Joel has a heck of a story to tell. His experience in the Iron Game goes way back to the early days of Nautilus and owning his own gym for over forty years. His strength has always been legendary.
Here’s his inspirational story of overcoming illness and bouncing back at the young age of 68. Pete
My name is Joel Waldman. I am a member of Pete’s website. I am a 68 year old male.
In June of 2016 I had a heart transplant at the Mayo Clinic in Jax, Florida…it both saved my life and allowed me to be born again (no reference to religion). It has been an interesting journey to say the least.
I was born with a blood disorder known as hyperlipidemia. Before any real physical symptoms manifested at about age 60, I had cholesterol levels of 350 to 600 most of my adult life no matter what dietary intervention I tried…from vegan, to Fuhrman, to Atkins, to paleo/evolutionary.
My triglycerides were actually good…usually under 80 and I had no diabetes…but i had that insane cholesterol. There were no statin drugs back then and when they became available I refused to take them as I was certain my exercise and diet and supplements would “save” me from the doom most medical authorities predicted.
I competed in a variety of strength sports from football, to hammer throw, to shot to competitive powerlifting and bodybuilding and carried less than 12% body fat at 265 lbs at a height of 6’2″ most of my adult life. I even was a 1 handicap golfer for awhile and won the 2000 RE/MAX New Jersey senior division long drive three years after bilateral hip replacement. It seemed I could handle just about anything that life sent at me!
But at about age 60 I began to notice that formerly easy tasks winded me…carrying heavy groceries up stairs, walking up more than two flights of stair, needing more rest between sets of an exercise, always needing a golf cart, hot weather golf etc.
I had frequent heartburn with exertion as well as needing to sleep with several pillows…eventually even with the pillows I would fall asleep and wake up breathless as if I forgot to breathe while sleeping(all the symptoms of congestive heart failure). Some nights I would need to sleep in a chair…and still got poor or no sleep.
A little over two years ago I was in the middle of this decline and I decided to move to Florida and retire…fortunately I was comfortable enough financially to allow this so I shut down my fitness center of 43 years and my wife and I moved to Palm Coast, Florida…we bought a beautiful house…added a 2000 sq ft gym, had a great pool and right behind the pool was the 4th tee of a Nancy Lopez golf course…perfect right?…wrong…I was now too sick to play even the four hole loop…it was torture to have everything I had always dreamed about but was not healthy enough to enjoy. Did I go to the doctor? No! Can you spell Denial…Stubborn…Self-destructive?
Finally my wife saved me…on Feb 9, 2015 she dragged me kicking and protesting to the ER at Mayo…for just a quick assessment…that lasted three weeks during which time I died twice…my kidneys failed…my ejection fraction was 7% and the doctors told my wife to get my children here immediately…they described my condition as extremely grave.
Somehow with a great medical team and my family’s love and my stubbornness I got through that crisis and was on dialysis for six weeks as an outpatient during which time my kidney function returned to adequate and my EF got up to 25%. I saw my transplant doctors every 1-2 weeks as they adjusted my medications and tried to get me a bit more healthy. I came off dialysis but walked around with blood pressures of 90/65 frequently which isn’t much fun.
I told them I didn’t want a transplant and I could workout my way out of this…they said let’s see what happens. Despite feeling weak and dizzy most of my waking hours, I worked my butt off in my gym to try to improve my health…all while on 50 oz or less of fluid per day and less than 1200 mg sodium…if you are not familiar with these restrictions let me tell you that is BRUTAL!!!
After about four months of modest improvements, I hit a wall and started going backward. I was taken to the local Emergency Room three times by paramedics from passing out and I was not optimistic for my future…it was hard on my wife as well as me. We had a family pow wow and decided to go ahead with the exhaustive qualifying tests to be listed for transplant…literally two solid weeks of tests to make sure the donor organ is going into an otherwise healthy body that won’t die of something else.
After completing this marathon of tests successfully, I was officially listed as a 2…there are many other categories but two’s rarely get transplanted…we’re too healthy!!! Next is 1b which is more urgent and allows you to stay at home…1a is what is usually required to get a donor organ…and to get a 1a you need to be living in the hospital with a “swan” in your neck delivering “rocket fuel” Milrinone directly to your heart…this improves your heart output and allows you to do more exercise so you deteriorate less while waiting…but it only works for about six months before it becomes ineffective…so there are time constraints and some patients can die while waiting or need an lvad…a left ventricular assisted device…which has to be inserted into your heart and is often a bridge to keep you alive until an organ match becomes available…but it has the same risks as a transplant, is just as invasive, and requires that the sternum be cracked open an extra time…best avoided if possible
Anyway, my wife and I spent 68 days in room 246 on Mayo 2 North waiting…three hospital meals, movies, walking the halls and having blood drawn from me several time a day. Torture even though the nurses, aides, doctors are all rooting for you…we all became family.
On Day 68, June 3, 2016 Renata, the Head Nurse, came in my room around 2 pm and with a big smile said, “Don’t eat or drink anything until Dr. Leoni comes in to talk with you.” I knew this was what I had been waiting for. I spoke with Dr. Leoni and he confirmed that they had a perfect match for me…size, blood type and young enough and that the heart would be harvested and arrive by midnight. The anesthesiologists came to my room told me what to expect and at about 10pm they took me to the Operating Room.
There must have been 15 busy people in there, everybody doing something to prepare me…what is noteworthy is that I had no fear…I had waited so long to get my life back that I was ready! If I died I would neither feel pain or know it…but the moment had arrived and I was ready
They put me to sleep at 10:30pm …the heart arrived just after midnight…they opened my chest at about 12:30am on June 4th and I was taken to recovery around 4:30am. My intubation breathing tube was removed around 10am!
I don’t remember much about that first day except that I had tubes coming out of me in many locations and breathing and coughing hurt. On day four they discovered some blood in the sac around my heart and quickly corrected that and I won’t bore you further with the details of rehab except to say just as Rocky told young Adonis creed in the movie Creed…one step, one punch, one round at a time.
Back At It!
Now I am doing great…all biopsies have been perfect, I’m driving again, swimming, doing cardio rehab and starting to lift some heavier weights. They cleared me for full ‘let it rip’ golf swings at ten weeks.
OK, it is now December, 2016 and I am on my 11th Power Factor Compound Reps workout since joining the Engineered Strength Gym on August 12th. My first workout was…
Wide Bench 135×37
Narrow Bench 135×22
Leg Press/Toe Press 600×29
Total workout time, including rest: 13 minutes
Total weight lifted: 55,320 lbs
On Dec.10th my workout was:
Wide Bench 345×48
Narrow Bench 345×42
Leg Press/Toe Press 1,800×113
Total workout time, including rest: 23 minutes
Total weight lifted: 495,930 lbs
Overall Intensity, Including Rest: Up 406% in 10 workouts
Momentary Intensity While Lifting: Up 696% in 10 workouts
[ Editor’s Note: On his December workout, Joel lifted the equivalent of 146 midsize cars, or THREE fully fueled and passenger loaded Boeing 737 aircraft. In fact, since Joel lifts for exactly three minutes of actual exercise, he hoisted one 737 per minute of effort! Compare that to the 20-something guy grunting on the pec-dec while he lifts a couple of motorcycles every minute then tells his Facebook friends about his macho, killer workout.]
What is noteworthy is that the week prior to my last workout I had a severe gout attack precipitated by my various heart transplant meds and couldn’t walk a step for three days…was forced to take a huge dose of Prednisone to treat the gout (Prednisone is a CATABOLIC steroid…it wastes muscle, adds fat, and retains water…the opposite of anabolic steroids that we hear so much about). And I have been taking Prednisone in varying amounts from 80 mg/day down to 5 mg/day since June 4th the date of my transplant as I am weaned off this horrible drug which also suppresses the immune system so that I don’t reject my heart.
I’ve also had episodes of dangerously low white blood cell counts as well as anemia and diabetes all caused by the various drugs I have to take…and to control my weight and not get even fatter I eat less than 2000 kcal/day, 1600mg sodium, and less than 64 oz of fluid. I bring all this up not so people will feel sorry for me but to illustrate the strength improvement possible with proper strength training…ESG supervised strength training.
Almost forgot…at regular intervals first weekly, then bi weekly now monthly I am in the Heart Catheter Lab for heart rejection biopsies where they snake a good sized tube into my right femoral vein all the way up to my heart and take five little snips to see if there are any signs of rejection. So far all biopsies are neg…and you need to rest for two days after and not lift anything heavy!
With my old 3-4 workouts per week training schedule, I would never have been able to make even 25% the progress I have made with Power Factor Compound Reps workout!
So I want to take this opportunity to thank Pete Sisco for his efforts to bring sanity to the strength training world…he and Arthur Jones are the biggest contributors to the pool of knowledge in this field.
(Happy to answer questions.)