Life's Priorities

Karen Colclasure enjoys playful moments with her 4-year-old grandson, Kaden. She says she is looking forward to spending many more years of fun and frolicking with all three of her grandchildren. After a crowning career took precedence over caring for herself, Karen Colclasure now enjoys a newfound focus on wellness

Anyone who observed Karen Colclasure at the height of her career would have assumed all was well for the thin, attractive, six-figure-earning go-getter. She excelled in the demanding field of sales, where catering to clients often meant neglecting the things (and people) that weren't attached to quotas, deliverables, commissions or paychecks. And life didn't slow down for her at the close of business. Then it was time for Colclasure to juggle kids in school with extracurricular activities and prepare a dinner that was healthy-ish.

"I avoided the obvious pitfalls, like fast food," Colclasure says. "But I would throw together quick meals. I ate late at night and then went to bed. I skipped breakfast. I was so caught up in my career and work, work, work, that I couldn't catch up with my life. My eating habits were erratic, and I smoked for 30 years."

Although her wardrobe was Vogue-worthy and her vehicles luxurious, and she was flawlessly adept at closing deals and managing client expectations, in 2006 Colclasure's world began to unravel when she lost her job.

Health Consequences

"I planned for everything, except my health," she says. "I knew better, but I didn't heed doctor's warnings. My father died of cerebral hemorrhage at age 39; my mom had a stroke at age 60 and died at 77; both my brothers had quadruple bypass surgeries, at ages 49 and 59. But I didn't have time for exercise or nutritious eating. I thought, that won't happen to me."

In 2010, Colclasure had a heart attack in her home. Doctors at Parrish Medical Center (PMC) determined that she was not a good candidate for stents because she had previously suffered minor heart attacks that she was unaware of. She was stabilized and eventually transferred to another hospital for open-heart surgery. During an eight-hour procedure, the surgeon repaired a carotid artery and performed a triple bypass of her heart.

The Fight Continues

During the next two years, Colclasure had a stroke; discovered that she had a thyroid condition, a hiatal hernia and blockages in her legs; and underwent a second carotid artery surgery. She learned that she had osteoporosis in her spine and neck, and osteoarthritis in her hip. She was sleeping more than 12 hours per day and only able to walk with a cane.

"The doctors did not expect me to live after the triple bypass, because there were so many other things going on at the time," Colclasure recalls, tearfully. "I didn't realize all those years were gone until I was fighting for the years ahead."

A Can-Do Attitude

Colclasure completed physical therapy programs at PMC and Parrish Health & Fitness Center in 2012. "Through all of this, I was walking with a cane and very weak. But when I graduated from aqua physical therapy with Yami [Santiago], I was starting to get more energy.

"Then," she says, "I was referred to the cardiac wellness program at the fitness center, and that team really saved my life. I found out I also have COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] after free testing. So I took advantage of the pulmonary wellness program at the fitness center."

Respiratory therapist Deanne Kelley recalls her initial encounter with Colclasure: "When she first came in, she was walking with a cane, had trouble breathing and her confidence was shot," Kelley says. "I knew she was going to be limited, but her attitude is what made this work for her. She soaked up all she could learn and gave all her effort to getting well."

A Grateful Heart

Colclasure wrote a letter to the wellness program team: "I walked in with a cane and walked out with a high step of confidence, mental stability and mobility—without the agony or pain level I came into the class with many weeks ago," she wrote. "I can breathe! I get excited about living again. I am ready to watch my grandchildren grow up."

Adds Colclasure, with a chuckle, "Did I mention that I also have sleep apnea? I wear a CPAP [a machine that keeps her airway open while she sleeps] now. You wouldn't know it to look at me, because I am heavier than I've ever been, but I am healthier and more knowledgeable now than when I was thin."

Colclasure's children have joined their mother in the journey toward wellness. All of them are conscious of their genetic predisposition to chronic disease and now pay close attention to their diet and exercise. And her youngest son, Ryan, 30, has quit smoking after 15 years. "I am so proud of them," Colclasure says, beaming.

Find a Wellness Program Near You

Get a new lease on life with programs at Parrish Health & Fitness Center. Take the step online or by calling 321-268-6726.

By Erica K. Daniels