From stroke survivor to triathlete

From stroke survivor to triathlete
Training for his first full Ironman in Australia this December.

PHILIPPINES - Kim Atienza is munching on roast beef sandwich with vegetable salad while talking about his healthy lifestyle.

"Maganda cut nito, lean beef," he says. "But you know what's leaner than beef? Pork. The white meat of the pork ha. Just don't eat the fat and the skin."

We are at Edsa Shangri-La Hotel, where Kim had just given interviews in connection with the launch of his endorsement of Omron digital blood pressure monitors. It's one of the products that Kim has agreed to promote in connection with his health-driven celebrity image.

The way he rattles off the properties of good and bad food sounds exactly like his encyclopedic knowledge of animals and other stuff that he dispenses on his TV shows on ABS-CBN.

Special concern

But the information he culls about food is of special concern.

"I come from a family of diabetics," he says, "although I still don't have it. But I know that at one point, it may come. It's a matter of delaying it or not. Both my lolo and lola from both sides of the family died of complications from diabetes. So, although I'm not diabetic, far from it, I eat like a diabetic."

He says he first became conscious of what he eats after suffering a stroke three years ago-in which he temporarily lost his memory and cognition. He also underwent surgery to fix a hole in his heart.

His food regimen, he says, is equivalent to "the third level of the South Beach Diet." That means he consumes food which has low glycemic index, or which doesn't raise his blood sugar level.

He eats brown rice, whole wheat bread, and chooses his fruits "because I know that I'm very prone to diabetes. So, I've become very lean. Mababa ang body fat ko."

Everything is complemented by a rigorous exercise programme. He's into triathlon, which involves swimming, biking and running. He competes in various marathon and triathlon events, most recently in the Cobra Ironman in Cebu.

The stroke, he says, was the reason he got into triathlon. "I don't do it to avoid [having another] stroke, but the stroke was a catalyst for me to get into the triathlon lifestyle."

The stroke

He clearly remembers the day the stroke happened. For a moment, he recalls, he thought he ate something poisonous or was drugged.

It was 8 a.m., he had just gotten out of the shower and was about to dress up for work as one of the cohosts of ABS-CBN's "Showtime."

As he looked into the mirror, he felt disoriented. "My tendency was to run around," he recounts. "I was running around my room naked for about five minutes."

He says he still had the presence of mind to run outside so people can help him.

"When I saw my maids," he relates, "I tried to scream their names, only to realise I couldn't speak. I knew what to say, pero walang lumalabas. Sabi ko, matindi 'to, may problema ko. (I tried to speak but nothing came out. This was serious, I thought.)

He then put on his pants and ran out to the street. His driver rushed him to the Philippine General Hospital. His wife Felicia made arrangements for him to be transferred to Makati Medical Center within two hours, allowing doctors, he says, to "disperse" the stroke.

Fortunately, he points out, the stroke hit the left frontal lobe of his brain, which affects only language and memory temporarily.

"After three days, I gained about 70 per cent back. I was given an exercise requirement, to do 30 minutes of brisk walking. Within three months I was 100 per cent okay. Because I was still young, my blood circulation is still healthy," he says.

Had the stroke hit the right side of his brain, Kim would have been paralysed.

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