July 30--PORT ACRES -- Firefighters are often thought of as heroes. They run into burning buildings to rescue any people or animals trapped inside. They protect adjacent homes from the flames. They defend entire communities against nature's deadliest elements.
But the life of a firefighter isn't all heroics and saving the day. The firehouse is fairly uneventful, some might even say comfortable, until that alarm goes off. Firefighters have to be ready to go at a moment's notice, going from sitting around waiting to charging down stairs or sliding down the firepole as soon as they can get their gear on.
It's a stressful environment complete with strenuous tasks. This lifestyle choice puts them at risk -- and not for the obvious reasons. While the risk of being burned is immediate, it's the hidden lifelong risk that is the most deadly -- damage to the heart from such a high-stress environment.
"Firefighters are at 300 times the risk for heart attack and stroke than the rest of the population," Nitin Malla, managing director for HeartWise, said. "Not only are they at a higher risk for heart attack and stroke, but they have the highest rate of cancers in all professions."
The HeartWise Clinic, located inside The Doctor's Clinic of Port Acres, offers total body screenings in order to detect early symptoms before they become diseases. HeartWise is currently offering a dedicated screening for the Port Arthur Fire Department firefighters, as well as their family and friends.
"We work with companies to dedicate a week for them, their friends and family to come in and get screened," Malla said. "Chief Richard came in first and wanted his team to have the same opportunity.
"For a similar screening process at the Mayo Clinic, for instance, these tests cost $15,000. We're offering this opportunity for any Port Arthur firefighter, his family or friends to come in for no out-of-pocket costs. There's no co-pay -- not a penny -- and we don't send you a bill later."
Fire Chief Larry Richard said that after he got a HeartWise screening, he wanted to make sure his men would be able to have the same opportunity.
"I came in a month or two ago, after my doctor recommended it," he said. "We live in a stressful environment -- as soon as that alarm goes off, your heart rate immediately jumps up. Our job puts us at a higher risk, so I wanted to make this available for my guys to come in and bring their families."
Malla said that the HeartWise Clinic "head-to-toe" screening takes a proactive approach to medicine.
"It's not something that can be done in a regular physician's office or at a cardiologist's office," he said. "With our screening tests, we can calculate a person's risk for disease within a certain time period, and we'll give a percentage for that risk.
"We've told a 470-pound person, 59 years old -- and this was a real patient -- with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, all of that, that they had a zero percent chance of having a heart attack in six years."
To encourage the firefighters to come in for a screening, HeartWise is offering prizes for the crew with the best turnout. Richard said his men are also in a competition against the Port Arthur Police Department, who will come in for screenings once the firefighters are finished.
"It just so happens that me and the police chief have the same doctor," Richard said. "He recommended that we both come here. We have this friendly competition going, but it's really just a way to entice our guys to come in. The screening is completely voluntary, but we want as many people checking their health as we can get in here."
Ligia Montoya, the clinic's office manager, said that HeartWise has seen 47 firemen since they started coming on Monday.
"We still have the rest of this week and next week scheduled for them, and then we'll start doing presentations with the police department next week to let them have this same opportunity," she said.
The HeartWise prizes include various gift baskets -- craft and commercial beers, bar-b-que rubs and sauces, grilling supplies, food market samples, and bath and body supplies -- as well as a 500-piece poker set, ice molds, tactical knives, a remote-controled helicopter and a "Quadcopter" with high-definition video.
HeartWise is offering large raffle drawings for lottery tickets and LED TVs depending on how many firefighters come through the health fair. The firehouse with the highest turnout will get to choose one of three exercise machines.
The HeartWise Clinic is closed to regular patients during the fire department's health fair, but will reopen to the public beginning Aug. 11.
The Doctor's Clinic of Port Acres is still taking patients during this time. The clinic is open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and is located at 5885 West Port Arthur Road.
For more information or to make an appointment, call (409) 736-2800.
Copyright 2014 - The Port Arthur News, Texas