GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Inside of the big picture window at Henchman House Barbershop in Grand Rapids, there is a back bookshelf wall filled with men’s hair products, awards and old-school barbershop memorabilia. Push past the wall and there’s a hidden room. Inside the dimly lit space is a single chair. It’s almost a speakeasy setting for a haircut.
It was in that chair that four West Michigan men got a trim as they shared their personal health journeys this Men’s Health Awareness Month. The goal: educate their community about common men’s health struggles including heart disease, diabetes, prostate cancer and mental health.
Talking is the first step in taking control of your health. Dr. Ken Dood of University of Michigan Health-West in Cedar Springs says it’s paramount.
“You’re going to need to see a physician at some point in your life, probably sooner than later. If there’s something wrong, make an appointment. If there isn’t anything wrong, that’s great. Get in for that yearly physical and we’ll get things checked out,” Dood said.
Dood said men’s health is like a car. He inherited a 1966 Ford Mustang from his grandfather. No one would believe him if he said he still drove it without putting in some routine maintenance. Just like a car, which needs oil changes or belt replacements, a body needs regular attention. At certain ages, men should start getting screened for common health concerns.
“If I had a dead battery and someone said, gosh, all you need to do is change the battery, and I said I don’t like to talk about batteries, that’s not really a helpful answer. So you’re going to have to talk about it. Find someone that you’re comfortable with,” Dood said. “If you see something in a man in your life that is an issue, you see something’s changed or they start complaining of something that they think is really minor, get an appointment, call the office, let’s get it addressed.”
Dood said listening to the body, knowing personal risk factors and taking action plays a big role in getting ahead of any health problems.
For men, that starts with the heart. Heart disease is the number one killer in America and it’s responsible for 1 in 4 deaths among men, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But regular screenings, Dood says, can give vital information to doctors to see what’s going on inside of the body.
Two years ago, Jonathan Kueppers nearly became part of the staggering statistics.
He was on his way back from working in Holland and stopped at a light near Byron Center and 84th Street. He put his car in park and rolled down his window. What happened next was told to him later by those who saved his life.
“The lady two cars behind she came up to me and she checked my pulse and I didn’t have a pulse. The fire captain, which (the fire station) was less than a block away, was leaving at that time pulled up behind all the commotion going and said, ‘What’s going on?’ She said, ‘He doesn’t have a pulse,’” Kueppers said. “They pulled me out, put me on the grass. She did a chest compressions and then he got the defibrillator. They shocked me. And then within six minutes, they had to shock me again.”
Kueppers has a condition called cardiomyopathy, a chronic disease that makes it hard for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body. Whereas a healthy heart is pumping at 100% capacity, his was only 15%.
“I’m a miracle. There’s nothing short of the fact that I’m a miracle because I fully recovered,” Kueppers said. “I think it’s 3% of the people that survive what I went through.”
“A lot of that stuff we’ll pick up on a yearly physical,” Dr. Dood said of heart problems with no signs or symptoms, like Kueppers’ condition. “There’s some screening blood work that we can do and we can get a lot of information out of that and kind of give us a direction as to where to head. If we start to pick up some abnormalities, then we start working those up further.”
Tom Turner, a longtime director at WOOD TV8, had just hit the game-winning shot during a round of pickup basketball at the YMCA. He said he stepped off to the side and collapsed. It took 13 minutes to revive him. He then spent seven days in a coma.
After waking up and having quadruple bypass surgery, his cardiologist told him that he had likely had diabetes for longer than either of them knew.
“We were trying to get control of my diabetes at the time of the heart attack and didn’t really know how bad it was,” Turner said. “I didn’t really have any true symptoms that I was aware of at the time. I just knew that my blood sugars were high at times.”
Diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death for men in America. The CDC says that men account for more than half of all cases and that 4 million men are living with diabetes now and don’t realize it.
Not controlling the body’s blood sugar can put stress on other areas of the body and lead to long-term damage or death.
“What happens is as the blood sugar increases over time, the little arteries in the around the heart, the brain, the kidneys make changes,” Dr. Dood said. “They don’t know why the blood sugar is high and they don’t really care, they just make those changes. So then you end up with arteries that aren’t working as well and you have a blood supply issue. That leads to all kinds of issues down the road.”
Dood said it’s like lifting a dumbbell over and over again but telling the bicep muscle not to get bigger: it’s not going to happen. The longer a body’s blood sugar is left high, the more damage that is done to the vascular system. He says people should be looking for signs or symptoms like excessive thirst or urination. They should know their family history and their body mass index; diabetes is more common in those with a higher BMI.
Turner knows the dangers of unmanaged blood sugar. It can kill you. He’s thankful that now he has an insulin pump. It’s programed to his body-specific requirements and gives him an adequate amount of insulin when he needs it to help maintain his blood sugar.
Dood said a diabetes diagnosis is nothing to be intimidated by.
“I have not met a patient that we can’t get under control relatively easily. It may take a little bit of time but we can get you there on a regimen that you can follow,” Dood said. “It’s overwhelming at first but it doesn’t have to be once you get into the regimen and you keep those follow-up appointments and we continue to check things and make sure we know where we’re at. We can typically get it under control.”
The prostate: It is not an area that men are overly excited to talk about. Alejandro Alvarez knows that feeling. He told no one when he had a burning sensation during intercourse with his wife. It wasn’t until two months later, as the symptom persisted, that he finally told his wife.
“She said, ‘I have an appointment for you and you got to go and do it,'” Alvarez said his wife made him go to the doctor. “When the doctor called me and said, ‘You have cancer but we need to know how much you have in your body,’ it was like everything stopped.”
In May, when he got his prostate cancer diagnosis, Alvarez was just 54, much younger than the average age of 66. Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among men. According to the West Michigan Prostate Health Alliance, 1 in 7 men in West Michigan will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime.
Catching it early dramatically increases the chance of survival.
“What you’re looking for is changes in your urinary habits, so if you urinate more often or you feel like you’re urinating often but you’re not emptying your bladder so you have to go again in 20 minutes or half an hour. Those are signs that that prostate may be enlarged, which may be a simple fix and not necessarily cancer, ” Dr. Dood said. “We want to catch it ahead of time. We want to do that blood work, make sure we know what’s going on so if it is cancer we can get it fixed.”
Brad Gill was 23 years old and walking back to his desk at his first major job out of college when his mom called him. She asked if he was sitting down. When he was, she told him the devastating news: His father Don had killed himself.
Don Gill was 48 years old.
“My dad, just kind of the way he operated, he was kind of like Superman. I mean, all of his clients relied on him, my family relied on him, so many friends relied on him for everything, helping them make decisions. And if there was ever a problem, Don would come to rescue them, Don would fix it,” Brad Gill recalled. “He even said in the letter he left, he said, quote ‘I went too fast for too long.’ And, you know, whatever he was running from or whatever was going on, he just thought that he could keep going and, you know, work more, earn more, buy more things, whatever and, you know, keep running away from it.”
Gill said that he and his family had no idea their dad was suffering. Even though he felt like they had adult conversations between them, Gill wishes his dad would have felt comfortable sharing how he was feeling.
“Something I’ve learned, especially in my work in mental health advocacy since he passed, is that people kind of have a certain kind M.O. or a way of operating,” Gill said. “If they change or if you notice something that’s different, it usually opens up a door maybe to have a conversation and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on?'”
Gill’s dad was like many other men who struggle with mental health. Men are more than 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide than women and middle-aged men are more susceptible than any other age group.
Dr. Dood says at his office and most other doctor’s offices, physicians will have patients fill out a mental health questionnaire. He said the seven to nine questions are enough to start a conversation about what is the next appropriate step.
“We’ll take a look at that and I’ll ask, ‘This looks like maybe you’ve got some depression issues or some mental health issues, let’s talk about them,'” Dood explained. “Sometimes all that happens is that you were fatigued, but you’ve been working a lot lately and it’s not a mental health issue and that’s great, but that’s one way that we try and open the door for patients. And then know that it’s common.”
If you’re in crisis, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline anytime for free at 1.800.273.8255.
TAKE CONTROL WITH ANNUAL PHYSICAL
Making men’s health a priority by finding a physician and getting an annual physical is the easiest way to take control of your health. Dood explained that in a physical, a patient will be checked for all the major things: kidney function, liver function, cholesterol, diabetes, prostate level and mental health.
But it’s also an opportunity to start a conversation with a doctor about anything that may be concerning you.
“We’ll decide, is it something that we can handle down the road or do I need to see you in the office the next day or in a week if it doesn’t clear up? It’s really easy, but you’ve got to ask those questions. I can’t read minds,” Dood said.
Gill said that starts now with his 8-week old son, being more emotionally accessible for him and his wife to help break a masculine cycle of passing down poor health habits.
“Everything I think now or decide or choose or how I act is going to reflect on (my son) in some way, shape or form,” Gill said. “So trying to do the right thing is a lot more amplified when you’re doing it for a next generation who looks up to you and he relies on you and everything.”