Stepping up fight against metabolic syndrome

  • Philip Kocisco, right, and Bo Travis cross the finish after running a 10K together in Naperville.

    Philip Kocisco, right, and Bo Travis cross the finish after running a 10K together in Naperville. Courtesy of the Kocisco family

Published6/23/2008 12:17 AM

There are 50 million Americans who have it. Philip J. Kocisco decided he didn't want to be one of them.

But at age 38, overweight with high blood pressure and cholesterol readings, he was a sure bet for metabolic syndrome.


It took 12 weeks in Edward Hospital's Lifestyle Under Construction program - and a lot of support from his buddy Bo Travis - to put him on track to a much healthier life.

Metabolic syndrome is a collection of conditions that increase a person's risk of developing heart disease, stroke, peripheral vascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

"My father had to have knee, hip and shoulder replacements; my mother went on blood pressure medication when she was 19 years old," said Kocisco, a probation officer and Plainfield resident. "I decided I didn't want to go on those medications or deal with those surgeries. I realized I had to make a change."

It's not hard to develop metabolic syndrome. All you have to do is eat a diet high in calories and saturated fat and remain inactive. The older you are, the greater your risk.

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It's not hard to spot someone who might have the condition either. People who are overweight and carry the weight around their middle - for a man that means a waist circumference greater than 40 inches, for a woman, greater than 35 - are at risk. Other symptoms include blood pressure readings over 130/85, a fasting blood sugar count of 110 mg or higher, a high amount of fat in your blood (triglyceride level of 150 mg/dl or higher) and a low HDL or "good cholesterol" count. For men, that's an HDL lower than 40 mg/dl; for women, lower than 50 mg/dl.

You need to have three of those symptoms to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. Kocisco had nearly all of them.

At 6-foot-1, he weighed 333 pounds, his blood pressure was 142/90 and his cholesterol count was 213.

So last January, Kocisco joined Edward Heart Hospital's Lifestyle Under Construction, a medically supervised weight loss program designed for people with metabolic syndrome and other conditions. The $600, 12-week program includes weekly consultations with an exercise physiologist, cardiac nurses, dietitian and psychologist; an hour of classroom discussion, and an hour of cardio and strength conditioning exercises while monitored by the exercise physiologist.

"It's a lot for fat people. I mean, there I was, 333 pounds doing an hour of cardio," Kocisco said. "It wasn't easy." His first session on the treadmill lasted just 10 minutes and left him breathless.


"But I lost 51 pounds, lowered my cholesterol by 53 points, and now my blood pressure is 106/74."

Losing even a few pounds makes a big difference in lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, explained nurse Julie Losasso, manager of education and prevention at the Naperville hospital. "For every pound of fat we have in our body, we acquire an extra 200 miles of blood vessels. That makes it harder for the heart to work and makes our blood pressure increase. The good news is losing even a few pounds can make a difference."

Keeping a food diary monitored weekly by the dietitian helped. So did all the phone calls and e-mail support from the staff.

But Kocisco's ace in the hole was his friend, Bo Travis, a Plainfield psychotherapist. The two met as professionals and quickly became friends. When Kocisco shared that he wanted to make some changes to his diet and activity level, Travis was quick to provide support, running with him for the past four months in rain, snow, sleet or sun.

A veteran of seven marathons, the 51-year-old Travis hadn't run in several years, however. "The last marathon I ran was the 2005 Disney World marathon. I didn't run again until I saw Phil needed help so I got off my butt and started running," said Travis. "I've benefited, too. It's made me want to be active in even more aspects of my life."

Setting a few goals also provided motivation for Kocisco. The two running buddies ran a 10K in Naperville in April, with Kocisco finishing in exactly the time Travis predicted, even though the novice runner suffered a cartilage tear in his knee.

"That was my first race - Naperville, 500 people signed up and I finished and made my goal to the second," Kocisco said. "I didn't break any records, but in four months I went from not being able to run, even walk, to actually finishing a race. I was way out of my comfort zone."

The two Plainfield residents have set yet another challenge for themselves - a half marathon at Disney World in January.

Meanwhile, Kocisco hopes the 40-by-20-foot garden he's planted with tomato plants, zucchinis, cucumbers, green beans, peppers, squash and lettuce helps keep him on track with his lifestyle change. Once he recovers from arthroscopic knee surgery, he'll get back to running with Travis.

"We're going to run in Disney World," Travis said encouragingly. "Phil's had the commitment to make these changes and has a great positive attitude."

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