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Put On Your Walking Shoes

By Melanie Moffett
In Center Block
Dec 29th, 2014


Being physically fit helped saved Dr. Lisa Colvin’s life. She takes us through her journey from fitness guru to survivor.

article by April S. Kelley | Photography by Brad Arender

None of us are exempt from health issues, no matter how fit or healthy we think we may be. Dr. Lisa Colvin, the interim dean of the ULM Graduate School and a kinesiology professor, can attest to this hard truth that we all must face. Earlier this year, Dr. Colvin suffered from a super virus that nearly claimed her life. She firmly believes that her success in surviving such an ordeal was due to her impressive level of fitness. Though fitness cannot prevent such health issues, it can help a person to survive against all odds. Our bodies are our vessels, and they must be taken care of and strengthened regularly to meet these illnesses head on, never faltering in their innate abilities to function at full capacity and fight with all they’ve got. Our bodies are very resilient, especially if we take quality care of them.

“I was very, very fit when I went to Europe in May and I got very, very sick, and the only reason I lived is because of my fitness. Without my being healthy, I would have died,” Colvin said.

Colvin has an endowed professorship through Dr. Lucy Shackelford, who was her advisor. From Dr. Shackelford, Colvin learned the importance of health and fitness from a true inspiration, someone she admired and respected greatly.
“The exercise that you do is a protective factor and I found that out the hard way. I never ever thought that I would be as sick as I have been in the last seven months,” Colvin said.

Dr. Colvin took a trip to Aigle, Switzerland for a sporting event. At that time one of the athletes had become ill. From there, three other athletes became ill as well. “So, I brought them food. I wiped their heads off. I held their hand. I helped them get in and out of cars to go to doctors,” Colvin said.

It was at this point that Colvin began to feel ill. “One of the athletes had a virus that overtook my body, and in ten days I was so sick that I could barely get out of bed. At that point, I had to call the US Embassy,” Colvin said.

From there, Colvin was transported to Geneva and then to Evian, France. “I stayed in Evian, France, until I was no longer contagious. It was a ten day incubation period, but that doesn’t mean it went away. It stays in your body. I couldn’t give it to anyone else, but I still had it. I wasn’t getting better. I was running extremely high temperatures, and it was all really terrible,” Colvin said.

Though not as active as she had been accustomed to being when the illness took over, Colvin still credits her successful battle with it to her overall fitness level. “I came in fit, not real fit because I had been working the semester. I would ride my bike a little and do a lot of walking, but at the time I had hurt my knee. So I wasn’t in great shape, but I was healthy. I wasn’t fit to race but I was healthy fit,” Colvin said.

When Colvin became well enough to fly, they flew her from Evian to Geneva and then back to the United States. When she arrived back in the states, her health seemed to get significantly worse. “My husband, Lane Colvin, is a hospital administrator, and he knew right away that there was something not right. I tried to bike when I got back, and I couldn’t even make it a mile. I couldn’t breathe, and my heartbeat was almost beating out of my chest,” Colvin said.

From there, Colvin slept for three straight days. Then, on the 17th of June, the real journey started. “I went to Affinity Health Care first. I couldn’t breathe. My heart was beating out of my chest. I just couldn’t breathe. They tried everything, and I started coughing, and my chest would hurt. I would cramp up everywhere,” Colvin said.

After that, Colvin was sent to Glenwood. Colvin kept having episodes of stomach sickness, chest pains, vomiting, cramps, heart pains and trouble breathing. These episodes recurred over and over for about two months. Glenwood had a pretty good grip of what was going on with Colvin  but they needed to send her somewhere with more resources. At this point, Colvin was airlifted to Ochsner’s in New Orleans due to congestive heart failure.

“Normally, the heart works between 60 and 70%, maybe even as low as 50%. I was at 28%, so my heart was dying. It was failing,” Colvin said. The doctors at Ochsner’s went to work really fast on Colvin’s heart.

“It was weird to be on a transplant floor. I kept thinking, ‘How did I get here?’ And my husband kept saying, ‘You’re fit. You’re fit. You’re going to hang in there,’” Colvin said.

Colvin survived at Ochsner’s, but little did she know, the worst was not yet over.  “A week later, I got sick again and had to return to Glenwood. My virus had moved away from my heart, but was now in my gut. I had lost 6 units of blood and didn’t know where it went. We found out it was coming out of my GI tract. So as fast as it was coming out, they were putting it in,” Colvin said.

From there, Colvin was sent to Baylor in Dallas to take care of the GI issue. A week later, she felt ill again. She couldn’t eat. She kept vomiting. As it turned out, now her gall bladder had lost its functionality. The gall bladder was subsequently removed.

A month later, the pain in her heart began again. “It felt like an elephant sitting on your chest,” Colvin said.

Finally, Colvin went to Duke University and was diagnosed with mild pericarditis, which means the lining of the heart  was rubbing repeatedly, and there were also enzymes found in Colvin’s blood that make it look like she was having a heart attack. “So Duke figured that out about six weeks ago, and here I am today,” Colvin said.

Dr. Colvin does not take this near-death experience lightly. She fully understands the magnitude of the situation and is grateful for everyone that stood by her side. “I have a lot to be thankful for. I am grateful for everyone that’s helped me, particularly my husband and our families. My students were wonderful. They came and saw me in the hospital,” Colvin said.

She also has become even more passionate about helping others with their own fitness goals. “On July 21, they thought I was going to die. That’s why I tell everyone, do something and be fit. Just put your shoes on and walk out the door. I’m begging you; just do something. The survivability of what I have is 36%. I have made the six months, and I’m going to make it. The good Lord has me here for a reason; that reason is to be that person to help people be fit and healthy,” Colvin said.

Fitness is one of the most important things in the life of any individual. It is what keeps the human body going, which then interconnects with the well-being of the mind and the overall quality of life. “It isn’t that hard, but being sick is hard. If you have that fitness behind you, you’re going to make it,” Colvin said.

According to Dr. Colvin, fitness is not about going to a gym necessarily, but about being active. “It doesn’t matter if you’re 6 or 85 or 90. In fact, the older you get, the more important it becomes to do something physical. It can be simple things: ride a stationary bike, walk with your kids or grandkids, have your kids play soccer or frisbee, walk the dog, ride a bicycle, join a club that focuses on physical activity,” Colvin said.

One of the most important things an individual can do to get fit is find an accountability buddy. “Find people that can hold you accountable. That’s the thing; there’s your motivation. Not only will you have these accountability friends, but you will also build incredibly close bonds with these people. You make bonds with people who decide to put on their walking shoes and take that first step out of the front door. Whether it’s you or your friend, you are taking that first step to live,” Colvin said.

Another factor Dr. Colvin pointed out is that exercise is not simply a selfish endeavor. “You aren’t doing it just selfishly for yourself. You are doing it for everyone that loves you. You are doing it for everyone that may one day love you,” Colvin said.

In fact, Dr. Colvin can facilitate your health and wellness goals with her plethora of knowledge. With her numerous licenses, certifications and her wealth of experience, Colvin can take any individual from an unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle and transform him/her into a fit, healthy and happy person.

On the first floor of ULM’s Brown Hall, there is a lab that can test the physical fitness of any individual. “We’ve got all the testing. We have underwater weighing. We can do laboratories. We can do full-out testing and research studies in here. We can tell you how in shape you are and if there are any problems with the electrical conduction of your heart,” Colvin said.

Colvin is even writing a book pertaining to EKG studies, titled Clinical Exercise Electrocardiography, which should hit the shelves in 2016. “Based on these machines in our lab, I can tell if there was something wrong with your heart, and I would refer you to a physician,” Colvin said.

The lab at ULM also performs many other tasks. People can test their flexibility, their body composition and muscular endurance. After all of these tests, the lab will then write out a detailed training program. “From all of the information from the tests and the family history, we can put together a package of what you look like physically, and that becomes your starting point, “ Colvin said.

The lab creates a detailed workout plan along with a limited nutrition plan, which is based on the US FDA new food pyramid. Individuals will then check back every 3, 4, or 6 months to check on their progress. “The nutrition part is pretty easy to start with. You just change one thing at a time. For example, you stop reaching into the candy bowl at work. That’s it.” Colvin said.

Another important lesson of Dr. Colvin’s is to never restrict any foods from your diet. “For example, if soda is your vice, drink half the amount. You don’t want to cut it out completely, or your body will want to drink an entire liter,” Colvin said.

Dr. Colvin also recommends never stepping on a scale. “My thing is never step on the scale. Look at how your clothes fit instead,” Colvin said.

The lab at ULM is very dear to Dr. Colvin. She believes it could help many in the community get on the right fitness track, if only they knew that it existed. “This is a community laboratory. We are right here, anytime, for anyone in the region. I think it’s a hidden jewel in the area. This laboratory is here to serve the people of the region,” Colvin said.

Dr. Colvin has heaps of advice on how to jump start your fitness goals that are not only easy to implement into everyday life, but they are down –right simple.

It can be as easy as parking at the back of the parking lot or taking the stairs. Walking is also one of the greatest stress relievers.

“When you are at work and you are stressed, get up from your desk, and blow off your steam by walking. Just walk away. Because we all get mad at work, we all get stressed. We all get to that point where you want to pull your hair. It’s better to get up and walk away, and plus, you are getting the benefit of the walk. Walk for fifteen minutes and come back. And all you really need is thirty minutes per day, so you are halfway there,” Colvin said.

Whether it’s juicing or the paleo-diet or even The New York Times’ Scientific 7-minute workout, fad diets are nothing more than fads. They are not healthy, and they are certainly not realistic.

“If anything says you can lose 10 pounds in a week, stay away. Weight loss should be only one or two pounds per week. Stay away from fad diets. Focus on fruits and vegetables. Shop on the edges of the store for the fresh produce, meat and vegetables. And as far as this new-fangled Scientific 7-minute workout, seven minutes of activity is not going to give you any health benefits,” Colvin said

Sleep is probably the most important and most overlooked and undervalued piece of fitness.

“This is the time that you are regenerating new cells, new fighter cells for new viruses or bacteria you may have,” Colvin said.

Most importantly, fitness should be seen as something that improves your quality of life. Fitness is about taking care of all that you are, whether you are young or old; this body is all you have and it should be taken care of to the best of your abilities.

“Do it because your life means something to someone, and your life should be fulfilling. And if you ever get sick, like I did, walk out that door, because it saved me. So walk out that door and save your life,” Colvin said.