Hearts in the Right Place

If you’re a firefighter in Northern Colorado or in one of several mountain communities, chances are you know Tiffany Lipsey, assistant director of CSU’s Human Performance Clinical/Research Laboratory (HPCRL) in the College of Health and Human Sciences. That’s because she directs the Heart Disease Prevention Program (HDPP) and its firefighter testing program, the most comprehensive in the state. Lipsey’s work has contributed to the HPCRL being designated a Program of Research and Scholarly Excellence by CSU. The lab is part of the Department of Health and Exercise Science. Firefighters are three times more likely to suddenly die from heart-related illness than the general public, with nearly half of firefighter deaths attributed to heart issues. CSU’s program, currently serving 16 of the state’s fire departments, aims to alert firefighters to potential issues and how to best deal with them.

“We are in the business of changing the culture of how firefighters approach their health. Most people think we’re just going to tell them to exercise and eat right. While those habits are important, our assessment encompasses so much more,” Lipsey said. “About half of all heart attacks have no preceding symptoms. Individuals who feel and look healthy may still be at risk of having a heart attack. That’s why a comprehensive heart health assessment is so important. By the time each firefighter completes the testing, we can gauge their risk of heart disease, metabolic issues such as diabetes, and other issues — and tell them how to maximize their lifestyle and habits for optimum health, or make sure they seek immediate medical attention.”

Each firefighter completes two hours of testing in the HPCRL. Tests include measuring blood parameters, body fat, blood pressure, pulmonary function, flexibility, and muscular strength and endurance. Firefighters also undergo maximal treadmill ECG tests that are reviewed on the spot by a cardiologist to identify heart-related concerns. After testing, the firefighter receives a comprehensive results summary and health action plan during a follow-up session. In addition to the tests at CSU, Lipsey travels to fire stations to conduct testing and provide follow-up sessions.

Lipsey cited several instances when firefighters believed they were in good health only to leave testing with lifesaving information. In one case, life-threatening heart abnormalities were discovered in a seemingly healthy firefighter. This likely saved his life, as the firefighter soon underwent open heart surgery with six bypasses.

“I love to empower people to be the best they can be, and having good health is a huge part of that,” Lipsey said. “The tools required for good health can be taught, and that’s what I’m here to do.”

“It has been exciting to witness the growth of the HDPP’s outreach to firefighter health under Tiffany’s leadership.

More than 800 firefighters to date have benefited from this comprehensive heart health program, which is available as well to the general public,” said Gay Israel, chair of the Department of Health and Exercise Science.

This article was originally published in the Monday, January 20, 2014 College of Health and Human Sciences insert in the Coloradoan.

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