SHREVEPORT, La. - Heart disease often starts with diabetes. That's something Army Airborne veteran Bobby Sterling knows all about.
Sterling comes from a military family. His father was a Marine and later served in the Air Force for 28 years. Heart disease took his father's life. Sterling didn't know how close he was to following in his father's footsteps.
"I'm Bobby Sterling. Shreveport transplant here. 51 years old. On Dec 18, 2019, I had a triple bypass," he said.
Exercise has always been a part of Sterling's routine. "If you walk the outside perimeter it's about 3/4 of a mile," he said of Betty Virginia Park, where he walks about two days a week.
But Sterling used to run 5Ks.
"It's hard to outrun heredity. You think you're in really good shape," he said.
Although his father died of a heart attack at 58 years old, that didn't stop Sterling from enjoying a traditional Filipino meal.
"The Filipino diet is lots of fried foods. There are some gumbo style choices too. But the fried food is hard to resist," said Sterling.
Dr. Trey Baucum with Advanced Cardiovascular Specialist said there is a connection between diet and heart disease.
"We eat a diet that has so much sugar in it and it's sugar in ways you don't think of," said Baucum.
Fried foods are usually blanketed in white flour, which is high in sugar or glucose. Over time a high glucose diet can damage blood vessels.
"In your retina, in your kidneys, your heart, in your lower extremities," Baucum said.
Sterling was having problems with his ankle when doctors discovered he had diabetes. Then, three months later, when he went for a routine colonoscopy.
"It was difficult to rouse me from the anesthesia," recalls Sterling.
Then a few days later, he had difficulty breathing so he went to Christus Highland emergency room. Doctors discovered a blockage in his arteries.
"The left anterior diagonal LAD is one of the most important of your arteries and that one was 100-percent blocked," Sterling said.
He couldn't believe it. He could have died.
"A lot of time diabetics, even type 2 diabetics, don't have symptoms of heart disease as they're developing heart disease," Baucum said.
Sterling's heart wasn't even strong enough for doctors to operate.
"I actually had to do cardiac rehabilitation for two months to get my heart strong enough to withstand the surgery," Sterling said.
Finally, his heart was strong enough for the triple-bypass surgery.
"Because of the intervention of the staff at Christus I'm here talking to you today," Sterling said.
Baucum said a diagnosis of diabetes doesn't have to end up with heart disease.
"If you go on a low very strict, very low calorie diet, you can actually reverse the process. You can actually become a non-diabetic," Baucum said.
It's been just two months since Sterling's triple bypass surgery. For now, he's constantly monitored and wears an external wearable defibrillator.
His close call has been a wake-up call for the whole family. Doctors tell Sterling he won't have to worry about his heart for another 15 years. He’s fortunate his heart disease was discovered before it was too late.
Baucum said diabetics usually don't have chest pain even when they have advanced heart disease. They'll experience shortness of breath or fatigue and sometimes the first symptom a diabetic will experience is an actual heart attack.