Following his recent heart attack, Rifle man makes some necessary changes to his lifestyle |

Following his recent heart attack, Rifle man makes some necessary changes to his lifestyle

John Gardner
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

A heart attack is the ultimate wake-up call. The message is simple – it’s time to change your life.

Or else.

It’s 4:45 a.m., Paul Rice climbs out of bed, eats a healthy breakfast and sucks down a handful of pills – Plavix, Aspirin, fish oil, niacin … the list goes on.

His day begins with a workout at New Castle Family Fitness. He’ll ride the stationary bike and maybe go for a run on the treadmill. His total workout is usually about an hour or so. He does this three times a week.

At work, his routine is also new. His lunch: Turkey sandwich on whole grain bread, bowl of fruit, and a snack-sized bag of Sun Chips.

More often than not, he’ll take a short stroll during his lunch break along the Rio Grande Trail just to squeeze in a bit more exercise and break up the sedentary day of sitting behind his desk. Some days he is accompanied by a co-worker or two from Modern Kitchen Center south of Glenwood Springs on Highway 82.

When he returns home, he clips the leashes on his two yellow Labrador retrievers – Weber and Wyatt – and it’s off on another walk for about half an hour.

The rambunctious Labs are a bit demanding on his time.

“I walk the dogs every day – they don’t give me a choice,” Paul said.

However, it’s not an issue of discontent. He rather enjoys it. Maybe not as much as Weber and Wyatt, but he enjoys it.

Dinner: Another healthy rendition of one of his old favorites – tacos. This time, his wife, Heidi Rice, replaces the usual ground beef with a Boca-soy protein, and serves it with reduced fat shredded cheese, fresh veggies, homemade salsa without salt and low-fat sour cream.

After dinner, Paul and Heidi sometimes take another half-hour walk around their neighborhood.

In February 2008, when Paul suffered a heart attack at the age of 43, which he now refers to as “the incident,” it not only changed his life, it impacted the lives of those who know him. A heart attack is a major event to overcome. And at the risk of sounding cliche, it’s a life-changing moment. A moment that Paul has embraced.

“The daily routine changes,” he said. “But I don’t have a choice, that is the way I look at it.”

“To wait and wonder whether the love of your life is going to live or die is terrifying,” said Heidi, a columnist and reporter for the Citizen Telegram and Glenwood Springs Post Independent, describing her 3 1/2 hours in a waiting room at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction while Paul underwent quintuple bypass surgery.

“I’d say the ordeal affected me, both mentally and physically, but I think I held it together better in the hospital because I knew I had to be strong,” Heidi said.

Paul is still shocked that he had an attack at such a young age, however he takes full responsibility and knows that it’s up to him to make a change.

“It took me by surprise,” Paul said. “That is my own fault though, for not watching my own family history, you know? The signs were there. Everything was right there, now that I look back on it.”

His father, who recently turned 83, brother, uncle and other family members also had heart attacks in their 40s.

The scar on Paul’s chest, where doctor’s carved through his sternum, is a permanent reminder of how close to death he was. But it encourages him to look forward to the future with optimism.

“You just realize that you can go at any time,” Paul said. “When you are 15 minutes from being over, it does change your outlook. Suddenly, things that bothered you before become pretty stupid, not as important. It’s just one of those near-death experiences that make you realize the good things you have.”

For Paul and Heidi both, regardless of how difficult the ordeal was to deal with, surviving the heart attack and subsequent surgery changed their lives forever. But they both agree that it’s changed for the better.

Both feel that they’ve been given a second chance. And while their lives have changed significantly in the year-and-a-half since his attack, their lives have relaxed into a new sort of normal.

“It’s not difficult in the beginning because you are forced to change right away,” Paul said. “And you are obviously reflecting on how did I get here, and I don’t want to go through this again. So, I’m going to do whatever it takes.”

Along with the new daily exercise routines, Paul’s diet has changed drastically.

“That is probably the number one thing that has changed,” he said. “What you eat and how you go about it is a lot different than before when you weren’t paying much attention to what you were consuming.”

Paul, who is a jovial, outgoing guy, credits Heidi’s culinary passion for his new healthy diet.

“She is obsessed with it,” he said. “Which is fine. It’s great because I would do it on my own, but not to the same extent.”

Heidi said that the heart attack showed them that they need to pay closer attention to what they eat.

“Paul’s heart attack was a big wake up call,” she said. “Who expects to have that happen at 43? It showed us that we needed to pay more attention to our bodies.”

Heidi has done extensive research on heart-healthy eating and recipes. Being a “Wisconsin boy,” Paul said seriously that having to forego his favorite foods like bratwurst and cheese curds has been, without a doubt, the hardest things to give up. But over time, he said that his tastes have changed and he appreciates the new diet.

“It was hard at first to make an adjustment to the food,” Paul admitted. “But then I got used to it and, like I’ve said, Heidi made it better. Then you start to like it. You start to get a taste for the fresh vegetables and everything.”

Fruit has even moved up on favorite list, which he claims never really excited him much before “the incident.”

“A banana once in a while, or an apple once in a while, but not every day,” he said.

His favorite? Cantaloupe. But he also likes blueberries and raspberries, although blueberries are not among his favorites, but he knows they are good for him.

“But I eat them because they are one of the super foods,” he said. At least that is what his wife tells him, and he believes her.

Heidi now has Paul enjoying other foods that never piqued his interest two years ago. Snacks like artichokes and spinach-filled treats.

Not the normal diet for a Wisconsin guy.

“I would have never touched that stuff before,” he said. “I would have rather had a mozzarella stick.”

He again thanks his wife of 15 years for his current health.

“It would have been a lot harder with someone who didn’t want to change, too, and kept eating junk in front of you,” Paul said.

When asked if he ever indulges in his former favorite foods, even just once in a while, Paul responds, “No.”

“I don’t even do that because I’m afraid if I start eating one, you know? I’m going to want to do it again,” he confessed.

“With my condition and my family background it’s not an option for me,” he said.

But he does find opportunities to indulge occasionally. He still gets to drink beer, in moderation of course.

“There is no fat and salt in beer,” he said.

Coincidentally, he has a T-shirt with a fun message: “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

Paul made sure to find out early if beer was off the list.

“That is the first thing I asked my doctor when we started talking about what I can’t have,” Paul said.

The one thing Paul has yet to fully embrace is all the medications and vitamins he now takes, twice a day.

“That’s kind of a bummer,” he said. “It’s kind of a chore. You get used to it, but it’s kind of a thing that you feel strapped to.”

Regardless, Paul takes a heart medication, Plavix, for his condition. He also takes aspirin, several supplements and vitamins along with his medications which Heidi has added to the daily routine. It’s another brick in the road to a healthy foundation.

“I don’t know for sure how many (pills), but there is a handful,” he said. “A dozen at least.”

Paul again credits Heidi for keeping him on track with his medications and vitamins.

“My wife takes good care of me,” he said.

“I make sure he takes his pills regularly at the same time in the morning and evening to make sure the levels of medicine in his blood are consistent,” Heidi said.

“I think I am now qualified to be a pharmacist,” she joked. “There are pills that need to be taken and refill dates to be remembered.”

And despite his aversion to the medications and vitamins, Paul again thinks about that day, one-and-a-half years ago. And he then thinks to the future.

“I wish I didn’t have that end of it,” Paul said. “But as long as that is what the doctor tells me to do, I’m going to do it.”

Despite his diet receiving a complete overhaul, the daily medications, and his exercise regime, Paul’s sense of humor remains in tact.

Paul let out his signature deep-bellied laugh as he talks about the day of the attack. He was riding in the back seat of his friend Grady Hazelton’s car, as they sped to St. Mary’s.

“To me, when it was going down, I could just think about Warren Zevon’s quote, ‘Just enjoy every sandwich,'” Paul said, of the late singer’s quote on the David Letterman Show, just months before he passed away from lung cancer in 2003.

“That went through my head a couple of times,” Paul said.

His good friend Hazelton said that even with all the changes Paul has made, he’s still the same old Paul he’s always known.

“He’s still the same as far as his personality goes,” Hazelton said. “There’s just not the pork rinds out on the table anymore.”

Hazelton drove Paul to St. Mary’s the day of the attack and remembers thinking that he was watching his friend die in the back seat of his car.

“I realized that he should be in an ambulance and not the back seat of my car,” Hazelton said.

That day also changed Hazelton a little too.

“You kind of appreciate what you have in your friends after seeing someone you know that well, come that close,” Hazelton said.

Hazelton said that he’s noticed Paul’s dedication to necessary changes he’s made in his life, and that he looks up to his friend for it.

“He’s totally changed his lifestyle,” Hazelton said. “He’s responsible for his life.”

Heidi has changed also, not only her cooking prowess, but her outlook on life and their relationship.

“I think I’m more tolerant now,” Heidi said. “Because when you look at the big picture, the little stuff just doesn’t matter. It’s the love and the laughter that counts.”

Paul contends that he has no choice in the situation. However, it’s the choices he makes that make all the difference.

“You just have to take care of yourself,” he said. “I’ve been given no choice – that is the way I’m looking at it. It’s not optional. You’ve got to do this stuff, which is fine. I feel a lot better. I feel 20 years younger.”

It’s 4:45 a.m., Paul Rice climbs out of bed …

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.

For tax deductible donations, click here.

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User