Life at DHG Podcast Series

Podcast Episode 27: Going Red to Support Heart Disease Awareness

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DHG proudly supports the American Heart Association’s efforts to build awareness about heart disease and heart issues by participating in the 15th annual National Wear Red Day on February 3rd. This podcast features Brian Carlton, Market Managing Partner from Metro DC. Upon learning that he had heart rhythm disorders, Brian made significant lifestyle changes. He shares with us his journey and his perspective on proactively addressing health issues and changes.


Episode 27 Transcript:

AGH: Hello everyone and welcome back to another episode of our DHG Podcast Series. I’m Alice Grey Harrison your host and I really love this venue because we get to hear from our people about the things that matter the most to them: flexibility, careers, and of course, stories about our people.

In 2003, the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute took action against a disease that was claiming the lives of nearly 500,000 American women each year. It’s a disease that many women weren’t paying attention to and many thought that it mainly affected men.

We are celebrating National Wear Red Day on February 3. This marks the 15th year of this special awareness day targeted at heart disease and heart issues. Since its first inception, we’ve made great strides but there’s still a long way to go. Let’s start by highlighting some of the strides that we’ve made: nearly 90% of women have made at least one healthy behavior change; more than 50% of women have increased their exercise; Six out of 10 women have changed their diets; One third of all women have talked with their doctors about developing heart health plans. Today, nearly 300 fewer women die of heart disease and stroke each year and death in women has decreased more than 30% over the past 10 years.

We do believe a lot of this success is the result of thrugh awareness. So, we’re donating $10 for every person at DHG who wears red and then post their photo on social media with the hashtags #DHGImpact, #GoRedForWomen, and #NationalWearRedDay. Be sure to check us out on social media to see some of our really great pictures.

Heart disease affects both men and women and one of the stories that I think exemplifies this disease comes from Brian Carlton. Brian is our market managing partner in the Metro DC market. While today is originally designed to raise awareness for women, through that, it has also helped raise awareness in men. Several years ago, Brian faced heart issues and he is here to tell his story.

BC: Thanks for having me Alice Grey.

AGH: We’re so delighted to have one of our leaders with us today. Let’s just dive in to the questions here. Brian, I mentioned, you had a life changing health experience, do you mind sharing with us about this experience?

BC: I’d be happy to. It started in about 2008. I would regularly play basketball and exercise and I noticed some differences when I was doing that. When I’d go really hard in playing basketball or when I exercised really hard, I would get very busy and almost faint and in addition to that, I was having some general light headedness and some bouts of chest pain.

Eventually I went to the doctor and this began a journey of uncertainty for me and my family for about four months that included numerous doctor’s appointments, tests, monitor wearing, several trips to the ER with chest pain and for those of you who have ever had to wait in line at the ER, if you go there and tell them you have chest pain, you get to go straight to the front of the line, so that was good.

Ultimately I was diagnosed with three heart rhythm disorders. They’re called Atrial Flutter, Atrial Fibrillation and Tachycardia. I’m not going to go into a ton of details of what those are today but they are fairly common disorders and the cause is uncertain. My doctor said I could have been born with it and a lot of people live with it and can live with it and live a healthy life fine and don’t even know they have it. What becomes a problem is if it becomes symptomatic and in my case I became symptomatic and I referred to the symptoms a few minutes ago.

My doctor said that the good news was through all of the tests I had, my heart plumbing was perfect, but my electrical system was not functioning properly. In my situation I was a stroke risk, not a heart attack risk and my doctor kept reminding me that the shortest term risk I had was that I would faint and fall down and get a head injury or injure myself in that regard.

So I required treatment and I scheduled an ablation procedure. I was put on some medication and had some restrictions for a period of time until the procedure was completed. So I had the oblation procedure, that was a procedure where they went through my legs to my heart and kind of rewired it. This fixed some of my problems but not all of my problems.

Ultimately I was referred to a specialist at Hopkins, who prescribed a blend of medication to allow me to function without symptoms and we did that for a while but my wife and I both noticed that the medication had some significant side effects and we decided that I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life.

After great thought, we decided to have a second ablation procedure. Those are fairly low risk procedures but still going in and messing around with your heart, made us a little nervous. So I was scheduled and I had to go off my medication for three weeks prior to that.

Preparing for that second procedure with the doctor really challenged me to get as lean and fit as possible to eliminate the risk of complications with the procedures. So I did that. I lost a lot of weight and I went off the medication. And when I went off the medication, I felt great – I hadn’t felt good in a long time and my doctor told me I could try some light exercise.

So I started doing some light exercise and didn’t have any issues at all. No dizziness, no chest pains and so it was a little more detailed than this but ultimately the doctor and Robin, my wife, and I decided to not do that second procedure and see how I did without the medication and I’ve done great. That was probably 2010 or 2011 so this was a pretty significant two or three year period that I went through with all of this. Since I went off the medication, I haven’t had any issues.

AGH: Wow. I assume that this meant a lot of lifestyle changes, can you tell us what some of those are?

BC: Sure, most of them would be pretty practical for somebody with heart issues but I’ve constantly battled my weight – weight loss was very positive for me in a lot of different ways, not just with the heart issue but just in overall health.

The doctor really had me focus on my stress and fatigue, not that that’s a direct cause of my situation but it certainly wasn’t helpful.

AGH: Sure.

BC: So I have found intentional ways to better cope with that. I make sure exercise is a scheduled part of my week. You can see the calendar appointments in my Outlook that I reserve for getting to the gym and I also make sure that I’m getting the proper amount of sleep.

I was a big coffee drinker and caffeine is not something that necessarily causes the problem I had, but it did exacerbate it. So I have quite drinking coffee, which was very hard for me and I take in very little caffeine now. I think the other thing that it kind of taught me is to keep my regular doctor’s appointments, which I do, including having an annual physical.

AGH: I’m going to go off script for a second. Could they have caught this issue inyour regular doctor visit or did it require you to be tested further?

BC: No, it required me to be tested further, unfortunately, and that was probably the most frustrating part of this. Like a typical person, I wanted this diagnosed and fixed in a day. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. So they had to do some pretty significant tests to eventually diagnose it. I think the monitor wearing was the main part where I wore a heart monitor that freaked my daughters out at the time. Whenever I would feel symptomatic, I would just record my heart rate at that point and that ultimately helped them diagnose it.

AGH: Wow. In your eyes, why do you think it’s important that people and companies, firms like DHG, participate in awareness campaigns such as Wear Red Day.

BC: Yeah, that’s a great question and you covered some of that Alice Grey but awareness is so important and I didn’t realize until I prepared for this that National Wear Red Day, that heart disease is the number one killer in women and as you mentioned, it’s driven some healthier habits in women and probably all of us. I mentioned some that I do earlier and I think having an awareness that folks should be regularly checking their cholesterol levels, which would be a normal part of a physical I think is so important.

I read that 80% of cardiac and stroke events can be prevented with education and action. I think it’s very significant that we’re all aware of it. I think the other thing for me on the awareness front when my heart issues began to happen, I was in my young 40’s. So not young, but certainly I would not consider myself old with my wife and two young daughters at home. I definitely was taking my health for granted and kind of felt invincible. I’d never really had any health issues, never really got sick – so when the symptoms first started when I exercised, I was able to notice them. But I was very stubborn about it so I didn’t tell my wife and I didn’t go to the doctor for months – for at least three or four months.

Now I realize how incredibly stupid that was and how much I put my life at risk in doing that. The entire process I went through took a heavy toll on my wife and my daughters because of the uncertainty created. But I put myself at so much more significant risk by not going to the doctor right away. I was being in denial about it.

So I think it’s important that we’re all aware with what’s going on with our health including listening to your body when you’re feeling something that you don’t feel is right. There may be something wrong, that probably can be treated. It’s important to follow guidelines and have colonoscopies and mammograms, et cetera which can make a huge difference. To me that’s all part of the awareness equation.

AGH: Wow, you really do have a powerful story and thank you. I am going to switch gears since I have you captive for a moment. You’re so successful and someone that many of us look up to. What career advice do you have for someone who might be just beginning their career?

BC: That’s also a great question and I do a lot of our campus recruiting and I get that question on campus a lot. I’ll break them down into about four pieces of advice that I would normally give. First of all, for those who don’t know me as well, I’ve spent my entire 28 and a half year career at DHG but I wasn’t sure I was going to survive my first 18 months at the firm.

Some of my bosses at that time that may be listening to this probably would say they weren’t sure I was going to survive it either. But there are some lessons I learned there and just some things that I’ve become aware of over the years that I think are really important for, especially for, our entry level staff. The first one I would say is, always self-advocate.

We’re a big firm. Metro DC is a big market. We want to build the career with our people that they’re passionate about but we’re not mind readers. I think we need to know what our folks are passionate about, what makes them tick, what makes them excited to come to work and I think part of that is self-advocating and regularly talking to your performance coach, the scheduler, the partners, other leaders in the firm about what you want to do, what you want to learn, what you want to be trained in, and what you’re passionate about. Because I think that’s a win/win for both us and the employee.

The second thing, and this is really the only reason I survived my first 18 months with the firm, is I found a good mentor and these weren’t necessarily people that were assigned to me to be my technical mentor but these are people that I worked with regularly that were more experienced than me. I listened, I ask them a lot of questions probably enough to drive them crazy from time to time but they gave me great advice around several things like what to wear or not to wear in the office. How to communicate with the partners and managers that they had had relationships with maybe for five or six years that I was just getting to know. How to be respectful, the administrative staff and many others just day to day kind of business lessons that I would not have been aware of and would have made even more mistakes than I did without having these good mentors who were really looking out for me.

I think that the last two that I’ll mention, and this has changed some as our communication style has changed, but I think particularly entry level staff, be responsive. Create rules for yourself that you’re going to respond to emails from others within a certain period of time. I think sometimes maybe we don’t know the answer so we’re going to put it off and that might send an unintended message to deliverer or the requestor.

So I would say always be responsive. Even if you don’t know the answer, that’s fine, respond and let them know because you’ll be judged a lot by your responsiveness and your ability to get back to people regularly. Then I think finally, and my daughters would probably tell me to shut up now if they were listening to this, because it’s a common theme I have with them. But talk to people. I mean, the communications tools we have now are amazing. Email is great, Link instant messaging is fantastic, Hackster, wonderful.

Many of the people you’ll be working with including external and internal clients are maybe in a different generation and likely prefer face-to-face conversation and there’s just certain messages that are more appropriate for face to face conversation. Really, make an effort to talk to people in the office and at the client site.

AGH: That is terrific advice, all of it. Thank you so much.

BC: Thank you, thanks for having me Alice Grey and thank you for allowing me to share my story.

AGH: Yeah, absolutely. Just to kind of close the loop on everything. I think one of the things that makes Brian’s story really special is that it wasn’t like some major health crisis that led him to begin questioning his heart it was some subtle changes in his body that led him to the doctor and probably ultimately prolonged your life right Brian?

BC: No doubt.

AGH: Absolutely. As we celebrate the American Heart Association’s Wear Red Day, be sure to check out social media. We’re on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, you’ll see some great photos of our people around the firm wearing red and raising awareness.

Thank you all for listening to life at DHG, our premier podcast series. If you like what you just heard, we hope you’ll tell your friends and colleagues. Be sure to check out our DHG blog for more great stories about our life beyond numbers.

Join us next time for another edition of Life at DHG.


Brian is the Market Managing Partner in DHG’s Metro DC market.  He has been with DHG for 28 years and enjoys actively participating in DHG’s recruiting events (Don’t be surprised if you meet him at your next campus recruiting event!).  In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his family, anything basketball related and physical fitness.