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Your Checkup

Averesch runs with second chance at life

by Erin Cox | Mar 31, 2016

Brian Averesch came home from work one night, ate supper, sat in his chair and fell asleep - just another typical night.

The pain that woke him up at 6 a.m. was not normal though and while he thought it might be his asthma, the pain in his chest, back and both arms became too much, so his wife took him to Van Wert County Hospital.

He was having a massive heart attack. Averesch had two blocked arteries and needed two stents.

Brian Averesch and Shelley KreegerAfter the surgery, Averesch recalls the cardiologist Mehran Arabpour, D.O., telling him, “I did what I could do for you and I hope it works because the rest of it is up to you.”

Dr. Arabpour told Averesch’s family the disturbing reality that if he did not lose weight and start exercising, he would likely die by the end of the year.

“It hit home,” Averesch says. “It was time for me to change. All it really took was a look at my kids to realize that I needed to be there for them and I also needed to be there for my wife. I wanted to grow old with my wife.”

Averesch also wanted to be alive to see his grandkids and raise them so when he saw his heart doctor Pamela Gardner, D.O., they came to an agreement - he would do what she said and she would keep him alive.

“I got a second chance at life and I didn’t want to screw this one up,” he says.

Averesch started his journey in cardiac rehabilitation, a 12-week program where he exercised and received education about how to make lifestyle changes. He lost 30 pounds as he recovered from his heart attack and surgery in the program.

The next step was to continue exercising and eating right, so when he was offered the opportunity to do so at the Gaylord E. Leslie Wellness Center, he gave it a try.

“Being a heart patient, I need to have my blood pressure monitored, I needed to keep an eye on my heart rate to make sure I’m not doing too much,” Averesch, who is now 50, says. “That’s what they offer you here.”

Shelley Kreeger has been his personal trainer at the Gaylord E. Leslie Wellness Center for two years now.

“He has a personality that I mesh with real well and whether we’re talking serious or just about our lives and our families, we just developed that bond,” Kreeger says.

She started challenging him to try to do more as they worked together and he set goals for himself. At one point, she knew Averesch had a certain weight he wanted to get to, so Kreeger joined him in a weight loss challenge where they worked out together and weighed in to see who lost the most body fat percentage.

“I feel like that’s part of what my job is here,” Kreeger says. “I find any way I can to help my patients meet a goal. If it means I exercise with them, then I exercise with them. That’s what we do here.”

For Averesch, that’s why he has stayed at the Gaylord E. Leslie Wellness Center for two years.

“I want to go where I know the people and the people that are working keep an eye out for you,” he says.

He realized the importance of that one Saturday morning when he came to exercise with Kreeger. He felt great, but his heart rate and blood pressure were low so Kreeger would not let him work out that day.

He went to see Dr. Gardner that week and sure enough he was taken off of two blood pressure pills and given just a half of one.

“If I would’ve been going some place else, I would’ve never known and I would’ve went ahead and worked out,” he says. “Who knows what could’ve happened? I lucked out. You don’t get that any place else. It’s not only her, but it’s all the girls here – they all keep an eye out for you.”

For Averesch, it’s not only the trainers who work there, but it’s everyone else.

“Sometimes walking in here it’s like when I was younger and walking into a bar and everyone yelling, ‘Hi’ to you,” he says. “They’re all here for the same thing you’re here for and you can see it in them.”

Kreeger notices the difference in the environment of the Gaylord E. Leslie Wellness Center compared to a typical weight loss center.

“It’s very much a family atmosphere here,” Kreeger says. “People are here with all different medical backgrounds, all different ages, everything, and the atmosphere we have here makes a big difference.”

Learning to take care of himself and changing his attitude about his health were major steps in Averesch’s recovery from his heart attack.

“I always had the attitude that I’m going to be dead anyway when I get older so why not have fun now,” he recalls. “Now I’ve come to realize that I can keep myself healthy and still have the fun I wanted to have.”

Kreeger told him progress would be slow and everything would not change overnight and it didn’t, but Averesch feels the time has been worth it.

Two years later, 180 pounds down, 16 pant sizes smaller, and four sizes in shirts smaller, Averesch feels in better shape than the day he graduated high school more than 30 years ago.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” he says of before he started at the Gaylord E. Leslie Wellness Center. “I knew I had a goal and my goal was to lose 200 pounds. In the last three months it’s been real hard to get past that plateau, but I’m happy with where I’m at. I am probably the happiest I’ve ever been health-wise. I have asthma and it’s almost nonexistent now. I don’t have to take allergy shots anymore. When I left the hospital I was on five different blood pressure pills and now I’m on two and those are more so for my heart than anything. I don’t have to take cholesterol medicine anymore.”

His second chance at life allowed him the opportunity to keep his promise to his youngest son – to walk him across the football field his senior year, which he did in the fall of 2015.

He has also been able to get back into his lifelong hobby of competing in demolition derbies, a tradition he passed on to his sons, ages 24 and 18, due to his health conditions five years ago. In the summer of 2015, he climbed back into a car and drove his way to a third place finish in a demolition derby his sons took first and second places in the year before.

“It has always been a huge part of my life. I’ve been doing that longer than I’ve been married,” Averesch says. “It was a big goal of mine to get back in that car and drive. I want to stop on my terms, not because my health is keeping me from doing it. Now, I’m going to be right there driving with my boys.”