When Friends Die Too Young

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Captain works on physical fitness in Afghanistan
Capt. Douglas ‘Doc’ Powell, brigade surgeon assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, conducts physical fitness, within the confines of Camp Nathan Smith’s walls in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. (Sgt. Breanne Pye/1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division Public Affairs)

If you have spent time in the military or any tactical profession for that matter, or love those who do, you have experience burying people who died at an age that many consider way too young. The surviving members of the family, friends and teammates are left with memories of a life well-lived, a hero, a father, mother, sister, brother, son or daughter. It is then our duty to “never forget” and honor our loved ones and to live our lives in a meaningful way that they would want us to do. 

Living Life to the Fullest

To carry on and live a life of meaning, you have to consider your own health. To help others, you have to help yourself. Many live with regret, guilt and ask why, and they do little to nothing to become a better person after a friend’s death.

A recent death of a grade-school friend from a massive heart attack at the age of 46 left many in my hometown stunned and at a loss for words. My friend, Barry, was an active athlete, a God-fearing, family man who made a life of helping others and loving his wife and daughters. To say his death did not make me look up heart-attack symptoms and schedule a physical would be a lie.

If you want to honor the fallen by living your life to the fullest, you have to start with your own health and wellness. 

Medical Tests

The first step is the most basic. Seek medical attention and get annual check-ups. At a minimum, know your blood pressure, cholesterol level and triglyceride numbers.

In a recent article series, Health Screening 101, Dr. E. James Greenwald of Specialty Health in Reno, Nevada, and I discussed a case study of a young policeman who had many precursors to an early death (overweight, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, cholesterol, increased waist size) and the methods to assist with reversing the aforementioned issues.

Additional Medical Tests

An additional step is to learn about lipoproteins (LDL-P). This requires a special test where the lab runs the blood sample through an MRI machine.  “Yes, bad cholesterol is bad, but the way it is transported throughout the body is what makes it dangerous,'' Greenwald said. "The real risk lies in the number of particles [lipoproteins] that carry the cholesterol [LDL].”

The NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) by LabCorp is an additional test that may save your life. An MRI of the blood gives the doctor a more accurate count of the particles that carry the cholesterol.

A test called the Dried Urine Test for Comprehensive Hormones (DUTCH), which I recently took, measures sex and stress hormones such as testosterone, DHEA, cortisol and other androgen and estrogen, progesterone metabolites.

This at-home test is done easily and mailed to the lab with a doctor’s explanation of what is happening hormonally in the body. For instance, genetics, age and high stress can cause the hormonal system to produce measurable ranges that can cause inflammation, weight gain, loss of virility, anxiety and insulin resistance, to name a few symptoms.

With these test results, a medical professional can explain your options to improving your scores. That can go a long way to overhauling your health completely.

Build Good Habits, Drop Bad Habits

You are two habits away from success with getting healthy: A good habit you have to start and a bad habit you have to drop. This can be tough if you have gone years without exercise, eating right and taking care of yourself, but it is not impossible. 

Take baby steps literally. Start this process by moving more, drinking more water and eating less sugary food and drinks. If walking hurts, try a non-impact option like biking, rowing, the elliptical machine or swimming. Stretching daily will make you feel better almost immediately, but be patient. Getting healthy takes time. Give yourself a year, and you will change your life. See ideas for an annual plan that adds a new challenge every month but takes it slow and steady.

Concluding Remarks

This article is the result of having attended three funerals at Arlington National Cemetery this year and a most recent funeral of a hometown friend younger than myself. All were taken from this Earth too soon. I was compelled to write something as I consider my own reason for still being here. Please let something good come from the loss of your departed friend or family member and be the person you were meant to become. General George S. Patton said it best: "It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather, we should thank God that such men lived."

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