don’t let it control me. I take my meds, eat right, and listen to my doctors. The future is unknown, but I have a mantra I follow from former North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano’s acceptance speech at the 1993 ESPY Awards. “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up!”

It’s one of the greatest speeches ever. Check it out on YouTube, if you haven’t seen it.

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