How a Competitive Lifter Lived With Heart Failure


Standing 6’5” and weighing 420 pounds, Craig Young was a big man with a big love for amateur competitive power lifting. “I was hardcore,” said Craig, “and pushed my body to the max.”

At his peak, Craig could lift over 1,000 lbs in barbell lifts and bench press 700 lbs. A hip replacement surgery didn’t even slow him down.

“My cholesterol levels were fine, and I had no high blood pressure issues even when I was at 420 lbs,” he recalled.

Then, his health changed. Craig couldn’t sleep unless he was sitting up and he developed a rapid heartbeat. The biggest surprise came from a cardiologist: Craig’s heart wasn’t pumping out enough blood and his kidney and liver enzymes were high.

Although he was only 55 years old, his heart was like that of an 80-year-old, according to the cardiologist. Craig had developed congestive heart failure and was a prime candidate for a stroke.

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a major public health concern affecting nearly five million Americans, and 550,000 new cases are diagnosed each year according to the American Heart Association. It occurs when a person’s heart fails to pump enough blood to the rest of the body. CHF cannot be cured but it can be managed by medications and changes in lifestyle.

Simple steps like:

  • Skip the salt to reduce sodium in your diet
  • Watching weight, which means a daily weigh-in because CHF patients tend to retain fluid
  • Take medications, and consult with physician if you have side effects
  • Staying active
  • Don’t smoke
  • Keep up with appointments with clinicians  on your team

After learning his diagnosis, Craig took charge of his health in a new way. He put away his weights and daily training on physician orders.  A cardioversion returned his heartbeat to a normal rhythm.

Much to his relief, physicians determined Craig would not need a biventricular ICD, a pacemaker that can shock heart back into a normal rhythm.

It was at The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano’s congestive heart failure clinic where Craig learned about his medications, lifestyle changes and diet.

“I learned that canned tuna fish is high in sodium, even egg whites have sodium,” he said.

His current daily diet is oatmeal, fresh tomatoes, fresh fruit like strawberries, plain almonds, broccoli, apples, and very lean protein such as boiled chicken breast. The soft drink, Sprite, which has no sodium, is a treat.

Today Craig is still a big but slimmer man at 345 lbs. After his release from the CHF clinic in January 2012, doctors gave him the ok to resume doing light weights with one major note, no power lifting.

While life isn’t the same, it’s pretty good for Craig who fought depression and family issues while dealing with his congestive heart failure diagnosis. He stays busy on his job as manager for Nissan Motor Acceptance Corp. And, there are no garden tools in his home garage. Instead, the door opens to Craig’s at-home weight lifting gym.

For more information on keeping your heart healthy, visit BaylorHealth.com/HeartHealth.

About the author

Susan Hall
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Susan joined Baylor many years ago when Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas was the only Baylor facility in the area. When not at work, she’s outside – Big Bend National Park is her favorite with Glacier National Park a close second.

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How a Competitive Lifter Lived With Heart Failure