ON THE JOB
Manny Kassam, P.Eng., ignored all the warning signs that he was the perfect candidate for a heart attack. But now that he’s survived one and changed his own life, the 60-year-old can add marathon runner and wellness advocate to his resumé.
BY ANDREA COLLINS
It was 1997 and Manny Kassam, P.Eng., was a 53-year-old husband
and father juggling the demands of high stress, high-demand
work on local and international projects. Like many in his
profession, he was pushing himself to the limit.
A Calgary resident at the time, Mr. Kassam was his family’s main breadwinner. He worried about the cost of his children’s university education. He was living a hectic lifestyle with little exercise and a lacking diet.
Combine it all with a family history of heart disease and the added pressure of completing a master of engineering degree a few years prior, and Mr. Kassam was a disaster waiting to happen.
And happen it did. But the near-death experience proved to be a turning point for Mr. Kassam, who now lives and practices in Edmonton.
How is the corporate world taking to presentations put on by heart attack survivor Manny Kassam, P.Eng.? A presentation at Magna IV Engineering Ltd. generated this response, from Roy Chapelsky, manager of corporate administration:
“Manny, thanks again for delivering a most important message to us. We tend to take our health for granted and therefore cannot have too much awareness on this subject. We will attempt to implement a fitness program here at the office (it might be as simple as a walking or running club during lunch).”
Mr. Kassam was pleased that his message hit home. “It makes sense for employers to support these programs. Active living increases work productivity, decreases work-related injuries and sick days, and improves our intellectual capacity, our concentration and our creativity.
“Exercise is a natural medicine – it lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, balances our blood sugar, strengthens our bones and muscles, allows us to sleep better and gives us a natural high. I would encourage everyone to adopt active living and healthy eating, and give yourself the benefit of being well.”
The Heart Attack
In his Calgary home on Nov. 28, 1997, a serious heart attack struck. It put Mr. Kassam in hospital for a week and forced him to spend another three months recuperating at home.
“I ignored the red flags,” says Mr. Kassam, now 60. “I was a perfectionist, always pushing myself to the limit. Though a certain amount of stress can be good for you, too much cannot be managed well. Although I didn’t smoke or drink, both my mother and brother died young of heart disease – I totally ignored those obvious warnings.”
The heart attack convinced Mr. Kassam he had to get back on track. He returned to work part time and then full time, but he refused to let work consume him. Instead, he joined a cardiac rehabilitation program for regular exercise.
While running on the indoor track one day, someone told him, “You
run like a deer.” That led Mr. Kassam to consider running
as a serious pursuit.
He vowed to complete what he dubbed the Marathon of Courage, his personal quest to raise money for the Calgary Heart Trust through participation in the Victoria Marathon in B.C.
That commitment raised $14,000 in six months and it also led to three lifestyle changes for Mr. Kassam. He began to exercise regularly, to eat nutritious meals (especially the most important one – breakfast), and to speak publicly about his experiences to raise funds and raise awareness.
Engineers were among those he addressed, and his message opened their wallets – and their minds.
“If I could positively influence just one person, it will all be worth it,” says Mr. Kassam. “I did not listen to the warning my brother’s death gave me, but I was given a second chance. I intend to use that new lease on life to be a role model, to try to save others.”
The fundraising put further purpose into Mr. Kassam’s running regime. Not only did he complete the 2000 marathon in Victoria, but he has since participated in other runs. He continues an extensive cross-training program every week: swimming, running, weight training and bicycling.
He also intends to run another marathon during the 2005 World Master Games in Edmonton and, with pledges, raise funds for the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital, which offers pediatric, adult, geriatric and cardiac rehabilitation programs.
He still works hard – harder, even, than he did before
the heart attack. As a project controls engineer now living
in Edmonton, Mr. Kassam operates his own company, Rockyview
Consultants Ltd. Over the past four to six years, however,
his new lifestyle has taught him to manage the work better.
“ Good health is not just the absence of disease – it comes from a combination of physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual well-being,” says Mr. Kassam. “You have to try for behavioural change first, though it’s difficult to change habits, and prioritize the lifestyle that will give you a good balance.”
Career Changes Focus
For Mr. Kassam, that balance includes easing himself out of project controls work to turn his attention toward wellness and active living, both as a consultant and a volunteer. He currently volunteers for Glenrose’s Golf Rehabilitation Program to make golf more accessible for persons with disabilities. He also gives motivational presentations at seniors’ lodges, lunch-and-learn groups and engineering firms through the Alberta Centre for Active Living and the Active Living Coalition for Older Adults.
And his personal commitment to health remains strong. Today, Mr. Kassam and his wife try to work out every day, to take time off work for relaxing vacations and to eat well.
“We are giving ourselves the gift of longevity, not only in years, but in quality of life,” he says.
Would you like Manny Kassam, P.Eng.,
to bring his healthy lifestyle message to your company?
Tel. (780) 434-7156