A health care executive learns to take his heart seriously

After a day of feeling “off,” Norton Healthcare President and CEO Russell F. Cox went to the emergency department at Norton Brownsboro Hospital.

Russell F. Cox, Norton Healthcare president and CEO, admits he was not a very good patient in the past.

Before an employee health and wellness initiative – N Good Health – started in 2012, he rarely went to his primary care provider.

“My blood pressure was always right on the borderline and the doctor would tell me, ‘It’s creeping up, let’s check it again in three months.’ Or, ‘Your cholesterol is slightly high, but let’s just pay closer attention to what you’re eating.’ Each year, I’d walk away saying, ‘I’ll do better,’ but never took action.”

A health scare in 2015 changed all of that. After a day of feeling “off,” Russ went to the emergency department at Norton Brownsboro Hospital. Staff checked his blood pressure, and it was high. They ran a few other tests and sent him home with instructions to follow up with a cardiologist and his primary care provider.

Joseph A. Lash, M.D., cardiologist with Norton Heart & Vascular Institute, took on Russ’ care. He found his blood pressure and cholesterol needed to be better controlled.

“We tried various medications over the course of a month or more. But each one made me feel weird, not quite like myself,” Russ said. “Dr. Lash had great patience with me through this time.”

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Dr. Lash encouraged Russ to commit to an exercise regimen that included cardio, change his eating habits and find a better way to manage his stress.

“I told him if he would commit to doing those things, he would probably be more successful than any medication would be at controlling his blood pressure,” Dr. Lash said.

Russ started exercising up to five days a week and participating in N Good Health challenges and Norton Healthcare-sponsored events.

“I was already there to support, so why not participate? Plus, it is always good to have something to train for,” Russ said.

After about six months, he lost almost 20 pounds and his blood pressure came down enough that Dr. Lash was comfortable taking him off medication.

Next, Russ focused on lowering his cholesterol, determined he could get the same results with continued diet and exercise. Dr. Lash agreed and gave Russ three months, but at the end of that time, his cholesterol had gone down by only five points.

“I remember Dr. Lash explaining that genetics are not in my favor. My family history has gotten the best of me, and I would need a cholesterol-lowering medication. And it amazed me. Within a month of being on the medication, my cholesterol lowered by almost 40 points.”

Russ is continuing his exercise efforts. He is a runner and a regularly takes part in a program that combines cardio with strength training. He enjoys the socializing that comes along with exercising with others. He also recently got a dog, Maggie, as a birthday present to himself. He said she is just as good for his heart!

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