Joe Moreno has been running all of his life and assumed his lifestyle was keeping him healthy. But the former East Moline mayor and race director for the Quad-Cities Marathon has discovered there is more to being healthy than staying on the move.
The 56-year-old father of six suffered what he described as "a mild stroke" on Sunday and was released Tuesday from the hospital.
"I'm not as healthy as I thought I was," he said from his home Tuesday. "They're going to do heart surgery. I've always been a runner, my whole life. There's more to being healthy than being active, though. It's all in the pipes and the organs."
Moreno said doctors discovered a hole in his heart about two years ago, and he has since been taking medication to heal it.
"I have an appointment with a cardiologist, and I'll be having the hole in the heart closed," he said. "Everything's going to be fine. I just have to have the surgery taken care of."
In addition to the Quad-Cities Marathon, Moreno has served as race director of the Genesis Firecracker Run in East Moline, works a full-time job and is launching another area race, Freedom Run, which is scheduled for Aug. 8. Despite being constantly on the run, Moreno said he has fallen down in another important area: diet.
"I've had a pretty poor diet for years," he said. "My running has really gone downhill in recent months. I added the Freedom Run to my plate, because I think it's really important. It's for our military. So, I've been working on four races in four months and working full time. I'm extremely active, and I think that's a good thing.
"But I haven't had the healthiest diet, for sure, and it's caught up with me."
Dr. Cornelius Davis, a cardiac surgeon from Houston who this week joined the staff at Genesis Health System, said people often are surprised when athletes have serious health problems.
"It's rare," he said. "That's why we talk about them."
In particular, he pointed to the 1984 sudden death of Jim Fixx, an author who helped launch the fitness revolution and popularize running. In addition to having a family history of heart disease, Fixx had been a heavy smoker, Davis said.
Even the most athletic people can have uncontrolled diabetes and/or high blood pressure or, as in Fixx's case, an unhealthy history.
In the case of a hole in the heart, Davis said, the condition is usually congenital, meaning a person is born with it. One risk associated with the condition is what happened to Moreno: Something, probably a small blood clot, works its way to the brain through the hole in the heart.
Stress also is a factor in many strokes, but doctors do not know exactly why. Studies show that people with high levels of stress have more strokes, but the reason is not completely understood.
"We know that recognizing the presence of a stroke is extremely important," said Davis, who is not one of Moreno's doctors. "If therapy is started in a short period of time, outcomes are much better."
Outcomes are better, too, when a healthy lifestyle includes both exercise and a healthy diet.
"They (athletes) figure, with all the exercise they're doing, they'll be free from cardiovascular disease," Davis said. "We do know that nutritionally sound individuals heal faster, no doubt about it."
Moreno said he would prefer to begin the healing process, meaning putting off surgery, until after the Sept. 22 Quad-Cities Marathon.
"I had all my paperwork in my hospital bed," he said. "I've got all these things to do."
But Davis issued another warning: "Once you've had an event where something's crossed through the hole ... waiting is only exposing your brain to more insult."
Moreno said he will follow his doctor's advice, which he expects his wife, Lorna, to insist on.
"It's not just about me," he said. "I look at myself in the mirror, and I feel OK. But it doesn't matter if you only think you're healthy."